The Bittersweetness of Dogs


As a child, I was not allowed to watch Lassie.  Oh, at first it seemed like a perfect match, coming on after Disney on Sunday nights when my child mind was still filled with magic.  But, after a few episodes that left me sobbing in an uncontrollable tyke puddle on our multi-colored shag carpet, my mother, wisely, put an end to it.

It seems I can rationalize all evil in the world except for sad stories with animals.  To this day, The Goose will shout out “For crying out, DON’T LOOK” when we pass an animal dead on the road.

Yesterday, I played hooky from The Boy’s lacrosse game and, unwisely, watched Lassie.  I don’t know why, it was just on. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, hooked.  By the time my son and his friend got home, I was a mess.

Trying to explain this caused typical guffaws of laughter from my family, but my son’s good buddy, inexplicably named Mad Dog, understood.  He had just lost his family dog last week.


Pulling up pictures of his friend, Lucy, in her last moments, brought sympathetic sighs from all of us.  It reminded me of all those little loves who I’ve lost.  Who, among us, hasn’t had to make that terrible decision to end the life of what we call a pet, but is really more like a fuzzy chunk of our heart?

I had a Golden Retriever, unimaginatively named Brandy, that I got when I was 11. I can still smell his puppy breath, see his wiggly little body wrapped in a beach towel and feel the disbelief that I was lucky enough to get him.  He went absolutely everywhere with me, from childhood through my teen years. He was a well known dog.  When I spoke to him, he talked loudly back in whines and barks that were just his frustrated way of saying “Damn this snout, I’ve got something to SAY!”

While Brandy was with me, I met The Goose, got married and moved three times.  We added Maddy, who we called our “first child” and she became Brandy’s bride, becoming the mother of 10 outstanding puppies whose new families sent home Christmas cards and update letters about their perfection. For eight years, they were our family, and when our friends bragged about their slobbery hairless babies, we boasted the fact that our kids could hold a treat on their nose until we told them to flip them into their mouth. All other Oskoshbgosh clad kids paled in comparison.


By the time I was 27, Brandy was skinny, lumpy and smelled like parmesan cheese gone bad.  Not once but twice did someone stop, ring my doorbell and sadly try to break the news that there was a dead dog in my yard.  Since he could no longer hear, I would walk over and touch his shoulder and his cloudy eyes would look up at me and he would wag knowing I was his constant and he was my always there.

Everyone knows when that moment comes.  Our’s came on Christmas Eve and we had a vet kind enough to help us out.  It was the first tragedy of my young life.  I remember The Goose telling me it was just preparing me for worse things to come as we got older, and, sure enough, even in a life as wonderful as mine, there have been some heart-wrenching losses. Losing that dog, though, was like losing a brother, companion, son and friend all in one, just on a slightly smaller, hairier scale.

I’ve had some other dogs who I’ve loved just as much, and who surely occupied just as much of my heart, but none with the uncomplicated love that an 11 year old can give a dog.

And so, I’m sad for Mad Dog and his family.  It has caused me to observe my Matilda, who has been stiff and elderly since she was a puppy, with a worried eye.  She’s 9.  Because she’s my first small dog, I have great hopes that she’ll live even longer than Brandy’s span of 16 years, amazing for a big dog. I don’t ever want to have to sleep without her curled up behind my knees.  I have observed our Finn, shoe chewer extraordinaire, and pictured him elderly.  At least once a day I hear his Jack Russell feet pounding through the house, like he’s being chased by a demon, until at last, he finds me, puts his head on me and gazes as me as if to say, “I here, Mom.  Whew.  I here”. In my mind, he speaks in a voice that hasn’t quite mastered grammar.  It is too horrible to think of him getting old.

My dad had a terrible dog, Boo, who no one liked except my dad.  She loathed me with raw, exposed sibling rivalry.  When my dad was dying, Boo began failing.  She pined and wasted when he was in the hospital and died, just one day before my dad.  Although I cannot imagine a Heaven that contains that despicable hellion, I know, begrudgingly, that she was there, glossy and black, wagging her stump of a tail, joyful at my Dad’s arrival.  I don’t know how my Mom has reconciled the fact of Boo in their celestial home, but I know that for Dad, she makes his afterlife complete.


It’s hard to remember when a puppy has chewed up a favorite shoe that the unfairness of a dog’s love is that their lives are way too short.  It’s surely a cosmic mix-up that they can’t be our companions for life.  No one loves us more than our dogs, their love undiluted by our fallibilities.  They are children who never grow up, never get sassy, never know it all and never leave us.  Just our appearance through the door is a miracle to them every single time.

While I was reading books on Heaven not too long ago, I was so happy to read about tales of animals there told by those brought back from the brink.  When Brandy died, I had him cremated and found a beautiful antique box for his remains.  He sits, unobtrusively, on a chest in my foyer.  No one would know what the box was unless they stopped to read the poem there, which I think sums it all up:

I said to St. Peter, I’d rather stay here, outside the pearly gate.

I won’t be a nuisance, I won’t even bark.  I’ll be very patient and wait.

I’ll be here, chewing on a celestial bone,

no matter how long you may be.

I’d miss you so much if I went in alone;

it wouldn’t be Heaven for me.

A Peek at the Other Side


I’m a reader.  Always have been.  I will read almost anything except fluffy romance or cold war stories.  Even the hyper-active wild child that I was when I was small would sneak away and hide under the coffee table in the living room and read for hours.  I had a notebook like Harriet the Spy and solved mysteries like Trixie Belden.

I like to read in waves. I love to find a subject and explore it thoroughly.  Early this summer, I went, again, through Pearl S. Buck.  This put me on a China track and I read book after book about pre-war China, the poverty, foot binding, the lifestyle.  China crept into my life and I found myself ordering vegetable moo shu almost daily from the restaurant up the street.


After that, though, I got on a kick about NDEs.  Honestly, this has been life changing.

When I was 27, one of my best friends died.  She had been my cohort throughout high school.  She knew where the bodies were buried.  After school, our paths went completely different ways and while she traveled with bands, dated celebrities and partied, I got married.  When she was 24, in the late 80s, she came home sick.  Really sick.  We picked up our friendship and I watched as, over the next three years, she wasted away.

One of the sharpest people I’ve ever known, The Goose and I adored her.  She ate with us, lived part time in her room at our house, went to work with me.  We sat at the same booth at Houston’s in Buckhead so often that the hostess knew it was “our booth”.  We laughed continually and she was an everyday part of our household.  The Goose and I went to Paris that spring and when I came home, she was gone, having slipped away while we weren’t watching.

My grief was all encompassing.  I am a person who, when confronted with something scary or overwhelming, does not rent her clothing or wail.  I get very quiet and shut down. Sometimes I escape in a book.


That was the year Embraced by the Light came out.  I picked it up out of desperation and I did find it comforting.  I have never had a crisis of faith.  God makes sense to me, even if some of the churchy details don’t.  I’m a prayer.  I bother God about lots of things.  I honestly yack his ears off all day long. I don’t question why bad things happen.  I understand completely about having free will and what mankind has done to ourselves.  I do question why animals suffer, being such pure spirits. But even with my faith, I certainly did mourn the loss of my friend.

Embraced by the Light, whether or not one believes her account, was fascinating, although certainly not my favorite.  I saw where recently, doctors have come out with new studies about NDEs, or near death experiences, and this sparked my interest in, again, reading the accounts of those who have been down this road .

Instead of shoving personal brands of religion down non-believer’s throats, I wonder why no one thinks to approach belief in God in this way?  Yes, God is faith, but some folks just aren’t accepting of anything that smacks of Earnest Angley (say baby) brands of God. Surely it is the hypocrisy of “religion” that makes everyone so crazy.  What a shame church has snuffed out so much that’s good and comforting about God. Maybe this would be great reading for someone searching for a little proof.

So, I’ve been swimming through these accounts. I just Googled NDEs and jumped in.  I read everything in my local library, received daily deliveries from Amazon and Half,  and waded through websites until my reading glasses made dents on my nose.  I’ve consumed book after book of documented stories folks tell upon being resuscitated. Giant towering stacks of books about children who have died and come back.  Kids just tell it like it is and their stories are great, comforting and funny.  There are blurbs from Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and old accounts from history, some centuries old.  The really awesome thing is that they all tell basically the same story.

Call it what you will, almost all end up calling it “God”.  Many call it “The One”.  I like that!  This is not gender specific.  It’s not contained to a certain faith, although a huge percentage, including those of other faiths, do see Jesus. I will definitely see Jesus. Not the Jaysus of the TV evangelist, but the loving and accepting personification of God.  There is always a light.  There are always loved ones who have gone before and, to my eternal delight, there are animals in some accounts as well. There will most definitely be animals waiting for me and my mother will be there, shooing them away from her lest their celestial animal fur get on her skirt.  There is total acceptance. There are usually life reviews wherein what’s important is not what one has done wrong, but the love one has shown to others.  Many accounts say that we have been together in spirit form before we’re born and make the decision to come to Earth, much like a life university, and learn from the hardships in the life we choose. I don’t know why this angers some.  God says he knows us even before we’re formed.


Even in the stories, which are few, that are bad, or seem to be of Hell, there is a desire to go to the light, to be with the light, to make-up or get things right with the light.  Each and every person, without exception, whose story I read, came back with one desire.  To love more. To love God, to love others, to lift each other up and show kindness.  Possessions didn’t matter anymore, politics, hatred, the crap of the world all fell away.  They came back to help others and wait for the time that they’re called “home” again.  The thought that came through again and again is how we are all connected.

The story that blew me away was about a blind woman.  Blind from birth, she had never experienced color.  She had heard about it, but had no context for it.  When she died, she saw colors.  She exclaimed over and over that though she couldn’t put a name to each one, she had seen colors.  She had seen.  She had descriptions of things she had never touched that she could only have learned through sight.  When she came back, of course, she was blind again, with the memory of sight, but looked forward to a time when she was, again, “home”.

I am digging all this.  It has given me a decidedly hopeful feeling in my heart.  Although I never doubt where I will go when I die, and am in no hurry to get there, it’s always good to see the vacation slides of others who have been before.  In the midst of the storm and fury that goes on in the news, I feel a strange calm and perspective that probably won’t last, but is certainly enjoyable now because I am looking at things through this long range lens. It has caused me to feel a lot less disturbed about the things I can’t control and a desire to do some lasting good while I’m here.

This is reading thread I highly recommend to anyone who is down about the state of things, feeling alone or just sick of daily crap.

My son’s friend told me he didn’t believe I could become any more of a tree hugging hippie until he heard me spout off about this new interest of mine, and I do get how loony it sounds.  I can’t help but share it though, as I’ve been talking, ad nauseam, to my family about it since I started reading. If I’ve picked up anything through all these books and articles, it is how we are all so deeply interconnected and so I hope others will find this fascinating as well.


What is Normal? (or Yes, my Baby is Periwinkle, Thank You)

My great friend, The Trophy Wife, called me today to see what’s up.  Even though we are just two doors away, sometimes we go weeks without actually setting eyes on each other due to the fact that our families make unfair demands upon our time.  We talk every day, though, and our kids are as intertwined as a nest of snakes.

I’m sad to say that she might have been a more normal person if she’d moved somewhere else.  I feel sure that our “otherness” has been the tool that shaped her kids into absolute freaks.


(Note:  I am including this picture of an elephant with a prosthetic leg because there was no other picture that could go with this story that includes that words”prosthetic leg” that wouldn’t have been just tacky, and also because this picture restores my faith in humanity.  When someone will make an elephant a new leg AND give her a pink princess collar, all is not lost)

Once, a while back, the TW and I were lounging around on her sofa, discussing economics or string theory probably, and her stepson (who, incidentally dates my daughter, how inbred is that?) came walking in saying “hey, there’s an ambulance pulling a dead guy out of one of your rental houses”.  Within 4 seconds, her kids had strapped themselves into their car seats and were displaying a decidedly Jack Nicholson gleam in their eyes.

Upon driving the two miles away to this ramshackle house we own, complete with chicken coops in the back and dogs tied to trees, we discovered that truly, one of our tenants had passed away.  We sat for a moment in reverence and then a paramedic came out carrying the deceased man’s prosthetic leg.

I know, we’re wrong.  We should have left it alone but my friend has a great haunted house in her basement every Halloween and I could see her mind turning about what was going to happen to the leg now that it was no longer needed.  I’m just going to leave the conversations that followed to your imagination as those who were involved in it, besides the TW and me, seemed shocked by it.  TuTu, her stepson, was so disgusted by us that he shook his head all the way home. Suffice it to say, after some rational pleadings on our part against the deaf wall of understanding that often comes with people in authority, we left without the leg.

Now, some might say this is not normal. But who, really, can say what’s normal?

Take religion, for example.  I’m surely not going to get up on a religious high horse here as I find my whole grasp of organized religion changes daily.  Although I grew up with what I though was a pretty good understanding of the whole thing, as I’ve gotten older, I find I am pretty darn tolerant of most things.  As long as I’m happy where I am, I really don’t care what you believe unless you try to argue with me.  My dad got the greatest pleasure in life from Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to the door.  He would usher them inside with gusto and they would leave, an hour later, dazed and stumbling while my dad would be in the kitchen making a celebratory sandwich to chalk up another win.

I do find it sad when people say they have no belief at all.  I turn things over in my head all the time, disregarding what doesn’t make sense, including what does. I talk to God a lot, a hundred times a day, describing how happy the new plants shooting up make me feel and telling him of my disgust at WalMart for buying animals that have been raised in horrifying circumstances.  (Truly, if you’re buying meat at WalMart, shame on you for being both cruel for supporting this way of farming and tacky for buying meat, or almost anything else at WalMart.)  God might get a little tired of all my chatter, frankly. I feel that if there is a god, and I fully believe there is, he (or she, if it makes you happier) is pretty pissed about the whole state of things.  Let’s think about it, I’m confident he’s not hung up on marijuana, which he made, and who marries whom, but I’ll bet he’s really scratching his head about the fact that we cage up his wonderful creatures and then eat them.

God: “How’s that sweet little Marybelle doing, Gabriel?”

Gabriel: “Um, she’s standing right behind you already, God.  Some idiot grilled her.”


I’ll bet he might be confused about grass mowing as well.  Every time I cut the grass I picture God saying “well, hmmm, I never considered they’d do THAT with it.  Seems a little redundant, but…”

Cricket and I have the same thoughts about Native American Indians.  What if an Indian from 200 years ago could time travel and spend a day with us.

Indian: “Let’s see, you are wearing shoes that don’t allow you to run fast, don’t allow you to climb trees and make you feel like you’re running downhill at all times. It just doesn’t seem, well, normal.”

I do think both God and Indians would appreciate the joyous ingenuity behind roller coasters and water skiing though.

(I tried desperately here to find a picture of either God or an Indian on either a roller coster OR water skis.  Couldn’t find one.  Go figure.)

Normal isn’t all that important as I see it.  Except for the time someone in my neighborhood painted their 20,000 square foot house pink, I really can’t think of a time when a little deviance bothered me. I even got used to that. In fact, wacky honestly delights me.  This morning, on Facebook, for example, one of my online friends was looking for non-toxic baby paint.  I have spent all day deeply regretting that I never thought of it.  Pastel babies at Easter, neon babies in the summer.  Glow in the dark for when they catch fireflies in the yard, orange at Halloween.  The possibilities are endless.


Once people can start choosing their color for the day, racism might be out the window and wackiness will skyrocket.  I’m thinking that this would greatly please the God in whom I believe.  From what I’ve read and believe, probably God is just wishing we were a little nicer and a whole lot more tolerant.  I think being periwinkle would just be a bonus.

ImageIn a quick aside, I would like to say that my new brother-in-law, despite being a brilliant mind and a fantastic father and husband, will henceforth be referred to, both in my blog and in real life, only as “Handsome”. Make a note.