Friday, September 17, 2010

Losing Toss

Toss was a very good dog,
Toss was a very good dog,
Toss was a very good dog.

That is the little song that I made up and sang to her when she looked so scared, riding home with me when I first got her more than 12 years ago. I did it to steady my own nerves, but it turned out that Toss loved music of any kind, and it soothed her as well as me.

Looking back through the summer's posts, I realize that I've neglected to mention her passing.

After her grave illness early in the summer, she rallied amazingly. I continued to carry her up and down the stairs, but otherwise she was fairly active and clearly enjoying life. Aside from never really getting her old appetite back (and she was always an indifferent eater), she seemed quite normal.

In early August, it became harder to coax her to eat, and she was clearly losing weight. Something about her--an attitude, a look in her eyes, the set of her ears--reminded me of Ambrosius in his final days. Sure enough, blood tests confirmed that her kidneys were failing significantly.

I lavished the same tender supportive care on her that I'd given Ambrosius, waiting to know when it was time to let her go. Even with subcutaneous fluids, she was clearly departing this life at a rapid rate.

My daughter and her family and several friends stopped by to say goodbye during her final days. She had many, many friends.

On a Sunday evening, three days before her 15th birthday, she slowly walked up to me and pressed her forehead against my knee, something she had never done before. My understanding of her gesture was intuitive and complete. She was asking for it to be over.

The next morning I made an appointment with the vet, and made arrangements for one of our long-time friends to drive us there. Then I went out to start digging her hole, in the spot beneath the torii that had been reserved for her since it was built.

I left her in the coolest shade by the big mulberry tree, up by the barn, where she often hung out. But she haltingly made her way out the torii, surveyed my digging, watched her sheep grazing nearby. Then she walked back...the photo of her just about to pass from the deep shadow of the willows into the brilliant sunlight seems to convey a sense of her impending passing from the troubles of this world into whatever the next world is for dogs that have been faithful, generous, open-hearted, forgiving, and patient.

Our dear friend came at the appointed time, and I snapped a shot of their greeting/goodbye in the driveway just before we left.

Toss walked on her own into the exam room, very weak but calm, as beautiful and sweet as ever. In a few calm, quiet minutes, all that remained of that glorious being was an empty bag of bones, and a million memories. Peace, completion, gratitude for the gift of her life were the overwhelming feelings in my heart.

Dead sheep are never as limp as she was in my arms on the way home. And her 31 lbs. seemed to double when her buoyant spirit went out of the flesh. Not only could I not have driven safely because of tears, but I could not have managed the doors with her body so limp in my arms. It never had been so difficult when she was merely ill, even though she weighed 5 lbs. more during her illness.

We laid her in the waiting grave, curled naturally, with her same old collar on. One of my garden volunteers, A., was there, and she helped us to fill in the hole. As we put the last few shovels full of dirt on the mound, A. said, "We need some flowers" and came back a few minutes later with a nosegay of wildflowers which she laid on the bare dirt. No fancy words or rituals needed. Not even many tears. We each went on our separate ways, just another noontime. I "turned into a busdriver" and clocked in on time, hardly a thought back to the morning's work. The work was a good refocusing.

It's been about 6 weeks now without her...hard to believe it's only that little time! In the topsy-turvy life of tomato season and work and everything else, I rarely miss her. Partly, her overall decline and distancing was so gradual that life without her was simply the next step. Her growing deafness over the past couple years had gradually loosened our close communication, honed our relationship to a simple side-by-sideness that is difficult to describe.

I miss her presence, her friendship, the intelligent hard-working partnership we had for many years until her deafness took that away. But I don't feel the loss much, or often. When I do think of her--as in writing this--tears of gratitude and love flow freely. But seeing other dogs, even Border Collies, doesn't bring any pangs of regret or loss or loneliness, and I know that my life is not well suited for a dog at this time. There will be another Border Collie--never another Toss--someday, when I'm not working full time off the farm.

Yet I know that even though I don't explicitly mourn for her, or miss her, her absence is a significant thread in the cloak of isolation, loneliness and subtle depression that keeps wrapping its arms around me in odd moments. It has been a season of many changes and losses. They add up and weigh me down, those empty spaces do. Only time can fill them in. Meanwhile, I learn to live with them as peacefully as I can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your writing is both potent and poetic.
You sound like you've been dealing very well around the whole passing.
Be well, -Camille