Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 19, 20 or 21
A breezy, sunny Sunday – hours before a 16-foot-wide, centuries-old oak tree shading the hike was toppled by a windstorm – the day started by sharing breakfast with 6-year-old Jake, who’d loved the trip, and it ended with a leisurely walk through a park.
“Everything’s Jake,” was the thought, the 100-year-old slang for “everything’s fine.”
But it wasn’t really. There were threatening “clouds”: inexplicable kidney failure, anemia and mounting dread approached.
The loss of a dog is like few sorrows. Many folks suffer profound troubles and tragedies, but animals’ special innocence makes their passing almost unique. There are questions and confusion, a growing, gripping grief, and appreciation – even inspiration.
Maybe it’s like losing a limb or a sense, like feeling or smelling. Merely remembering what it’s like to throw a baseball or write with a pen, to touch an infant or smell lilacs or popcorn aren’t the same.
When these friends pass, aches reveal voids, vacuums. The pain of separation will never be less empty, never easy. Now, here, the wound is too fresh to imagine the emotional scab, much less the lifelong scar. It’s difficult to focus on a task or conversation, a story or page or word.
The time seems bleak, brightened some by thoughtful friends offering perspective and helping fight off self-pity and instead reach for the awareness of a gift to have shared the presence, and suffer the absence, of a furry pal.
Over 10 weeks of Jake’s illness, a nagging feeling of failure sometimes arose, especially when the four-legged friend looked on as if to plead for help. Over months, questions arose, asked in panic: What’s it mean when Jake’s breath is sulfuric, when he stops going upstairs? When he eats grass and craves dirt, and his appetite diminishes and his weight drops and his energy ebbs? And he still snuggles?
When prayers seem for naught?
Life’s mysteries may be meant to remain unsolved.
Urgent measures to fight Jake’s organ failure and increasing distress ranged from prescription food and a variety of vitamins and minerals to alternating hot- and cold-packs and increasingly desperate attempts to get him to eat: Fried chicken thighs, grilled turkey burgers, ground pork, vanilla wafers, salt-free chips, his favorite pizza, and spooned ice cream all worked occasionally, until nothing did except licking med-laced peanut butter off fingertips.
As the daily liter of saline dripped into Jake’s hide, music drifted in from another room: Van Morrison’s “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” then Sonny & Cher’s “Baby Don’t Go,” and it was impossible not to weep as hands massaged him.
Despite the burden of longing, Jake was a blessing, too. Neighbors noticed his energy, greeting sidewalk strolls with “Who’s walking who?” He was even-handed and scrupulously fair, sharing games and toys with everyone in the room: canine kindness. A smart, bright-eyed shelter-dog buddy, Jake wasn’t just an eager-to-please lab. He was jubilant, sometimes wagging his tail as he slept as well as in greeting. In fact, in the misery of his final hours, he wagged as someone approached, put his paw on an arm, and licked hands that tried to soothe him.
Sadness and bliss needn’t be “either/or,” it’s said, it’s “both/and.” Further, people could be better because they’d had such companions for a time. A favorite t-shirt says, “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”
Indeed, Jake might be a role model of sorts: a being that was forgiving and accepting, alert and vigilant, excited to watch TV or sit in the gazebo, enthusiastic to roll in snow or romp with stuffed animals, patient and happy to ride in the car, and always joyful and loving without condition.
What great goals – along with taking naps (and, OK, without lunging toward trucks towing trailers or leaving nose marks on windows).
Jake lives in our hearts and heads. And Heaven.
He was a good boy.