Image Credit: My beloved dog Kodak
God I love my dog.
I love how she unfailingly greets me with unalloyed joy. I love how she flops down with every muscle in her body when she’s knackered.I love how she is totally in the moment at all times.
I love how she’s transformed my schedule, my fitness and my priorities with her need for exercise (I now get up early, walk every day – twice – and go to bed pleasantly tired).
In short, she’s an inspiration in how to live.
I can’t imagine how I got on without her.
But the dark side is, I can’t imagine how I will get on without her when that day comes she goes to the Great Kennel in the Sky. I try not to think about it, but realistically she’ll be around for a mere 12-16 years. At the most as long as I’ve had my children….can’t think about it!
See, I’m not good with letting go.
When my hamster died I was thirteen and I refused to accept the loss. I put him on my pillow for a whole night to see if he would recover. Only when he was still dead in the morning did I finally, reluctantly, agree that he’d gone to the Big Hamster Wheel in the Sky.
I went into deep mourning. For a week I wore black and was completely inconsolable. Then I wanted a kitten.
Image Credit: Hamster Charm
Life goes on.
And isn’t it a good job it does.
So this all got me thinking about how important pets are to us and our children.
They teach us so much about how to live:
joyfully, immediately, lovingly, loyally, sometimes greedily snatching at opportunities (a whole chicken left unattended on the counter?), sometimes compassionately (Doggo tucking her nose under my arm as I sit worrying on the sofa) and often playfully.
And they also teach us the pain of loss and the value of letting go and moving on.
The Buddhists have a saying that your heart must break so it can fit more love of the world into it. The death of a pet, handled in the right way can expand and illuminate our capacity for really caring and for being able to live with deep feeling.
In my childhood the impact of cute animal death was signaled in the popular culture by Bambi’s mum (who can forget the horror of her getting shot by a hunter?) I remember being devastated and disbelieving, and although the film ends with Bambi’s happy marriage and children, it’s the violent loss that remains in my psyche.
I think in some ways we live in gentler times now, or at least times that try a bit harder not to traumatize the children!
The key film in my sons’ childhood that dealt with death was The Lion King. The great metaphor they’ve imbibed about loss is that it’s part of The Circle of Life (Ah zabenya!) in which creatures are born and live and die and are kind of reborn in a great natural cycle.
Simba’s father is murdered by the wicked usurper Scar, but his spirit watches over from heaven and helps his son reclaim his rightful place in the end.
Simba dispatches Scar and the film ends happily with evil overcome and a new cub ready to repeat the beneficent Circle of Life (music swells, lions roar, life is renewed).
Image Credit: Disney The Lion King
Now I think about it, they effectively mourn the hamster and then get a kitten…
Maybe I was wiser and more well-adjusted than I realised.