Saturday, January 14, 2012

To Know Death is to Live

I haven't experienced much death in my life. But even one is one too many. Within the past year I've seen my best friend get hit with it twice, the pain a haunting reminder that they are alive and their loved one is no longer. Today another death hit us. Ferocious and swift. Oh the frailty of life. The swiftness with which it can be taken--like the snuffing of a candle. Leaving only wisps of smoke as a remembrance of the warmth it once had.

A couple years ago, my dog was so sick I thought my only hope of saving him was giving him up. I took the burden--the decision--upon my shoulders and led him to a shelter where I'd hoped he would get adopted and that he'd find a family to take him in, pay for his exorbitant medical treatment and give him a new life.

I led him to the animal shelter, saw him curl up in the worn, threaded dog-bed, woozy from the vet visit. It hadn't even been a few hours since his diagnosis and I'd made the decision.

Five days.

He had five days to find a new home before he would be put down. The sooner he was there, meeting new families, the better. I know what you're asking. What kind of a person does that? Takes their dog to a shelter to die alone?

The memory is as raw, as fresh, as it was the day it happened. I cried, inconsolably for hours, for days. Sleepless. Floating weightlessly through the hours, curled into a ball hating myself. I'd wash the dishes, look up at the backyard, see his tracks and burst out crying. Just when I thought I was doing better, when there couldn't possibly be any tears left to shed, the pain would hit me. I doubled over, soapy hands emerging from the sink to cover my face--cover my shame. I had sentenced my dog to die. And I knew it. No one would adopt him. He was sick and no one would pay for his absurdly expensive surgery to save his life.

Chris stepped in. Said we could dip into our hard-earned savings and save him. I shouldn't have questioned the idea before. It was too much. But it was my responsibility. I should've fought to have done that from the very beginning. I thought I had done the right thing. Given my dog a second chance. But it had been a slim chance. I was young and I was a fool.

After two days of unimaginable hell, we went back to the shelter and took him back. He was mine--ours. I would never give up on him again. He's doing well now. Still living with my parents, happy and healthy. Those innocent, depthless chocolate eyes seared into my mind for the rest of my life. But I will never forget that ache, the guilt of things still yet undone. I will never forget the crushing pain that left me hollow, a walking shell looking back at the part of my soul that had died in that shelter where my best friend was soon to follow.

If that's what death of a loved one feels like. Then I'm sorry for your loss--your losses. Truly, I am. I pray that to know death is to be forced to live. That you may have the strength to turn your head from the tombstone of your family--your friend--and face the future still ahead of you. For you are still alive--breathing--gifted with another day. So live it. Love it. Be good. Be honest and kind. Don't let the darkness of hurt and anger turn you withered, cold and cruel. Death is a reminder that you are still alive to feel it. So feel it. And then live again.

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