Wet, black earth. Shovel full after shovel full. The three of them stand out in the far backyard taking turns digging. From the kitchen window I watch. Rubber boots caked with mud. Water-steeped dirt piled upon water-steeped dirt. They work together. They cry together. They grieve together. Father, daughter, son. Partners in mourning. Tenderly preparing a permanent spot to cradle and hold our beloved Mowgli. Our loyal companion. Our faithful friend.
Death has come to our house yet again.
Heartache exposed. Grief unveiled. Sadness abounding. How can it be?
It’s moments like this I must force myself to see the good. To give thanks. To look beyond the immediate and see the eternal. It’s moments like this I have to consciously choose to repel self-made pity parties, and embrace the almost-hidden grace of this time-instant. It’s moments like this, that while my heart weeps, I need to find reasons to praise. Find the eucharisto. THE Eucharisto.
The black earth continues to pile up. The boy climbs out of the waist deep hole and moves to the play structure. Limb over limb, he monkys up the side and teeters on a board while watching his daddy continue digging. The girl stands on the edge of the hole—talking to her father, trying to shake off the cold, trying to be brave. She understands heartache and loss all too well. It’s been a difficult year and a half—first her grandma, then a bunny, followed by Boutros, our other “dog-child” pre-children, and now Mowgli. While she talks, she scans the blackness for juicy worms to feed to the hens. It gives her something concrete to do.
I continue to stare out the window, and I begin to pray.
“Thank you, Lord, for 14 1/2 years of life with a one-in-a-million dog. Thank you that his suffering did not go on for days. Thank you that by the moving of earth, You are supplying balm to a husband’s painful loss. Thank you for a husband that is so transparent in his love and grief for his lost dog. Thank you for little boys that want to be useful and help their daddys. Thank you for big girls that loved their dog beyond their grief and want to do what they can to make his final resting place meaningful and beautiful. Thank you for little girls that know their limits and are not afraid to voice them. Thank you that we, as a family, can celebrate our DOD’s life (demanding old dog) but still acknowledge the deep sorrow and pain that comes with losing something we loved so much.”
The boy now stands at the backdoor. He walked up when I wasn’t paying attention. He wants to watch a movie with his other sister, and have a blueberry muffin. He’s done. He’s helped, and now he wants to go into mindless thinking. The middle sister has hardly left the room since she heard the news—Mowgli did not survive the night. She doesn’t want to think. She doesn’t want to see. She doesn’t want to know. “Thinking about dead things makes me sad, and seeing my dead animals makes my tummy really hurt” she tells me. “It’s okay,” I say. “You can stay in the house and watch a movie.” She sits video after video—mindless, unthinking reality.
Finally daddy and daughter trudge up to the house. The hole is ready.
We decide to eat first. The muffins are cold now. The sausage is too. But, it doesn’t matter. We eat. We go around the table and each pray—giving thanks. Isabelle cries. This is tough stuff. Our day in and day out companion—gone. The dog that always seemed to have a smile on his face—gone. The old man dog that often just laid around waiting for a scratch or a nuzzle—gone. It’s hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago he was wagging his tail, happy to see us after a long day away, and now he’s lying in the back of the van cold and not moving.
After what was supposed to be breakfast, four of us head outside to finish “beautifying” his grave. We rake golden-yellow leaves from the neighbors backyard and make a soft bed at the bottom of the hole. Isabelle covers the leaves with cedar bows, and pine needles.
David moves off toward the house. He rounds the corner. I can hear the back of the van slam shut. He comes back into view. My heart sinks. It’s true. It’s really real. David lumbers down the path—lifeless dog wrapped up in a blanket and vinyl tablecloth. He comes closer. I can see Mowgli’s feet. Orange fluff sticking out between his toes. I start to cry. David sets him down and sends the kids away. “Go in and ask Sophia if she wants to see Mowgli one last time before we bury him.”
We stand together, alone. Hugging and crying. The end of an era. The dog that came into our life within the first year of our marriage is, now fourteen and a half years later, gone. We remember bringing home our speckled puppy. We remember riding around Eugene on a recumbent tandem, puppy on my lap, sometimes with a bottle of wine in the back or a bunch of flowers or a picnic lunch. We remember his piranha like tendencies as an exuberant young dog, and his eagerness to please. We remember his love of frisbees and chasing squirrels. We remember the perkiness he showed when we said the names: Tulah—the female dog he mated with to produce Boutros, or Howard—his favorite dog friend, or Ashleigh—a good human friend, or Papa—his caretaker when we were gone who fed him twice his normal allotment of food and took him on daily walks. We remember taking him hiking and camping. We remember spending countless hours with a happy, healthy dog, and many worried-hours as we nursed him through salmon poisoning and old guy ailments. We remember…
The kids return. Sophia does not want to see him. David grabs the blanket and gently lowers him in the hole. He adjusts the blue fabric to cover his face. He places a tennis ball and a frisbee next to him. We gather more leaves and put them on top of his body. More bows. More pine needles. Some myrtlewood branches. We sing:
“Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him; all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in heart of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
David says a few words, prays, and then picks up the shovel. He gingerly puts the first load of dirt on the leaf pile. It’s followed by another and another. Jonathan picks up a spade and begins to work scooping dirt from another earth-mound. I grab a second shovel to help. Isabelle gathers flowers, rocks, pinecones and assorted “pretties” for the top. We work together in silence. Soon the hole is filled. More golden leaves are mounded on the top and anchored with a heart shaped rock and several stalks of crimson hydrangeas. Isabelle writes “LOVE” on the rock. She adds five pinecones at the base representing each of us. She finds a tennis ball and adds it to the love offerings.
I turn and head up to the house. They will finish the day’s difficult task. As I sit down to write, I turn my calendar over and read,
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come.
We only have today. Let us begin.” ~ Mother Teresa
More tears. This time tears of joy.
…”Thank you, Lord, for knowing what I need when I need it—for encouraging words in all things, big or small. Thank You, too, for time spent with Mowgli, my beloved friend. Amen.”