Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Love, Loss and Learning

There are a lot of things I say these days that make me sound like a mother:
"I don't care who started it."
"Homework first."
"Because I said so."

But the one that's echoing the most these past couple of weeks is, "Life isn't fair." I often say it when someone who didn't get their way and feels he should have cries "that's not fair!" in the hopes of some change. I want my kids to learn that just because something isn't fair doesn't mean it isn't right. We might not always understand why events have to happen the way they do, but we still have to accept life as it comes.

At the end of the year, my kids proved that they understand this a bit better than I.

Almost three years ago, we lost our dear friend and neighbor Augie, who left behind a goofy little Beagle name Flash. Augie's wife Mary had passed away just a couple of years before, and now Flash was completely alone. So we took him in and our pack grew. Bailey was both excited and dismayed to suddenly have a brother, but we had known Flash for years, so the two just had to get used to living together, which they quickly did.

Learning how different our two dogs were from each other was a lot like being a parent and learning the differences between your children. You raise and care for them equally, they share the same experiences, but how they approach life reveals much about their personalities, outlook and interpretation of the world.

It didn't take us long to fall in love with Flash. Silly and unpredictable, with big soulful eyes, and ears that felt like mink, he soon grew comfortable with us. He went from a one-on-one family with his dad to a boisterous, busy family of five, but he didn't seem to mind it a bit. So many hands for belly rubs! So many people to beg for snacks! And of course a big brother to tussle with. We had to teach him the rules of the house, no easy feat with an 11-year-old dog, but by gosh, he got it.

As kids, we worry that our parents love one of us more than the other, especially when it's a big family. And parents always explain that they love their children equally, that love is not a finite thing to be divvied up between family members. More members of the pack means more love grows. I hope Flash was able to feel that in his new home.

Right around Christmas, Flash slowed way down. He tolerated all the comings and goings of holiday revelers but stayed in the background. Then all at once, he stopped eating and drinking. He wouldn't get out of bed, and his breathing became very shallow. We carried him up to the vet who ran tests and told us of multiple problems throughout his body.

We knew what we had to do. Flash was weeks away from his 14th birthday. We had talked about this in the past, and agreed we wouldn't put either of our dogs through excessive testing, medications and treatments just to avoid saying goodbye. Yet somehow, now that it had become real, it all seemed terribly unfair. And I was angry. Angry that I had to make such a decision, angry that he could get so sick so fast, robbing us of the chance to give him time to heal, angry that I felt so helpless.

What helped me get through it was the strength and stoicism of my kids, so full of love and hugs for Flash and for each other and me. I reminded myself that Flash would be joining Mary and Augie again, that he wouldn't be suffering anymore, and that we'd had great fun with him for the short time he was with us.

We stayed with him until the end, which was peaceful and painless. He closed his big brown eyes as we caressed and cooed to him, telling him how very much we loved him, what a good dog he was and that Bailey loved him too. Now we are all giving Bailey extra hugs and petting, since he seems sad and a bit lost. I wish we could explain to him that Flash is in a better place now, but of course, we can't.

Life isn't fair, but there's nothing we can do about it. We just have to love each other as much as we can for as long as we can.

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