“What’s this?” my middle son had just got the mail and there was a card on top of the pile. Card sometimes equals invitation, so I am sure his interest was piqued.
“Oh, it looks like a condolence card. From the vet.” I said.
“Open it, you’ll see.”
He studied the cover and the insides and then read aloud, “We are so very sorry for your loss, Dr. Hummina, Hummina, Hummina and Hummina.”
“Oh, that’s really sweet of them,” I assured him, and put my arm around his shoulder.
“Yeah.” He handed me the card.
Our dog had just died, two days before.
I will never forget how it happened. I had just returned home after leaving our little Lhasa Apso (inherited from Grandma when she passed away a little more than a year prior) at the vet’s office. He would be staying overnight for tests, treatments, and observation. He had some significant health issues anyway, which I managed with diet and medication, but when I brought him in that day, he was just not himself. He was not eating, was a bit shaky (which I had initially attributed to the fact that he had just been groomed and was probably cold), and had begun breathing shallowly and rapidly.
The microwave was humming, heating up a cup of coffee. I tossed my keys in the drawer and fished my phone out of my purse before tucking it into the cabinet. The red light was blinking, indicating that I had missed a call. Oh yeah, I remembered. I had silenced the ringer while I was at the veterinarian’s office.
The message was actually from the vet. I returned it immediately. She told me, “He crashed.”
“What? What do you mean?”
I don’t exactly remember everything she told me about the tests they had started to run, or exactly what happened, but the bottom line was that he was in a coma and only alive because he was on oxygen.
I thought about how eerily similar his illness was to my mother’s (part of me wonders if the dog ever got over my mom’s death.). Lhasa Apsos are an ancient breed from Tibet and considered very sacred dogs because the Tibetans believed that when the master of a Lhasa Apso died, his soul would enter the Lhasa’s body.
I had mentioned that to my pastor just the day before. She told me our Christian faith doesn’t believe that. But I couldn’t help thinking that this belief began way before Jesus’ time.
I told the vet, “I don’t want you to do anything heroic; I don’t want him to live an undignified life.”
She explained what would happen when they removed the oxygen. Because he was already in a coma, he would slip away peacefully. Then she suggested I give a call back when I had collected myself in order to make final arrangements.
It was not easy to break the news to the kids.
My youngest said, “I feel bad for Benji.”
“Because he died.”
“Yes, but he was old. It was time. He’d had a good life with us and spent his last days in the garden, the same garden that Grandma had planted, in the same area where Grandma used to sit. He’s probably in heaven now, with Grandma.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but the movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven” came to mind. A smile spread across my son’s face slowly.
My boys and I are planning to put the dog’s ashes along with some forget-me-not seeds in the garden near “the three soldiers” – the pine trees Grandma had helped them plant the summer before she passed away. This will also probably be the right time to get the St. Francis of Assisi statue that I have wanted for the garden, as he was the patron saint of animals, as well as the author of one of my all time favorite prayers.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.