He was a great dog, a special dog, but most of all he was my dog.
Sunday began like any Sunday, except that I slept a little later than usual and woke to a lovely fall day. It ended with my sitting cross-legged on the floor of Exam Room # 2, holding my dog Moby’s head in my lap, with our two youngest children on either side of him, my son burying his face in the crook of his arm, as the vet put him to sleep. “I’m very sorry he was so sick,” she said.
He had gotten sick without warning the day before and then got worse. Just a few days before he’d been happily chasing a tennis ball I threw. The vet at the only veterinarian open on Sunday ran the tests and said he was very sick but she didn’t know why. Care would cost thousands we don’t have, and might not work, and if it worked would give him only an extra year or so. I had to tell her to put him to sleep.
I told our youngest, Jonathan, who’d come with me. He said he’d work more, work ten hours a day, to pay for the care. He meant it, and I had to tell him that wouldn’t save Moby’s life. I called my wife, and could barely speak. She told our daughter Hannah. I could hear her break down. I had seen the vet’s face as she motioned me to a room, but Hannah, who loved our dog as much as I did, got the news without warning. That might have been the worst moment.
I’m glad he had his head in my lap when he died, that I was holding him one last time and was the one who had him when he left this world. But I’ll never forget how he turned to look at the vet as she put the needle into the catheter they already had in his leg, and then put his head back down on my lap, and how his eyes closed within a couple of seconds, and then how she took the stethoscope from around her neck and held it to his chest for four or five seconds, and I began to think, “Maybe it didn’t work, maybe … ,” and she pulled it away and said, “He’s passed.”
Up to that moment it seemed I could change my mind and save my dog. When I moved his head so I could get up, it flipped back into place in the way no living head would ever do. That I won’t forget either.
I had loved that dog from the moment I walked round a corner at the Humane Society and saw him lying in his pen on his pillow looking at me. He loved me the same way.
Everything has a hole
Today, Tuesday, is no less painful. Everything has a Moby-shaped hole. He was, by nearly universal assent, a great dog, a special dog, but most of all he was my dog.
When I woke up in the middle of the night, I started to roll over and reach down to the floor to pet him, till I remembered he wasn’t there, and never would be again. I walk into the study and look at the couch to talk to him as I’ve done several times a day for the last twelve years, and I get out three or four words before I see that it’s empty, and know it’ll always be empty. I hear dog tags jingle and a head shake and my heart leaps, for half a second till I realize I’m hearing our daughter’s dog we’re watching while she’s away.
Yesterday we buried Moby. Jonathan and I had dug the grave during the day. It took a long time to dig a deep enough hole through the hard white clay. We dug it nestled against the wall a few feet from my study window, where I can see it when I’m sitting at my computer.
He and Hannah had to work and didn’t get home till after the sun had set. In the dark, Jonathan and I carried the paper coffin in which the veterinarian had put Moby up from the basement and around the house to the grave. It was a kind of procession, and we both walked very slowly without having intended to. Hope and Hannah were waiting by the grave.
We lowered Moby into the grave using ropes because it seemed more dignified and fitting than wrestling with a flimsy paper coffin. I had a horror of dropping him, or the coffin landing on its side and our having to wrestle it into place. We all said a few words about Moby, then said an Our Father and Hail Mary in thanksgiving for his life. I could only get out about three words of each prayer.
We each threw a shovel of dirt into the grave, then the children and I finished filling it in. It takes longer than you’d think to fill even a small hole. I put in the last shovelful that covered the coffin. Because it was dark, the white paper seemed to shine through the dirt. The white got slowly smaller and smaller as we shoveled in the dirt, until I covered the last part, and nothing shone any more.
Hannah went inside when we finished. Because we live next to a woods, Jonathan and I carried some big heavy flat rocks from the rock wall we’d built years ago to cover the top of the grave. Wild animals don’t respect death and loss. We turned to walk back inside, and that, finally, was that.
Taken up into the heavenly feast
A kind friend sent me part of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’. “At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God, and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Jesus says: ‘I make all things new,’” Francis writes.
… Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God.
It’s a tiny loss, even a trifling loss, in a world filled with such pain as this one. I lost a dog. People lose husbands and wives, son and daughters, their own lives. I’ve lost my parents and only sibling. But Moby’s death is the loss and pain I feel now, and it’s bitter. I loved that dog. I pray that he will be one of things Jesus will make new. I want to see him again, resplendently transfigured, though I’d cry with joy to see him again as he was.