One of the Great Ones

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My dog died.  Gebo died.  That still sounds strange.  It’s not yet real.  Two days after he died we hosted a lively and fun, touching Thanksgiving full of goodness.  Our eldest generation shared beautiful, heart-warming prayers of gratitude before dinner.  After dinner, pie and gingerbread houses, I was packing up tableware lent from my parents.  I struggled with a small white box, not able to open it and unsure what it was.  On the bottom I found a label and read, “Gebo.”  I put it down, not breathing, and walked directly into the arms of a cousin who would understand such things.  My dad had kindly picked up his remains on the way over, but had not yet found the right time to present us with our beloved pet.  Though perhaps not the best delivery, a day of thanksgiving was the right day.  Experiencing tough moments sometimes helps us realize what will give us strength in future hard times.

Sad-sweet nostalgia surfaced over the ensuing days.  I called his name to clean up dinner scraps a few times, and our 2-year-old asked a dozen times of his whereabouts.  Then my mom went into the hospital with more health issues (she is ok), and I longed for his soft scruff to catch some worried tears.  I’ve done some weird things, like sitting on a dock at sunset, letting my hand pet the air where he would have sat beside me.  My husband admits he has reached out to pet him in the empty passenger seat of his truck too.  I started writing this a week ago.  Today I started editing and realized I had to change every verb to the past tense.  His goneness settles in more everyday.

At the same time, I don’t always miss him because I forget he’s gone.  I mistook a pile of dark laundry for him last week.  His picture is in my phone, and I talk to it.  This would have been appeared weird a few years ago but these days I can get away with it.  I saw a coyote near my yard today and I am pretty sure he was checking on us for Gebo.  See, its a mix of intentionally forgetting he’s gone and loftily believing he’s still around.  I had my weeks of endless tears.  Now I soothe myself by forgetting somedays, and remembering others.

When I do remember he died, I sweat; a surge of hurt.  I can level the thermostat as long as I keep believing he’s in my phone, or in the coyote; anywhere but that white container.  As long as I avoid a few thoughts, most Christmas specials, and that dam song on the radio about the kid who wants to buy his mom shoes before she dies, I live peacefully with his memories and his presence.  I’ll accept his passing enough by spring to memorialize him; spread his ashes in favorite places, tell stories with the kids, plant a tree and float some lanterns to heaven.

My oldest son once told me, “having Gebo makes me feel like maybe we’re special, because WE got the greatest dog ever.”  Even our vet said the last time he saw him, “he is one of the Great Ones.”  I agree.  I miss not only my dog, but one of my favorite parts of being me.  I miss the me that had a close friend that was an animal.  I miss the me that picked him out at the farmer’s market in Bozeman, Montana.  The ranchers who sold us Geebs said he would be so loyal, we had to promise to shoot him instead if we ever had to give him away someday.  No need.  I miss the me that swam and skied with him.  I miss the me that heard him shake with excitement when we turned down gravel roads.  I miss the me that parented with a canine assistant.  He not only changed my life, he changed me.

I don’t know myself without him.  I miss his outrageous greetings, his lush ears, and his noises; the jingle of his tags, the groan when he stretched out on his bed, the high-pitched yalp at the end of his yawn, the snorty sneezes that meant he wanted to play, and the soft exhale in his bed I was just barely conscious of hearing.  Though it drove me crazy until a few months ago, I now miss how after 14 years he decided to forgo the rules.  He sniffed out stuffed animals from toy bins, holding them under his chin with the white rims of his black irises showing so sweetly we couldn’t say “no.”  I miss how he and I walked the boys to the bus stop together everyday.  The day I tried to leave before the boys were aboard, he refused my tugs at his leash.  He rolled over on his back, never severing his gaze from the smallest of his herd until both were safely seated.  I miss the gentle way he took treats from the kids’ fingers and his popcorn-scented paws.  I miss him following the kids around, eager to be in the thick of childhood.

I felt honored to be there for Gebo in his old age.  I could see trust in his cloudy eyes, and bewilderment at legs gone weak and tummy gone sour.  I am so grateful for the sense of safety he brought me for 15 years.  He saw me through every transition from single woman in the mountains to mother of three in the plains.  I am grateful to him for staying off the couch, leaving food on the coffee table, always returning to the front stoop, and tolerating a leash, though we both knew he never planned to leave my side.

Gebo, I wish you high mountain vistas and sun-soaked fur.  I wish you rock-catching in streams.  I wish you the perfect snatch of a frisbee in the air.  I wish you the agility of your youth, and long games of chew-face.  You have prepared us well for the end of our era together with at least three practice runs at death.  Well played for a protective guy; you were every bit as loyal as they said.  Though I long for your companionship, I feel grateful and optimistic; perhaps because I was once the recipient of a magical being.  You are my Pete’s Dragon, my first young, and my wise old man.  From our adventures in the mountains, my years in young love, the formation of this family, and our life by Minnehaha Creek, you followed me and loved everyone I ever asked you to love.  Thank you for sixteen years of loyal service to your herd.FamwGebs

Does God Send Saints?

gebotrunk 20131202-000541.jpg Jason and I spent the morning in sleeping bags, lying with Gebo in the yard. Our friend and doula, our life-cycle specialist, visited with flowers just before the vet arrived. Gebo gave her an enthusiastic greeting and kiss (he rarely kissed), but he could not stand. She spooned us spooning him. We cried in great heaving sobs. She met the vet at the door. I’m not sure we otherwise would have responded to the nauseating knock. But with Gebo’s comfort and dignity in our hands, we banked on there being a better place for our very old, very wise, very loved pet. We agreed it would never feel right, maybe because his mind and his eyes were the same as always, or maybe because he couldn’t give us express permission. His body was entirely used up. Gebo relaxed his head on my lap. We cried and held him. Jason choked out, “I have needed to cry like this for thirty years,” and thanked him for that departing gift. Gebo gently wagged his tail. The sedatives kicked in and the vet took the last step. His tail wagged euphorically and we whispered, “race on, Gebo,” through our tears. I felt a surge of tangible peace. “His heart has stopped.” I looked up at the sky for an eagle or rainbow, laughing at my ridiculousness. I chose the surge of peace as my sign. His quiet body rested in the sun. I curled him up. More sobs, last warmth, last goodbye.

In his final month, Gebo mentored me on my quest to meditate outside for fifteen minutes everyday. Within the first week we learned he was dying. Like Jason, Gebo gave me a departing gift; a few weeks of excused absences. We cocooned together. I stayed home, I said “no,” I turned off my phone and neglected email. I took time for myself. I hurt, I cried, I smiled, I listened. I woke up. I contemplated God. On day twenty-four I realized that preparing for the future demise of a very-much-present being is not, in fact, being present. Sitting in the woods, listening to the creek, sniffing leaves, tasting fall air, appreciating the universe, and watching Gebo watch squirrels; that is presence. He gave me an excuse to take long-overdue time to be quiet and observe. Now I can’t imagine facing this loss and losses yet to come without the weakness and strength I found in me my last month with Gebo.

photo-1Gebo’s gifts to my kids are countless. Most recently, he gave them grief lessons. This month we cried together, told stories, created Gebo-art, planned a memorial, discussed God/universe/magic and talked about Heaven/hereafter/souls. My children have excelled at this, teaching Jason and I in turn. We have prayed together, which is new. I nudged the kids to give Gebo a good solid goodbye before leaving for school the morning he could no longer stand, and they were not shy with hugs, kisses, I love you’s and gratitude. When we met them at the bus and told them Gebo was gone, they leapt into our arms. We walked home and looked through photos, drew pictures, made a flip-book of Gebo rolling in leaves, lit candles. Tenny soothingly finger-knitted us bracelets. Wilder shared, “this candle is glowing brighter than other candles because his spirit is here. Oh, there goes a spark–that must be him taking my prayer up.” Tenny said to me, “mom, don’t hold back your tears.” Even our two-year old informed us, “Gebo went to Heaven’s house,” and was a little mad that HE didn’t get a playdate with this Heaven character. Wilder explained that God greeted Gebo upon his arrival and swiftly helped him find his old friends. How could they be so good at this? They have found what consoles them.

The next day, I stood where he died in our yard. All is not blissful in nostalgia, even in a well-earned, timely and poetic death. Death sucks. I ache. I miss my dear friend. Wow—people endure much, much worse. We will endure worse. It’s no wonder at all that God has to exist in order to ease our suffering.

In the spring we will make a gravestone, bury his ashes, and plant a tree. We will see him in the sunshine. He will force us to believe that souls endure. I still anticipate his greetings when I come home. I long for him. Today I heard his long exhales around the house. My inner cynic chastised me for thinking the furnace noises were Gebo all these years. The believer fought back with doggie angel visions. The buoyant me, the one that learned a thing or two from that dog, just smiled and said “Gebo” without questioning.

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