On Thursday afternoon he’d snuck out the door between incoming kids and hopped in the van again to snack on the snack crumbs, forever coating its floor and seat-pockets. “ANGUS!” I’d stormed, as always, dragging him out. “Get out of there, boy! Come on!” But that night my husband noticed that the limp he’d picked up earlier in the week (at 11, his farm-running exploits taxed him more now) was worse. The leg was swelling up. We agreed we’d call the vet in the morning.
By the time his Friday 4:30 appointment rolled around, Angus was decidedly not himself. He was loungey and subdued, not wanting to get up off his mat. Even when food was available to him within easy reach (unheard of!). Even when the doorbell rang for UPS, he barked but didn’t get up. The vet confirmed a fever, suspected a tick-borne illness, sent us home with meds. But Saturday morning he wouldn’t eat or drink- and he could barely stand up- so we brought him back in. They’d keep him overnight to get fluids into him and try to figure out what was going on.
Sunday evening at 8:30 we got the call. He’d been improving – eating, drinking, perking up – but when they went in in the early afternoon to check him, they found he’d died in his sleep.
The shock, even though we’d known this was possible, was intense. Three days ago he’d been fine. How could this…? We wept, my husband and I, in the kitchen, disbelieving but hating that it was true. My husband’s whispered words, “I wish he’d died at home.” And me, nodding, “Yeah. And even though he was like my arch-enemy most of the time, making my life more difficult practically every moment on purpose, I still loved him so much.” I did. We couldn’t sleep.
Before 9 the next morning my husband was back from the vet, and the tears sprang hot in my eyes when I saw the thick black bag in the back of the car, folded neat and rectangular. He came in a bit later; he’d dug the hole in the back field and was ready for the burial. We filed out together to the spot beneath the tree. I’d not known what the body would be like – what’s rigor mortis like on a dog? How cold would he be? Would it be appropriate for the kids? But as Angus lay there, curled up and sleep-like, he was surreally like his normal-looking self. Our loyal boy, who’d welcomed our other “newcomers” after him as warmly as ever a dog could… now still and lifeless. Through blurry ears we pet his fur, soft as always, and said goodbye.
My husband tucked a homemade “get well soon” card- made on Saturday by one of the girls- under Angus’ arm in his grave, and then he dropped in a feather from the first pheasant he’d ever hunted with Angus, a decade ago. Then we started shoveling the dirt over his grave, my son doing most of the work with his dad.
When the grave was dug, we held hands around the mound and each said one thing we loved about our Angus, and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for his life.
And thankfulness sprang up, true and clear, through the tears that streamed. For this dog, yes, and for our glorious farm on which he got to run for the final year of life. For the farm-style life we lead, so rare in today’s world, that makes this kind of burial and goodbye possible – and even natural and healthy for us all. And most of all, for these precious and unforgettable moments with my family. Saying goodbye to our beloved as one, and wearing that shared sadness like a cloak around all our shoulders, binding us closer together. And I thought: loss and sorrow can indeed be a kind of gift the Lord gives… Painful but pure, hard but heart-deepening. Forging an authentic unity that can’t be conjured up just by effort.
It was our youngest’s birthday, and the irony of this loss on that day was lost on none of us (except maybe for her, as she at her new 3 still bore the innocent cluelessness that comes with toddlerhood). “Why did Angus have to die, and why do we have to bury him on T’s birthday?” Our sweet, dimpled girl, exuberant over her big day, the hat she’d get to wear, and the gifts she’d get to open.
And the words rose up in my heart and came to my lips: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; praise the name of the Lord.” No time has this been truer to me than parting with our pet, while also baking a pumpkin birthday cake with a big orange 3 on it (orange being her favor color) to celebrate our youngest’s life. It all works together, sundry parts of the gifts-and-surrenders of life on God’s glorious and mysterious earth – this life of laughter and tears, birth and death, joy and sorrow. In Lewis’ words (so often the best): “The pain now is part of the happiness then.” Even so.
Originally posted in April, 2014