I want to tell you the end of the story, since I’ve already shared the beginning and the middle in other columns.
In our family, we love our dogs wildly and too well. When my daughter adopted Grandma the dog as a little pup from her local Humane Society, she felt good about taking in a rescue and also about the family getting a beauty of a dog for nothing. But nothing is for nothing.
You’ve heard about Grandma. Many people west of the Mississippi have heard about Grandma, but east of the Mississippi, only readers of this column know about her. She was the extraordinary black lab mix my daughter found at a shelter near the mountain town where she lives.
Grandma was one of 11, and she and all her siblings regularly ran the trails around their town, exercising themselves and their humans. Once a year, on their birthday, the town hosts a barbecue down by the lake, marked by lots of splashing and tossing and fetching.
Grandma had been touched by both grace and abundant luck, both good and bad. She was strong, carried her own food on her back on overnight hikes, protected her humans and wasn’t afraid to challenge the occasional buck she encountered on the trail.
When she was just 6 months old, Grandma nosed her way into the ski shack on the mountain and ate a dish of rat poison. As she started to seize, my daughter grabbed an emergency medical kit, poured an emetic down her throat and kept her alive until they could get to the emergency veterinarian. She ran six miles the next week, with no signs of any ill effects.
Two years ago, she ripped open her chest jumping over a barbed wire on a camping trip. No one noticed until she almost bled out in the car. She healed well.
Last year she found a porcupine in the brush and nudged it with her nose. It nudged back with 14 sharp quills into her snout. She needed general anesthesia to have them removed.
These were all chapters in Grandma’s glorious adventure in the world, until 10 months ago, when my daughter called to say that the dog had a swelling in her abdomen, and the veterinarian said it was likely a malignant tumor. They were on their way to a surgeon. We spoke of how much treatment to do. The thought of this sweet girl dying before her time seemed a dark possibility. Grandma went into surgery with the family thinking that it would be better not to wake her up if there were obvious widespread cancer metastases. But the tumor was removed, and Grandma recovered from surgery; she was out on the trail in a week.
It would not be a long remission, however. The cancer surged back after a few months. Eventually, Grandma wouldn’t lie down and couldn’t sleep. Two weeks ago, the family decided to help her die.
There are veterinarians who will come to your house to euthanize your dog in the calm space of your home. But not during a pandemic. So they wrapped Grandma in some sheets that smelled like home and they brought her to the town vet. But the veterinarian could not allow more than one person inside her hospital. The family, including my grandkids, begged the doctor to bring the medication outside where they could hold the dog for this one last journey. The kindness of strangers. The doctor agreed, and administered the dose as Grandma, only 5 years old, passed away in the arms of the people who love her.
My kids buried her themselves, in the woods where she loved to roam.
How could we grieve over one dog in the midst of a pandemic when there is so much human suffering? Sometimes, I think, a solitary loss takes on the weight of the world. Love is love.
I couldn’t find the words, so I offered my children the words of Mary Oliver, from her poem “Her Grave.”
She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.
Now she is buried under the pines.
Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and
not to be angry.
Through the trees is the sound of the wind, palavering
The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste
of the infallible energies?
How strong was her dark body!
How apt is her grave place.
How beautiful is her unshakable sleep.
the slick mountains of love break
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.