Category Archives: Death of a Pet

Playthings

I have always found the below poem comforting and so, after quoting a line of it to Marilyn Armstrong just now, decided to share it with you all, as well. That said, I promise.  No more posts about death. For awhile

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                  Nature

                  by: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.

Look Up! (Eulogy for a Good, Good Girl)

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Look Up!

She used to chase the shadows of birds across the ground
and dig where they disappeared
and never once thought to look up,
no matter how many times I tried to tell her to.

Chasing light across the pool, she’d pace
back and forth, along its further edge.

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Her first playmates the cats,
she could not follow them up into the trees,
but stood instead, barking at the bark they clung to.
Thinking herself a cat, perhaps,
or all of them some new species in between,
she followed wherever it was possible to go.
Up the broad steps to the second floor,
across the terraza and just a small leap
to the ledge of the high sloping dome of the roof.
Up to its top to lie or stand and bark at all who trudged up our mountain
to intrude into her world.

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She could see for blocks,
turning like a sundial with the sun
to change her focus, but usually starting at the point,
southward, that most invaders came from.
Neighbors led by unwelcome dogs on leashes
passed below her on their morning walks,
or farmers carrying hoes or machetes
up to the fields above.

Lines of burros plodding beneath her, facing uphill,
small herds of cattle
flooding down to the lake for water—
none escaped the attention of this reina,
who would bark directions to be on their way, fast,
and not to loiter.

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No creature had greater staying power than she.
The cats, bored with the high view,
moved to the bushes and trees to hunt possums, squirrels and salamanders.
Only she stayed true to her original position
as she looked ever down from that high dome,
only deserting it a year ago,
when I locked the gate that blocked her progress up—
not because I judged it unsafe for a dog grown arthritic and less sure of her step,
but because of the new puppy,
untrained by cats and with feet less experienced than hers.

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Feeling punished, perhaps, she traded her high domain
for a place beneath the terrace table

from which she watched the two upstarts
speed by to cavort in the lower garden
where she once chased bird shadows in the grass.

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She exercised her staying power one last time
as, looking down on a world reduced to only me,
never once blinking, she stared into my eyes
as I crouched beside the vet’s high table,
and looked straight back up into them,
the closest I’d ever been to her.

That table’s surface, straight and gleaming stainless steel,
was where she lay with her front legs spread-eagled
for the long hour it took to finally climb up that high dome again.
I wonder if she heard me as,
“Good girl,” I told her a hundred times that final hour, and meant it.
“Good, good girl. Look up now. And go on.
You were always such a good, good girl, watching out for us.
But now, look up. Go on.”

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The prompt word today is “Original.”

Different types of Loss

Okay.  I’ve hinted and I’ve come right out and asked, so I’m going to use another tactic.  I would really like to hear some thoughts about types of loss other than death.  I know so many people who have moved to be nearer parents who have Alzheimer’s or who need more care.  They give up their lives, friends, houses to do so.  This is a huge loss even before the eventual loss of their parents.  Any thoughts?  I went to visit my sister who was at the stage of Alzheimer’s where it was becoming obvious to all of us that she would soon need to move into a care facility.  It was heartbreaking but also a very intimate time together with a sister who was 11 years older than me and so who had always thought of herself more as my “boss” than my sister–in my eyes, as well.  We had been a bit estranged for years, so this chance to be with her for a few weeks was both very special and very hard at times.  I’m printing a poem I wrote about the experience, hoping it will prime the pump for other peoples’ memories.  Please share them.  –Judy

I will be the first.  This is a poem I wrote while I was at my sister’s house. She is now in a managed care facility which is very hard for her.  She keeps thinking she is in a hotel or back in college or even back in our home town in South Dakota.  One thing is constant.  She keeps wanting to go home.  This was written during my last visit with her before she had to move.

When My Sister Plays the Piano

The first notes, beautiful and true, float like a memory up the stairs.
In the week I’ve been here in her house with her, she has not played the piano
and so I thought her music was gone like her memory of what day it is
or whether I am her sister, her daughter or an unknown visitor.

Yet on this morning after her 76th birthday celebration,
music slips like magic from the keys: song after song
from “Fur Elise” to a sweet ballad I don’t know the name of—
sure and correct at first,
then with a heartfelt emotion we had both forgotten.

“Midnight Concerto,”
“Sunrise, Sunset”—
song after song
expressed
in an unfaltering language—
some synchronicity of mind and hand
her brain has opened the door to.

While I listen, time stands still for me
as it has for her so often in the past few years
as yesterday and today shuffle together to
crowd out all consideration of future fears.

For ten minutes or more, she segues
from melody to melody
with no wrong note.
Then “Deep Velvet,”
a song she has played from memory
so many times,
dies after twenty-four notes.
Like a gift held out and snatched away,
I yearn for it, pray she’ll remember.

After an uncharted caesura, her music streams out again,
sweet and sure, for a staff or two—
the sheet music giving her a guide her brain so often can’t.
But after a longer pause, I know it is lost
like the thread of so many conversations.
A hiccup of memory, folding itself away.

“Come And Worship” chimes out
like the tolling of a bell.
The wisp of the old hymn, two phrases only—
before it, too, fades.

That sudden muffled sound.
Is it a songbook displaced from its stand as she searches for another;
or the lid of the piano, quietly closing on yet another partial memory?