They say the holidays are a hard time of year when you are mourning the loss of a loved one. I pray for God’s comfort for those suffering the loss of a son, daughter, parent, spouse or other loved one this Christmas. Though I have been spared from it this year so far, it seems like every December while out waiting for a bus I will see some funeral procession slowly moving down the street. And the sight always makes me burst into tears because of my compassion for the grieving.
I have one friend who will be spending her first Christmas without her young sons, both of whom died early this year. And another friend who just lost her spouse. Grief over the loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult things to endure. Sometimes, it can make or break you – even break your faith if you don’t lean on the God of both death and life.
For me, that deep grief also extends to the loss of beloved animals. Some people scoff at this. Others are irritated when people hold animals in such high regard that they grieve deeply and long when a pet dies. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong in God’s eyes. All I do know is how it tears me up inside even now to think of the loss of my dog in January.
I wrote a few months ago about the scarring loss of my dog Bob Barker during childhood, and how it took 18 years before I could bring myself to get another dog.
That dog was my beloved Black Lab mix whom I affectionately called The Codester, or “Cody” Starsky Jackson, as was his full name (“Why Starsky?”, I got asked a lot. “Because he doesn’t look like a Hutch,” I always replied. 8-) Cody was my closest companion and best friend for 11 years, and I lost him to cancer in January. Monday night, January 8th, 8:00 p.m. to be exact. I will never forget that night as long as I live, much as I wish I could.
He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of nasal cancer following an endoscopic procedure at the end of October. During that procedure they tried to resect what of the tumor they could, but it was fast growing.
I was so grateful for each day he held on and came through following that terrible diagnosis. Elated more still when he lived to celebrate our 11th anniversary together on November 28th (celebrating the day I found him on a North Carolina hiking trail back in 1995). But by the end of December, I knew time was running out but I just couldn’t figure out how to let go. And I worried myself sick wondering if I was waiting to put him down too long or if I was being too hasty. And while I solicited and received much advice, nothing helped.
Then on the 8th, I came home from work a little after 6:00 p.m. and found Cody out in the back yard, hunkered down in the grass right next to the fence. I knew immediately from his posture and look that he’d selected a place to wait for death, much like his wild cousins would. And I knew that it was time. So I called for a cab and gathered his leash and collar and some sheets I wanted to take with me for him to lay on (he was bleeding from the nose) and we went to the emergency animal clinic.
I was a complete basket case, and the folks at the animal clinic were so nice. We were separated only long enough for me to fill out some paperwork and for them to take Cody to the back to start his IV. That long soulful ‘please don’t let them take me’ look will be with me the remainder of my days on earth.
But in 10 minutes or less we were back together in one of the exam rooms, me stroking his once lustrous black fur while they explained what would happen. And it was just like they said – he went to sleep, his head slipping down into my hands. I held him and stroked him for a long while but I knew they needed the exam room back so I had to tear myself away. When I left that emergency animal clinic, I left a great big chunk of my heart behind as well.
And I was reminded once again why I’d waited 18 years after Bob Barker before taking on another dog.
Henry Willett’s “In Memorium” says it best:
I miss the wagging little tail;
I miss the plaintive, pleading wail;
I miss the wistful, loving glance;
I miss the circling welcome-dance.
I appreciate those heart-rending words as a writer, but more so as a pet owner.
Judging by how it has been 11 months since his death, l still grieve Cody’s loss deeply and I think I always will. He was my first dog as an adult and together we saw each other through many challenging times. He was literally a big part of me.
I haven’t been able to write about it before now because just thinking about Cody brings on the tears and uncovers that big hole in my heart. It has been hard to even go into the pet stores because I will inevitably see a Labrador, either in person or on the cover of a pet magazine, and the waterworks will start again, sometimes so embarrassingly strong that I have to leave the store until I get it under control.
To me, dogs and horses are the noblest of God’s creation. But I’ve always found it curious that dogs are only mentioned a few times in the Bible and when they are, it is usually not in a complimentary fashion. I am hoping God will show me why when I get to heaven. Because the almost derogatory side-note mentions of dogs in the Bible does not equate to the magnificent creatures I have been privileged to know throughout my lifetime.
Then too, I have always wondered if dogs go to heaven. No, I have always been told, because dogs have no souls. Hmmm. . . I would argue that dogs have more soul then some people. I think Cody had more soul then I do. Still, I don’t know the answer. All I do know is that the one image that has comforted me in these many months since Cody’s death is the image that just popped suddenly into my mind one day as I was going through another round of grieving for him – a very clear, distinct image of Cody curled at Jesus’ feet, his shiny black coat restored in perfect health, and standing out in stark contrast to Jesus’ brilliant white robe.
So until God shows me otherwise, I’m going to wait for the day that Cody and I will be re-united.