June 23, 2004

A final goodbye

Since I was twelve, my sister has never been without a dog, and in that time, she's had only two dogs. I'm 42 now. That's 30 years, two dogs.

Her first mutt, Mac, lived to the ripe old age of 16. I used to baby sit Mac when I was a kid, because he was hell on wheels. She lived on a farm, and on one particularly dicey baby sitting stint, I was talking on the phone to my best friend, it was 11 at night, and she heard the phone wires go dead as I said "Oh no!"

Needless to say, probably, that my friend's parents called my mother, who called the snipers in, and before I knew it, five people were knocking on my sister's front door, expecting to find me dead.

I was eating a ham sandwich.

Mac, aside from ripping up a nice throw rug that night, had also chewed through the phone cord. He was always a hoot.

When Mac's kidneys failed, I was about to turn 28. Mac had seen my sister through three moves to three different states, a marriage, a baby, a divorce. She had him put to sleep at home, and her grief was so big. So big. She went up stairs, and I sat with Mac while he got his shots--one to relax, the other to rest. I laid next to him on her living room floor, told him what a good boy he was, patted his head until the vet whispered, as they do, "He's gone."

She didn't know, then, what to do with him. He was too big for the mobile vet to take, and that wasn't a service he liked much to offer. So he loaded Mac into the back of my station wagon for us, and I set off to find the crematorium, a 40 minute drive. I don't remember what I thought as I drove with Mac, dead in the back. But I remember I thought a lot of things.

About three months after Mac died, my sister fell in love with a puppy, a clumsy hound mix whom her son named Blitz. We put him to sleep yesterday at 14. Blitz saw my sister through four moves, her single parenting of an asthmatic (and often hospitalized) child, that child's graduation from college, and my sister's remarriage.

If dogs could talk.

But then, they do.

I didn't think my sister would be able to go with me yesterday. Our pasts are loaded when it comes to death and loss and the inability to grieve. But she did. She went. She stayed in the room for the first time during the letting go of life. She wept, as we stroked Blitz's head, we shared kleenex, and he went to sleep.

With his nose resting at the tip of her sneekers the whole time.

When death is beautiful, it really is.

This one was.