death of dog · dogs · loss of a pet · Spirituality

A Good Dog

Two weeks ago, our sweet, loving, playful, and smart granddog Molly succumbed to cancer after a three-month illness. Adam and Jess, along with Molly’s extended family and many friends, have grieved deeply for her.

When so many are struggling with life and death during this terrible Covid time, the passing of a chocolate Lab may not seem important. Yet anyone who has loved a pet knows the pain and emptiness of missing that warm presence next to us on the couch. Especially after the last year, when so many of our social norms have been cut out, we have needed the unconditional love that we receive from our dogs, cats, and other pets more than ever.

I’ve wondered this week why we give ourselves over so completely to the animals in our lives when the pain is so intense when we lose them. Something must be in our DNA that causes our hearts to melt over a stumbling puppy or mewing kitten. Once we have let our guard down and allowed them in, both physically and figuratively, we are captive.

One of the reasons we love our pets so much is that they don’t filter their emotions like we humans. The pets I have loved have taught me about being present with my feelings and about letting those around me know how much I love them.

No one else in my life will greet me with the same excitement that Molly did when seeing me. If I came over to their house she would gallop around and grab a toy for me to throw. She often barked for pure happiness, like the first time I took her to the beach. I wish I had more in my life that makes me want to throw back my head and holler for joy.

Molly taught me about enjoying the moment. When she and I went for a walk, she would look back about halfway through with a look that said, “Aren’t we having fun?” She reminded me of the sheer pleasure of being outside in the sunshine, of smelling the trees and grass, and of delighting in the movement of my body.

Molly’s “aren’t we having fun?” face

Molly also taught me that it’s okay to feel sad. Although she was usually a happy dog, she did not filter her gloom when she had to be away from Adam and Jess for long. As she got older, especially in these last months when she had not felt well, she did not like any separation from them. The last time I was with her alone in their new house, she laid down on her bed, listless and depressed. Once Adam and Jess arrived, she was content.

How often do I make excuses for my times of unhappiness, feeling guilty instead of just accepting that sometimes life stinks? Life for Molly was black and white — with Adam and Jess she was happy, without them she was not.

This contentment that Molly felt when she was with Adam and Jess reminds me that I need to allow myself to relax more often in the presence of my Father and allow Him to take care of me. As long as she was with one of them, she felt safe and at home. She didn’t worry about what was going to happen next because she totally trusted that they would take care of her. I need more of that in my life.

For now, Adam and Jess must live in a life that goes on, in the words of poet Wendell Berry, “new-shaped by loss”. At the end of the well-known chapter on love, I Corinthians 13, are these words: “These three remain, faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.”  Molly was pure love, and that love remains as tangible as her soft fur against my cheek.

cats · death of pet · Uncategorized

Good-bye to the Mighty Hunter

Death always comes when we least expect it. 

I have sat by my mother and father’s bedsides knowing they were at death’s door, but still felt a sense of unbelief when the time actually came – they really died? As in, they are not here any more?  I always remember how awful the weeks were leading up to my sister’s death and I just wanted it to be over – but somehow did not realize that “being over” meant she would be gone. 

Keith and I are going through that now after the death of our sweet kitty Nellie, who was part of our family for 13 years. I wrote about him in The Mighty Hunter just a few months ago. 

When you have someone old in your life, a friend, family member or pet, you know that the day will come when you will have to face their death, but you want to put it off as long as possible. Several times over the past few years I thought we were at that point with Nellie, like the time he ate a bird and got so constipated I had to rush him to the vet or times he stayed out all night and I was sure a coyote had gotten him. On those days I prayed, “Lord, I know this day is coming, but don’t let it be today.” When we couldn’t find him Thursday morning, Keith assured me he was fine, probably out at the shed. When we found him sleeping so soundly in the monkey grass that he didn’t stir when I called, we were still sure he was fine, just really tired. So I didn’t pray for the day to not be today. Around noon he woke up, staggered around, and just died. Thursday was the day.

Grief is about adjusting to things being different. Not having Nellie around is not life altering like losing a husband or child or mother, but it is routine altering. Practically every aspect of our daily life, from sleeping to eating to working inside and out – even our bathroom habits – involved our small cat in some way.  Now we are seeing empty places all over the house and yard.

  


I always thought God brought Nellie to us. We were in between pets, and I had prayed for another cat. One day I was washing dishes and looked out the kitchen window and a scrawny little orange cat was looking at me and meowing up a storm – “Feed me!” We fed him, took him to the  vet where $200 later he had gotten shots and been treated for a cough. A few days later we realized he was the same cat that someone had brought our neighbor and his name was Pumpkin.  As soon as they had put him down in the yard, their dog took out after him, he ran across the road and then this house cat, who had always had a food dish at his disposal, fended for himself in the woods for 2 weeks. No wonder he was happy to stay with us for the next 13 years! Adam was in his rap music phase, so named him Nellie for the popular group of the time. Since Adam went away to school it has been the three of us living here, Keith and Nellie and me, getting older and more set in our ways each year. 

Helping me snap beans


He made us laugh – he often reminded me of a toddler. If I was at the table paying bills or writing a note, he would sit in my lap and try to get the pen out of my hand, or push papers to the floor just to see them drop. On long winter days, he would get bored and play with the toy we fashioned him – a ball of yarn tied to a toy mouse, which he rolled all over the dining room, under tables and chairs. We never knew where he might choose as his new sleeping spot, the white living room couch, my book bag on the floor, the clean clothes I left out on the blanket chest.  If I sat down on the couch with my Ipad or laptop, he was there too, and I have often typed with him lying across my lap as my wrist guard.  He and I did our devotionals together each morning, and I would have to brush cat hair off my Bible on Sundays.


The winter was hard on him, but he had been like a kid with the warm weather this last month, staying outside until dark. He loved to sit on the landing by the back steps, like a king surveying his kingdom. He had even killed a small rat and eaten his favorite part, the head, leaving the rest on the stoop for us. His last week was perfect and he enjoyed it – what more can any of us ask?



I came across this quote and have been thinking about it today:


Nellie was the soul of our home, a place where we can be completely relaxed and safe, where we feel loved and cared for. His trust in Keith and me was complete. His little purrs of welcome in the morning and afternoon let me know that no matter how my day had been, he was happy to see me and would love me. That’s what family is all about.