Back in March, I wrote about my beloved Beau, a slightly (or maybe more than slightly) overweight "miniature" dachshund who was sick. We were lucky enough to have many more months with him, months stolen from the Grim Reaper, where he was healthy and happy and eating lots of bacon. But this morning he turned his face away from the bacon I offered, and this afternoon we let him go to the big dog run in the sky. And as he passed from this world into the next, I contemplated the concept of immortality and I asked myself the same question posed by the late, great Freddie Mercury, "Who wants to live forever?" And the answer is, I'm not sure. I'm not sure I want to live forever if everyone and everything I love will die before I do. I may well have to throw my lot in with Sookie Stackhouse and opt out of immortality.
y husband and I were together as we talked to our wonderful, compassionate vet and played God, deciding that today was the day for Beau to meet his Maker. What a terrible decision to have to make. He might have lasted days longer or even weeks (my husband is reading over my shoulder and shaking his head--there were no weeks or even days to be had, he is saying). My mind is filled with what ifs related to things we could have or should have done. But most of me knows we did everything we could. And I'm thinking of spending decades or even centuries burying my pets and my friends and my family and wondering whether that would ever be worth it. And I'm asking myself whether we really want to live or is it just that we don't want to die?
I love my paranormal fantasy, as all of you know well. And I've often wished my husband were more like Dragos, or Jean Claude or Vampire Bill or Eric Northman (I was on team Bill for the first few readings through the Southern Vampire series, until I decided that Sookie was better off with Eric, who was the better vampire, but that is a debate for another post). And I've often wished I could escape the ravages of time and look and feel youthful forever. But that is not the reality in which we live, and, in truth, it's not clear how fabulous that would be. If I were the only immortal living among mortals, life would be very lonely, and my heartbreaking day today would be one of many similar days. I'm not sure even an immortal heart could take it without cracking wide open.
I'm beginning to think that the deep freeze that is characteristic of long-lived paranormal creatures is a necessary defense mechanism to inure themselves to the realities of loss. How much better to lock up my heart than to suffer the heartbreak of loss over and over again? As I advance in age, the parade of the dead swells in membership: my father and my mother; my mentor; and my secondary set of parents (the father and mother of my friends who parented me in the absence of my own). And now my second dog has gone the way of all flesh, which is ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
And why must the flesh fade from this world? I've speculated before that without the possibility of loss, the having would become meaningless. When Beau got sick last year, we knew that every day was borrowed from a library that doesn't accept late returns. When our book is due, there is no option not to bring it back. And so, when I scolded my husband for offering our dying dog special treats and people food, he responded by announcing that he would be damned if Beau's last meal was kibble. It was steak and bacon all the way. When we don't know when our last meal will be, every repast becomes significant.
Because the end came all too soon and then there were two where there were previously three (we are dog lovers in our family--the more the merrier). And there is a gaping hole in our lives--in the bed where Beau slept with us, and on his usual spot in my husband's home office, by the fire, and at my feet during mealtime, when a certain someone would paw gently, but insistently, at my leg, asking silently, but clearly, for some of my food. I rarely had the heart to refuse him over the past year, knowing as I did that every day was a gift and wanting to make it good for him.
Which, of course, begs the question of why we don't always live like one of my favorite Nickelback songs, If Today Was Your Last Day? I think I would eat way too much chocolate if I lived like that. On the other hand, I would likely suffer fools even less well than I currently do, and I would give up on exercise altogether. I might not do any housework, or send in the paperwork to get the insurance money for my wrecked car or worry about my unpaid bills. I would definitely give that extra hug, or make sure to get to that email or text to my good friend that I've been meaning to write.
It's our expiration date that makes life precious and poignant. It's knowing that days like today will happen that give our lives urgency and our love wings. Without the specter of death, life is cheap and procrastination is de rigeur. Why not wait? Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace, but without death to paint our palettes in shades of grey, who gives a shit?
Death makes life worth living. Shadows let us appreciate the light. And we can only know the fullness of an open heart when it is wrung dry and arid through the desiccation of despair. Grief breeds value and appreciation. No wonder the long-lived go insane over time-- they either lose their connection to their emotions or they are overwhelmed by them. Terrible way to go in either case.
So I will cry and I will mourn. But I will also prostrate myself in gratitude that my heart can be so full, in tribute to my much loved pet. And I will celebrate the time we had together and our willingness to do right by him and release him from his tether to the mundane so his soul can be free to fly back home. He leaves a bereaved family behind, as he departs for parts unknown but familiar to the spirit. Goodbye, Beau. Rest in peace.