Death came a-knockin'
She was in miserable shape all day. After I arrived home, she somehow summoned the strength to stand and greet me. Three minutes later, she just faded away. The family dog lost consciousness as if she were sleeping, her breathing became slower and slower and then she was gone.
Resisting tears, I found myself drenching her grave with sweat on this scorcher of a day as I immediately commenced digging a large, deep hole. There was nothing left to do. It was difficult work, but really cathartic.
Wrapped in a burial shroud, Tillie was placed into a cardboard casket. Together with my wife and kids, we lowered her deep into the cool earth just a few feet away from the couch in our living room where we often snuggled. It remains comforting to know she's out there.
A note of favorite memories was added, along with some lovely flowers that added marvelous contrast to the heavy clay soil. My kids completed the act of burial by filling the hole back in atop their beloved pet, receiving closure from this simple act.
The experience was beautiful. Healing even. The children are handling the loss remarkably well as a result. None of it was supposed to happen this way, but I cannot think of a more positive outcome.
I had planned on having the vet put her down. Hustling between jobs, nearly to the point of collecting cash from one, a brief handoff at the clinic would be a minor interruption in a busy life.
Instead, everything stopped. The family banded together to handle and process this loss as best we could. Somehow, despite myself, we handled this really well because we were all a part of it.
Just a few hours later, on idyllic pasture just outside of town, 80 chickens were carried away by a mysterious gang of predators, perhaps raccoons or the dreaded chupacabra. The carcass of one was left behind, but the remaining 79 simply disappeared.
The grim reaper was apparently busy that evening. A sense of utter devastation nearly overwhelmed me. This had been a key component of my current push to pursue farming as a portion of our family's income. Should I quit?
Death and loss never arrive conveniently. Rarely welcome, they remain a significant part of life. How we handle them matters and can set the tone for the next stage of our lives.
Live fully in the moment, even as the loss is occurring. The overwhelming sense that we are losing something or someone of great value, irreplaceable even, is evidence of just how much we have been enriched by this person, place or thing. Nothing can ever take that away. Stopping what you are doing — shutting it all down — and being close with loved ones to reflect and express gratitude is essential.
Avoid the "Why me?" question, as death and loss is not unique to anybody. We all experience it. In large measure, what we do with it will determine our character.
Our family has gone through significant loss of late. The losses keep coming to the point at which I am no longer surprised when they occur. How we handle this matters deeply. We cannot ultimately possess the people, places, and things, which grace our lives. "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away ... "
Meaning and purpose in life is not found merely in the blessings that have been showered upon us. It is only rarely seen, tasted or touched, and then only briefly. Therefore, though sometimes cloaked in sadness, ultimate purpose and joy can never be lost or taken away. It is a matter of perspective and grace.
Since this column has never been about plumbing the very depths of the universe, but one that just might encourage you to do so, I'll leave you with an amalgamated admonishment from Garrison Keillor and Dennis Anderson: "Be well. Do good work. Be kind."