This week has been a stressful one for a multitude of people. It has been a hard week for the survivors of the 9/11 attack. It has been stressful for General David Patraeus
, who testified before Congress regarding progress in the war in Iraq
. It has been a hard week here where we have lost a member of our family.
Our loss was that of one of our pets. I know, that loss pales into insignificance in comparison to the loss suffered by others. I submit that loss is relative. The loss of a dime can be as hard as the loss of a dollar if all you have is a dime.
Our dog was named China. She is responsible for many positive things in our lives over the last decade. She is the one who cured several members of my family from cynophobia, the fear of dogs. She did her part in maintaining a relationship of trust. She taught our kids what unconditional love and acceptance looks like on four paws. She often did it better than myself or my wife.
I'm a sucker when it comes to pondering words and what they really mean. I can choose one and spend an hour dissecting it, turning it about like a piece in a puzzle, looking to see how it fits into the big picture of life. The loss of China causes me to do that with the word relationship.
Webster 1913 carries the following definition of relationship: The state of being related by kindred, affinity, or other alliance. We all have a variety of relationships, some valued, others unwilling.
Relationships based on kinship are obviously not always good ones, though they are undeniably some of the most powerful. Most people would say the relationship (or lack of one) with their parents has been one of the most significant in their lives. Siblings follow closely, and in some instances may eclipse the parental relationship. Other relatives fall closely into line, each rated according to the influence that person has or has had in our life. Following these are friends and acquaintances.
Relationship based on an alliance can also be powerful. We have business relationships which hopefully enable us to do our jobs, further our goals. We may have financial relationships with lenders or other institutions. We ally ourselves into teams to participate in sports, allowing us to compete and enjoy the company of others as we do so. We are here on E2 because we are allied by a common interest in writing, or at least an interest in reading the writings of others.
The relationships we cherish most are the ones we are in simply because we want to be in them. That brings me back full circle to our relationship to China, our lost pet. She of course didn't really have a vote in forming the relationship. My son and I bundled ourselves into my pickup truck on a cold April morning 10 years ago to go meet her. She was about to become orphaned by circumstance. Her owner was the male half of a couple, the female half having absconded to find romance via an internet tryst. The remaining partner was a trucker, and due to his job simply could not provide the care his 2 dogs required. He was putting them up for adoption.
We arrived and made the acquaintance of China and her companion. My son decided China was the dog for him, so we took her into the warm truck and made our way home. My son was thoroughly licked, trampled, and sniffed by the time we traveled the 25 miles back home.
China was a bundle of energy, a spring wound too tightly, looking for a chance to uncoil. She ran about our yard, describing an elliptical orbit which terminated at my son. China bowled him over on the return leg of her orbit. I waited to hear him cry, concerned that she'd frightened him. What I heard was the sound of his laughter.
Time passed as it always does, her clock running faster than our human chronometer. She became mature, settling down from that bundle of wild energy. She became the mayor of our small village, going her round and greeting everyone along the way. I've encountered people whom I don't know and had them ask about China. She somehow was known by everyone.
The last couple of years saw her decline. She suffered from a hip disorder common to her breed. My fear was that she would lie down one day and simply be unable to rise again, necessitating a decision to have her put down. Many times I've thought she was almost done in only to have her chase a stray cat. I think she did it just to show me she still had game, tell me not to be too quick rushing to judgement.
Last weekend I was sitting on our porch swing with my wife. Our modest home doesn't have anything as grandiose as a veranda or patio. We have a porch with a swing, good for sitting and talking. It's where we go to steal a few minutes to enjoy each other, talking about whatever needs talking about.
China was there too, enjoying our company. She had a habit of sitting on my foot, as if she wanted to simply have physical contact with me or my wife. I thought she looked a little worn, like she'd lost a couple of pounds too. I thought the weight loss was a good thing. Both she and I have had too much of a relationship with our respective tableware.
I went to work, leaving home for another interminable week on the road in my job as a trucker. In my nightly call home on Tuesday my wife told me China was acting strangely, whining and being unsettled. I told her to keep an eye on her. I know that sometimes when a dog is near their end they can sense it and act strangely. We have an inside dog too, and when my wife took her out for their evening stroll China accompanied them as she almost always did.
The next morning came, but there was no China to be found. Calling her brought no response either. My wife called me and I suggested that my son and his grand dad might want to go looking for her. I suspected she'd gone away to find her end. Dogs are like that sometimes, slipping away like their final moments are an inconvenience to their family. I'd had a conversation with her, told her that if she needed to go it was alright and that I understood. I forgot to tell her to stay home when her time came so we could take care of her properly. She should have understood that I'd have wanted it that way, that I owed her that final respect. God forgive me for the things I've left unsaid in my life.
My son has given me a long distance update while I was gone. No sign of his first dog, his friend, his companion. She taught him some things everyone needs to know in this life. She taught him about love and acceptance. She taught him about responsibility and caring. Finally, she has taught him about loss.
My son has never experienced the intense pain of losing someone dear to him. My parents both died when he was quite young, too young to understand. This is the first loss of someone with whom he has a significant attachment.
We talked about her disappearance, and he agreed that it was her time. I was glad that he displayed a mental preparedness for this event, that it didn't come as a complete surprise. In some ways I think he was better prepared than myself. I don't turn loose of things I value easily.
I told him that in my opinion God probably could always use a good dog. That He could enjoy her until the time came when we could be together again. That Heaven is supposed to be a place full of good things, so there was no reason for there not to be dogs there. That China was one of the very best, and that she could now be free to run again unfettered by a tired and failing physical body.
I hope in some small way she has innoculated my son, given him protection from the ravages of future loss. I hope when that larger loss comes,(as it inevitably must), he will recognize it and that it is simply a matter of degree. All loss hurts our spirit. The only question is how deeply we are hurt and how long the hurt endures. Recognizing it as a natural part of life is the beginning of coping with its ravages.
My wife still has her parents, a blessing to her, our kids, and myself. Her dad will be 80 years old this fall. He is still healthy and able to get out and do things. As an over the road trucker my time with my son has been limited in many ways. My wife's dad has been there for my son, taking him fishing and hunting while I've been gone. The value of that has been incalculable.
I know the world keeps on spinning and time will finally run out for my wife's parents. I'd spare everyone the pain of that loss if I could, but of course that is impossible. It's been said time heals all wounds, but the truth is time also is the source of all wounds. Live long enough and you will suffer loss.
This is my attempt to say goodbye to a friend and companion who just happened to be born as a dog. China always greeted me with her smile and affection. It didn't matter that she had gotten old, didn't feel well, or that she couldn't run like when she was younger. She gave all she had to the absolute end, and that's a tribute to anyone no matter how many legs they might have. We'll miss her and remember her for all she did and all she was. Farewell, my friend.