Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dog Gone . . . a Trivial Grief Observed

This will be one of those posts that I will live to regret.  I hesitate for two reasons. For one, once again I'm in a hurry and I have a lot to say to make my point, so there were be typos.  But more concerning to me is that I will attempt to talk about something trivial . . . especially trivial in the eyes of someone out there who is feeling the grief of non-trivial loss.  I know that there are people who read this who have lost children, spouses and have had romantic loves walk away.  I know that others have watched as their world system of thinking . . . such as Christianity . . . seems to have walked away leaving them in a collapsed universe. In the midst of this, I'm going to be talking about my Dog Coco . . . and the fact that I'm loosing her. Yes, this is trivial in comparison.

The reason I'm even sensitive to this situation, where I talk about my dog while other people's worlds are going to hell, is that it reminds me of a personal experience.  So here we go . . . the first tangent.

About twenty two years ago, I was in the midst of the greatest crisis of my life.  I won't go into details but to say I was deeply depressed, seriously considering suicide as my universe had caved in on me.  But I remember while in this state of severe agony I was attempting to attend a church in Marquette, Michigan.  One Sunday evening, as usual, we had an "open mic" time to share prayer request.  And, as usual, a young girl, Ann, dominated the time.  Often she had us praying for twice removed cousins who were contemplating getting an abortion even after Ann had "shared Jesus" with them several times (I really think the point of the prayer requests was to paint herself as the super-Christian).  That night Anne shared about her dog having pups . . . eight if I remember right. She wanted prayer for each one, by name.  Two of them were fighting over the same teat as the mother only had seven.  But she wrapped Jesus around the prayer because she would smile and say, "Isn't Jesus wonderful that he loves us so much, that he cares about our puppies."

At that moment, I felt like the Tin Man.  I felt "other" not just from Ann but from all Christians, and people in general.  They were made of flesh and bones, with concerns of puppies, rainbows and smiles.  I was metal, hollow and different from anyone else in the room.  I wanted to open my mouth . . . as it was “open mic” and scream, “I’m living in hell here . . . please someone help me!  Please, by the mercy of God help me! I don’t give a damn about puppies . . . God have mercy on my soul . . . please someone help me!”  But my mouth was frozen closed as by an ancient rust.  And that was a good thing.  If I had screamed out for help, in the middle of the puppy story, I’m sure that I would have regretted that until this day. For one, my wife would have been totally embarrassed.  But the church would have reacted in horror . . . “truly there sits a lunatic.”  Maybe someone would have handed me a Joel Osteen book afterwards, something about God Loves the Smiling Man.      

So, my digression is over.  My point is . . . now the tide is turned and I’m the one talking about puppies where there are people out there dying like I was.  I just want you to know that you deserve this mic much more than I do as I have no real crisis in my life right now.

My best friend, Coco, is dying.  She has cancer.  Each day, I think might be her last . . . then she peps up and looks almost normal, except for her intense limp on her bone-cancered front leg.

I’ve always been a dog man . . . Saint Bernards to be percise.  She is the fourth one I’ve had. But I’ve had her for eleven years and she and I have bonded as much as a inter-species bonding can be.  As they say, a dog is a man’s best friend and in this case, it is literal.  I look into her brown eyes and I can see her soul.  While she only understands about five English words, she and I communicate clearly. 

While she would be lying on the floor half a sleep, I would sometimes lay down near her.  I would catch her looking at me . . . then she would start sliding in  my direction across the hardwood floor until she could stretch and very gently touch my cheek with her huge, clumsy paw.  There was no misunderstanding about it. She was saying, “I love you.”

She invented a game where she would run in figure of 8s, with me at the center.  With each swing past, she would get closer and closer as I would try to catch her.  Then I would tackle her and the two of use (equal in weight) would hit the ground and roll.  She loved that game.

This is an especially poignant parting.  As I have become an empty nester (after raising 5 kids) and have very little conversation with my wife these days, who works part time, is in graduate school full time and is in the gym two hours a day . . . I talk to Coco more than any human.  I will miss her so much and my heart has been hurting for a week.

Each time I mention her plight, having been diagnoses a week ago, people always say coldly, “just put her down.”  But I don’t want to take her life from my personal convenience. I pray that she will die peacefully in her sleep. If the time comes and I have to take her life, it must be an act of unselfish love.  She would have to suffering. But for now, helping to carry her 100 lb frame (she has lost a lot of weight) down the steps so she can go potty, isn’t a reason to end her life.

She has lived longer than most Saint Bernards.  That offers me no comfort.  I remember when I was in this exact same circumstances with my father, people would try to comfort us by saying . . . “He survived Normandy . . . so that was a blessing.”  Sure it was a blessing.  But loosing dad hurt. It hurt badly. I felt like I had to go through that valley alone.  I had dreaded that day from the time I first realized that humans died (age 4?).

The time with my dad was more hellish of course.  I loved him far more than Coco. It was also a terrible situation where I lived 600 miles from dad.  I couldn’t take any time off to be with him as I was the only bread-winner for a family of seven. Even my one flight down for him put us in debt and family strain.  It was an awful time watching my dad die by phone.  I had wished so much that I had not been the bread winner so I could have gone and been with him for his final eight weeks.

But I’m dragging this on.  I had no great point but to share my grief. I will say, that as  monist, I do believe that this earth is real and glorious . . . as are all the beast there in.  While Coco may not be created exactly in God’s image . . . she was created by God’s good favor . . . and He created her well.  I love C. S. Lewis imaginary.  I'm looking forward to riding up the water fall on the back of Coco with her big cold nose splitting the falls in half as we fly deeper in . . . into the glorious new earth. 


Jaimie said...

Tears in my eyes. I have loved and been loved by dogs. And lost them. I'm sorry.

Justin said...

Been a while, MJ, but I had to say this: one of the biggest wounds we give each other is to compare our griefs to each other's. What a sad minimization of the other. Your grief over Coco simply is, and it is powerful. It is not trivial and I share it with you. I'm sorry. A good dog can be better than a best friend.

Anonymous said...

This isn't an Ann in Marquette puppy story.

You're not "painting yourself as the super-Christian".

This is a genuine Cry of the Heart.

And as for feeling "other", I've known that for most of my life. Then it was called "Growing Up Martian".

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anna A said...


No grief is trivial. I remember the pain that I went through in my Lady's last weeks. I ended up taking her to the vet, kidney disease is an ugly way to die.

May you be aware of God joining you in your grief.

solarblogger said...

I hope you don't mind my including a link to my blog, but the post is worth sharing here. Martin Luther argued for the resurrection of all animals, and included the family dog Tölpel as an example. (I love it that we know the name of a dog from the 16th century.) I also come from a dog family, where there are some old picture albums where the only captions on photos are the dog names. (Who knows the names of most of the people at this late date!) Here is my link.

Dana said...

I firmly believe we will be reunited with our pets in the Great Renewal. I know it's dangerous to "build doctrine" on one verse of scripture, but this one seems to apply:

No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Ps 84.11

There is no better "good thing" in the non-human creation than a relationship with a pet.

Our dog died of cancer last year; she was diagnosed one week before. It was only that last week that was hard for her, and even then it was more a slipping away than anything else. May it be a likewise gentle passing for your dear Coco.


jmj said...

That was kind of all of you. Follow solablogger's link for more on the subject. I just had to get that off my chest.

I wish I had more time to read Imonk these days, sounds like they had a good discussion on culture wars.

Anyway, I remember reading a quote from one of the early Puritans describing how the "beasts" of the earth are part of Satan's domain. I think we all disagree.

Eagle said...

MJ...thank you for this touching post. You're are grieving. We grieve with you.

You know the only 2 times I saw my Dad cry in his life was when both dogs had to be euthanized. That was so hard. Don't feel that you are alone...becuase you are not.

We all love you MJ.