Thursday, February 20, 2014

All Dogs Go to Heaven

April Cushing is the Adult Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column published in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin on February 20, 2014.

July 6, 2013—seven months and seven days ago today—was an unlucky one for me. It was the day my dog got run over and killed. It happened in my driveway on the Cape while I was in the backyard. It was an accident, I know, and Duffy was no pup. Nonetheless, I was devastated, and so was the driver. My devoted companion of almost 14 years was gone and I never even got to say goodbye.

Shortly afterwards I received a condolence note from my boyfriend’s mother. “I’m sure it cast a pall over the entire weekend,” she wrote. You have to admire someone who has so thoroughly mastered the art of understatement. I handed the note to her son to read.

“Mom’s not much of a dog person,” he admitted.

My youngest daughter, who had shared a dorm room with two contraband kittens her sophomore year, isn’t what you’d call a dog person either. But she and her boyfriend had recently broken up; she understood loss.

A couple weeks later I was wrestling with the tricep machine at the gym when one of the trainers commented, “Wow, those muscles are getting really buff!” The remark caught me off guard. It was so absurd I burst out laughing.

“It’s good to see you smile again. I know you’ve had a cloud over your head for the past week,” he said. 13 days, actually. Tricking me into laughing was a low blow, but it worked. Then he mentioned the bit about God closing a door and opening a window. I was looking for one even slightly ajar.

I’m generally a cheerful person, except when I’m not, and I definitely hadn’t been lately. I would make I through the workday okay, only to come home to my Duffy-free domicile and be assaulted all over again by his absence. When I railed against my loving and patient partner he calmly observed, “You’re just going through the grieving process.”

How very reassuring, I thought. I must be entering the anger phase right about now. Emotionally speaking, it would appear, I was right on track.

But one can wallow in self-pity only so long. I had retired Duffy’s dishes but couldn’t quite bring myself to put away his bed, or his stuffed bunny. I might be about ready, though, to try focusing on the positive for a change. Wouldn’t it be a nice keepsake to compile a scrapbook of favorite Duffy stories and photos? Feeling almost upbeat, I emailed my four daughters and former husband asking them to share some memories of the dearly departed.

I received an abundance of sympathy in response but no actual anecdotes. So one day I sat down with Katie, the daughter with the closest connection to Duffy but probably the worst memory (besides mine), to commemorate the life of our little canine.

“He sure was adorable, wasn’t he?” I began.

“The best, Mom. He was an angel, and now he’s a real one.”

“Remember how we used to play Paw Pad? How did that go again?”

“I think we just picked up his paw and kissed it a bunch of times.”

“And then we’d try to kiss his nose really fast before he could lick us back,” I added, smiling at the memory of our silly games.

“What a sweet little boy,” she sighed.

“The best,” I agreed.

And that appeared to be it for the Duffy album.

Looking for a little more closure, I was curious what the library had to offer on the subject.
“Goodbye, Dear Friend: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Pet,” by Virginia Ironside, recounts the experiences of famous figures such as Freud and Sir Walter Scott as well as regular folks like us. Offering understanding and solace, the author acknowledges the depth of our grief and assures us we are not abnormal or maladjusted for mourning the loss of a much-loved family member.

I also liked what New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz proposed in “Going Home: Finding Peace when Pets Die.” Before making the heart-wrenching but compassionate decision to put down his beloved border collie, Katz planned the Perfect Day, packed with Orson’s favorite foods and activities, as a way to transform an otherwise sad experience into a joyful and memorable one. Anticipating the time I would have to make that agonizing decision myself, I had envisioned spending my own Perfect Day with Duffy. I wish I had done it before it was too late.

Browsing the shelves, I came across “The Truth about Grief: the Myth of its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss.” Ruth Davis Konigsberg maintains there is no validity to the traditional stages proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, nor is there a “how-to” when it comes to grieving. That was a welcome discovery; losing my Paw Pad partner was tough enough without being totally predictable about it.

Finally I spotted a book dedicated to “my current precious darlings—Balooga, Biscuit, Troy, Sasha, and Soldier” and “to my past beloved pets—Kristen, Misty, Chewy, Mitzy, Jolie, Thor, Crystal, Flower, and many others.” That was my first clue that this one could be a little out there. In “All Pets Go to Heaven: the Spiritual Lives of the Animals We Love,” the late psychic Sylvia Browne describes firsthand, and from decades of research, how animals live in the after-life, whether we will see them on the Other Side, and where they fit into the whole of Creation.

While nothing can take away the pain of losing your four-footed friend, checking out some of these books might make it just a bit more bearable. And who knows, some day Duffy and I may get to share our Perfect Day in doggy heaven after all.