"Animals are reliable, full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to." ~ Alfred A. Montapert
September certainly has been a rough month. My most recent loss, the passing of our sweet family dog, Sebastian (known to us by the affectionate nickname of "Val"), broke my heart. The other losses I've incurred this month were painful certainly, though the loss of a family member who's love never wavered, who always wanted to be around us, who saw us through so many days - good, bad, and indifferent - is almost too much to bear. If I had to sum up our brave little dachshund in one word, I would have to say that in everything he was constant: constant hopefulness, constant love, constant loyalty.
My sister brought him home in the winter of 2002, and immediately upon meeting him we fell madly in love with one another. He was the best snuggler. He always knew exactly what we all needed - a smooch, a smile (yes, he actually did smile!), or a funny pose to make us laugh. I learned so much from him. In all his wonderful dog-ness, he made all of us more human.
Early on Sunday morning my sister, Weez, called to say that my brother-in-law, Kyle, had taken Sebastian to the animal ER. His back legs had given out and he was unable to walk. At the ER, they took some x-rays and found that 4 of his vertebrae had collapsed together, putting tremendous pressure on his spinal cord and leaving him in a lot of pain. Because this ailment is very common to the breed and almost near impossible to treat, there isn't anything the vet could do that would cure the condition. Now that it had happened once, it would continue to happen, and each time would be worse. The only humane and decent thing to do was to let him go to greener, pain-free pastures. And though rationally we know that this was the best choice given the circumstances, the loss is still so difficult to bear. It was pouring rain, everything outside seemed wet and gray and sad. In other words, it fit the news of the day.
Harry S Truman once said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." How true those words are, not just for Washington, but everywhere. A dog is the one presence in our lives that never disappoints us, never lets us down, that always, always makes every situation we face better. Somehow we are braver in their presence because they are always so willing to bear our burdens and share our joy with us. They always show up. If only people could be more like dogs.
It's with a heavy heart that I imagine the upcoming holidays without him, this year and every year going forward. I always made him his own special Thanksgiving plate and we unwrapped Christmas presents with him. He always had a Christmas stocking with his name on it stuffed with doggy treats. I looked forward to naps with him as we curled up on the couch after a good meal and watched TV. We sang together, danced together, ran together, played together. That backyard at my sister's house suddenly seems very empty without his tiny stature standing in the middle of it.After these awful events unfolded, I had to get out of the house. I took myself for a walk in the rain, minus the umbrella, to the grocery store. Though the rain was falling heavily at the time, I just couldn't feel anything. I was numb all over. I'd been through several boxes of tissues by then and quite frankly needed some more, along with some kind of food since I hadn't eaten all day. I passed by the Petco ("where the pets go"), my neighborhood vet, and an all-natural pet supply store. Reminders of Sebastian everywhere.
Coming straight at me was a long-haired black and tan dachshund, bigger than Sebastian, with nearly identical markings. He was galloping along, just like Sebastian used to do, chasing a couple of pigeons. I smiled. I've long-considered dachshunds that cross my path my good luck charms. I couldn't help but think that our brave little friend sent me that dachshund to let me know that he is okay now and that I shouldn't worry about him. And then I started to cry all over again, right in the middle of the sidewalk. I guess there's no way past this kind of pain except through it.
After the grocery store, I went up to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. On Sundays at 4:00 they have an Evensong service. I sometimes like to go hear the opening number and stop into the Children's Garden that depicts Noah's Ark. In the Garden, they do the blessing of all the neighborhood animals every year. I'm not much for organized religion, but that Cathedral is a special place. I feel like I enter another world when I walk through those doors. I can take my sorrows there and cry them out, drowning in that glorious sound from the choir. In those walls, I am certain that the Universe can hear me and comfort me. I lit a little candle for Sebastian and for my family who is taking this loss so hard. I tried to smile, but my face wasn't having any it. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. After all the good days that Sebastian gave us, I can spend this one just remembering him and paying tribute to his indomitable spirit.
Of all the dogs I've loved in my life, and my family has been beyond fortunate to have had so many over the course of 40+ years, Sebastian was the one I loved the most.
August 10, 2002 - September 27, 2009
R.I.P. Sebastian, our best and most faithful friend