Thursday, May 17, 2007

A father, a dog and death

There is a graveyard in West Palm that has an intriguing inscription above it. It states "Something so universal as death must be a blessing." Why we don't take more comfort in death is a question, no?

So, for a dreary, rainy, cold Florida day, if you've got time to "kill" here you go:

Years ago, right around the time my father was showing the first signs of Alzheimer's, we went to the pound and picked a most pathetic looking pup, puny with botched coloring. I can still hear my two young sons swearing to walk him and feed him.

My husband and I became the "responsible parties". We named him Truman. He grew at an alarming rate. My vet would laugh every time we brought him in for his check ups. Twenty pounds, then 40, then 60 - finally leveling off at just over 100.

At this point, I should mention the tiny little home we live in - no place to run, no place for exuberance. We rearranged the furniture to make room for his bed, adjusted to longggg, frequent walks to keep him satisfied, and invested in the pet food industry.

Truman became the love of the neighborhood. Small children would run up to embrace this monster, parents would run equally fast to scoop up their trusting youngster. Visitors hesitated at the door, unable to tell his "Come on in bark" from his "I will devour you" bark. What strangers didn't realize, or want to stick around to find out, is that the worse thing this dog would have done to an intruder was lick them to death. He didn't know how to bite. Babies would crawl to his food dish, stick their fingers in his dinner, and he would just sigh, lie down til they were through. He befriended any stray animal, from possum to peacock, that wandered onto our patio - surrendering to his delight in anything/anyone new. He was a good hearted animal. A dog's dog.

At the end of my father's life, I spent each evening sitting beside his bed in the nursing home, holding his hand. Suffice it to say, without a family member present, his end of life care would have been atrocious. That's all I want to say about that for now. My shift was from midnight til seven in the morning, at which time my older sister would come in to take over. I would go home exhausted, the hard plastic chair uncomfortable, the constant ticking and hissing of the oxygen machine impossible to muffle. I spent hours sketching him, trying to memorize every inch of his face. I would hold his hand, stroking it, just being with him.

I came home one morning, and collapsed on the couch. Truman lay at the foot of the stairs, his usual lounging area. He just looked at me, didn't come over like he normally would. I looked at him. I called him to me, he tried to get up but collapsed. I went to his side, sat beside him, held his paw in my hand and looked him in the eye. Was he dying, too?!!! My dog?! Impossible! I grabbed my cell and called the vet. My younger sister and I rolled him onto a sheet and lugged him out to her car. I climbed in beside him, holding his big, huge head in my lap while she drove like a bat out of hell. I cradled my dog, watching his chest rise and fall slower and slower. He didn't cry, he didn't whimper, he just looked right at me and I knew he was dying. I held his paw. I told him, if he was going to die, to have fun wherever he was going. To run and play and have a great time, that we would be fine. That we loved him so much and he had been so good to us. That he was a great dog, did everything a great dog does. His chest rose and fell, his breathing stopped, he lay still, and Truman the dog was gone.

It nearly killed me.

But the really strange part of this tale and why I mention it in such detail is that eight hours later my father died, too.

I know, for me anyway, there are no answers to be found in the odd, random connections in life, but I can't tell you how much comfort I find in imaging the two of them together, walking beside each other to wherever it is we go. Truman wagging his tale, my father whistling for him to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Patty, this is wonderful. I don't know why our pets' deaths often seem to coincide with the end of our parents' lives. It does seem there's a connection.