Monday, January 5, 2009

A Death in the Family...

Yesterday tragedy struck the Walter residence. It breaks my heart to write about it, but I need some sense of catharsis. Really, I make it out to be much more dramatic than it really is (though it really is a traumatic event), so I'll try to keep it all in perspective.

Anyway, round about 8:30 last night I was downstairs wearing my pajama pants packing to come to Florida (Sanibel Island, to be exact, where I'm writing this post) and I heard my mother screaming. It wasn't a scream one hears regularly like when one stubs one's toe or cuts themselves making dinner; no, this was a much more gutteral scream that you only hear when something hurts more than a physical wound. Immediately I started running upstairs fearing that something had happened to Dad, and I beheld a sight I don't think I'll forget for quite some time.

As I reached the top of the stairs, I saw Mom and Dad in the kitchen weeping as my dad held the lifeless body of our one year old yorkie puppy, Truman. Truman had taken over for me on the homefront when I went to school, so in many ways he had become an adopted child and was loved like a member of the family (albeit a yippity member, but we all loved him immensely). So there he was. Gone yet still physically there. He looked exactly the same as he always did - eyes still open, hair still flowing and soft - but his body was spiritless and unresponsive to Dad's loving cradle.

He had been let out earlier to use the bathroom. Sometimes we're irresponsible and let him go without supervision. He's a good dog and he always comes back, so we never worry. After he hadn't shown up for about twenty minutes, Dad got in the car and went looking for him, ultimately finding him inanimate on the side of the road. He'd been hit by a car.

My immediate reaction was to turn Mom away from Truman's tiny inanimate body, so I grabbed her and brought her into my chest for her to cry with me over the loss of her baby as Dad continued to hold Truman and look for signs of life. Dad walked outside, I think just to have something to do, and cried into the sky for a bit. After about twenty minutes of holding onto Truman for the last time, Dad laid him down and walked around inside with Mom. I let him have his space and walked around the house discreetly picking up all of Truman's toys, his tiny doggie bed which would remain cold tonight, and his food bowl still half full. All they are now are remanents of a memory nobody will be able to recall without a bit of pain for some time, so I hid them.

Dad decided he needed to give Truman a proper resting place, so we walked out into the wintery air together, grabbed a shovel and a pick, and marched downtroddenly into the backyard. Dad dug and dug - I knew he needed to physically work out the emotions that he was feeling - until there was a hole that might be worthy of the puppy he loved. He gently scooped up Truman's tiny powerless body, carried him around a bit longer - we walked to the front porch where Dad picked up a small stone tile with the word "faith" embossed in it - and gently put him down for the last time in the cold, dank tomb we had made for him. Dad and I clawed at the dirt with our gloved hands through blurry vision (mine was blurry because I was damning the tears to be strong for Mom and Dad; Dad was more honest with himself and just wept over the grave of his lost companion) until there was a small mound upon which we placed Truman's gravestone.

I stayed up for a while longer in Mom and Dad's room to just be a silent support and let them know how much I loved them. Once everyone had been pacified sufficiently, I went to sleep, though none of us slept well. I just couldn't get the image of my once playful friend's body out of my mind's eye.

There are several valuable lessons in all of this, which is why Truman's epitaph, "faith," is so fitting. There is pain, yes, but through pain we grow and learn. The first lesson for me is a reminder of the flux and utter impermanence of life. We have to be able to maintain a balance between loving the things we have in our lives and becoming attached to them in a way that brings more suffering into the world. Easy, right?

The next thing that we all thought about was the fact that Truman was a dog. He was a very beloved dog and we will all miss him, but he was in fact a dog. We're all very thankful that tragedy didn't strike someone in the family. Surely things like that do happen to people every day and the potential exists that something that traumatic could happen to someone in the family, but for now we have more time to love each other and we've been given a lesson in how to love through Truman's life and death.

So there you have it, friends. Everything is in flux. We are guaranteed nothing. We do have a choice, though. We can let this truth irk us and cause us to grip things in this world tighter, ultimately causing us more pain; or, we can use this truth to elevate us to previously unknown levels of peace and a hightened ability to love each other. We aren't loving each other despite impermanence. We are loving each other because of impermanence. So go forth, be mindful, and embrace this moment in all of its sensations.


Anonymous said...

Aw, sorry about little Truman. I know it's tough to lose a pet.

Mozart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mozart said...

Man, I'm sorry, Mark--for you and your family and your puppy. Been there, done that with pets. That's just part of it, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier.

Sure, Truman was "just a dog," but he was also a beloved family member with his own unique personality and quirks. It's my own personal belief that if human beings have any sort of "soul" or "divine spark," then animals must, too. They're more complex, intelligent, and emotional than we often give them credit for--but I think that's why we love them so much. And that's why we mourn them after they're gone. We can--and probably should--get another dog, but the individual himself is irreplaceable.

Here's a poem I really like on the subject. There's a little icon at the bottom to translate into English.