“Every act of mourning conceals a betrayal, a second killing of the loved one by letting them go.”
Damned if we didn’t run. From the dead dog. The long hours. The slough of a cold spring. We took refuge in the simplicity of a truck, the sweat equity of ascent. In the great hammock of Colorado’s highest alpine valley we found room to let go.
That was our betrayal, I suppose. The second killing of ol’ Doc. As soon as I thought it I recognized the silliness of it. Here was a dog who once ate six waffles off a countertop while we were out, and pretended like nothing had happened when we got back. He wasn’t one for guilt.
We gave him a $26 prime rib as his last meal. It was Lil’ Mountain Ash’s idea. We walked to the butcher counter and gauged the meat by its giganticness, as Blender would have done. The guy behind the counter, sweet guy, told us in painstaking, very loud detail how to cook it. We didn’t have the heart to tell him we’d just huck the damn thing into the mouth of our dying hound. Which is exactly what we did. He ran with it, through the bedroom and onto the deck, where he ate like it was a race.
Not long after, his head rose and turned toward his haunch, like he had an itch, but by then he was no longer in control of himself. His body stiffened and he fell to the floor.
I quickly pulled his head into my lap. His mouth was wide open, his tongue thrashing. He kicked and bucked and drooled and peed on himself and me. As the seizure passed he began to run, nails clattering sideways on the hardwood in a vain attempt to carry himself away from the pain. Eyes open but unseeing, he slowly drew still, and came to in lap, suddenly aware of my voice, of his smell, his state. He looked into my eyes, searching, open. I had no answer. “It’s OK,” I said, over and over. I think he knew it wasn’t.
He never lost himself. Not in the pain, not in the confusion after his seizures. Within hours he was back at the woodpile looking for rats. Doing what he loved. And he still looked at his family with love even when he knew the game was up. There was no fear, no suspicion of betrayal. No abandoning of the Blenderness that was his alone. This was his greatest gift. He was who he was, and he never apologized or forgot it.
I’m home again, wandering through the graveyard of my own backyard. He’s so close, his little body nestled in his blankie just a couple of feet down, beneath the roots of our favorite tree. Gone forever. I won’t hear the grunt and wheeze of his evening settle, the stamp of his feet asking to go out in the morning. Maybe now I can accept the bit of murder in acknowledging that.