Our beloved M passed away not too long ago. It wasn't something that was totally unexpected, and yet it wasn't something that I wanted to happen yet. Not yet. Not so soon. But she was already old even though she sometimes reminded me of a puppy with the way she bounded about playfully. She was old. And she had problems with her joints since she was young. She was tired, I could see that too. She would lay down to rest and when I came home, I would call out her name to wake her up, as her hearing wasn't that good anymore either. Maybe she didn't want to wake up. Maybe she just wanted to rest for a long time and my shouts startled her into consciousness. Maybe all she wanted was to lay down to rest and never wake up. And she did just that not too long ago.
Everything dies. Everyone dies. I know that.
She was my protector, a big dog who knew only love and who loved greatly in return. When I nuzzled my face against her head, breathing her in, I sometimes thought that on a very specific spot on her furry head, there was the scent of cotton candy. And I would have visions of pink clouds of cotton candy and carousels and ferris wheels in an amusement park. When I was a child, we would sometimes visit a place called Wonderland. That scent -- that merest hint of it -- brought me back to a different time and place, of children and laughter. I'd often wondered why that was. The scent of cotton candy, perhaps, that sweet confection that children delighted in whilst exploring the different rides in a place called Wonderland.
Dear M, how I miss you.
Perhaps it's too ridiculous to even say it but I thought -- or I'd hoped -- that she would live forever. I knew she would die one day, especially as she got older and her appearance and moods changed. My brothers and I had dogs during our childhood but M -- as well as B, her male companion (and J, our first male dog, who died at only eight months old) -- were my first big dogs that were all mine. We spent every day together. I, along with my husband, was responsible for their well-being. It felt different this time around for I was an adult, no longer a child. I was responsible for her and she was responsible for me too for she protected and watched over me, coming over to comfort me when I appeared to be upset or staying close by me when I was ill. I didn't have to say or do anything. She just knew. There were times when she seemed almost maternal. And there were times when she reminded me of a lion as she walked about in our backyard with that slow, steady gait, head low and watchful. My darling girl.
And now she's left behind B, who spent twenty-four hours of every day with her. He's still finding ways to cope, I think, and as he, too, is almost as old as M, I am more watchful of him these days. When M sometimes snored, it bothered me at first, but after a while, I grew to like her snoring, and even her grunting in the middle of the night, and actually welcomed those sounds. These days -- and nights -- I listen for B's breathing if I can. I always called my dogs my babies but I never saw them as my children. They were my family; they were two of my bestest friends in the whole world. They were my pack or I was part of their pack. We didn't run together as a pack but we certainly enjoyed walks at the back of our house, the dogs leading the way. And I remember the way M sometimes ambled a few feet in front of me, then turned her head to see me following behind. And that look on her face -- whether she was wondering or urging -- was almost precious. It struck me as quite unusual when she did it the first time as a puppy (smaller sized, younger, not fully mature). Perhaps it wasn't so unusual -- for B does it these days when we walk together -- but that very minor incident made a lasting impression. I noticed the little things. And it's the little things which I remember most of all.
The cat misses her too -- all of us seemed quite forlorn for a few days after M's death -- but it comforts me to know that at least B has the cat to keep him company.
Our dogs escaped two days before M died. To our immense relief, we found them later that afternoon. They weren't far from home but they had obviously walked -- or even run -- a great deal, resulting in two exhausted canines. My husband seemed to think that M had left home to die for that is what dogs do. Or would do, if given the opportunity. She was still strong; the tree was rotten. She could very easily have pushed at it till it fell on the fence, allowing them a way out. And so they went on their little adventure, B tagging along, happy to be embarking on his great adventure. As we searched for them, my husband reminded me that God was in charge and we were not. As I kept driving, looking out for the dogs, his words kept going round and round in my head. And I remembered my father and his death at age fifty-seven and our dog, J, whose untimely death at eight months old left me heartbroken. Yes, God was in charge, and I wasn't. Of course I knew that. And everything happened for a reason. I obviously knew that in my gut already -- although a little reminding never hurt anyone -- and, admittedly, there were times when I didn't have the faintest idea what that reason could be. But He had to be in charge. I had to believe that even if I didn't always understand it. He took my father away. And he took J away. He allowed it to happen. It wasn't a matter of feeling defeated. It was a matter of acceptance.
M died in the afternoon. That was how we found her. I could see God's hand in it as my husband happened to come home that day and even though the weather had been chilly and frosty, the sky was blue and it was a little warmer. And the ground was soft enough so that my husband could dig her final resting place. It was a sad day but it was also a day when everything came together.
She was ready to die but I wasn't ready to let go. I once walked with both dogs. Now I walk with one. He has me now. And I have him. And time is precious. And walking that familiar path with him brings back memories of walking with her when she would walk ahead and glance back at me.
I was sad before and after we buried her. But the sense of loss struck harder still later on. Just as it did with my father. In the quiet of the night, as I lay on the floor close to B, and cried for M, I wondered if my mother had cried for my father, missing him, feeling the hole left in her heart. And whether she still misses him every now and then all these years later and how she struggles with those feelings and memories. I never thought about such things then but I do now.
A few weeks after her death, I dreamed of M, and I woke up, feeling a little soothed. It felt good to dream about her, to remember her. It was comforting.
And in my childlike way, I even asked God if dogs did indeed go to Heaven.