Sunday evening there is a knock at my door. It’s the neighbor across the street and a glance out the window shows that she is disheveled and crying. When I open the door, she bursts into fresh tears. Her dog has died, in front of the whole family eating their dinner. Poor woman is crumbling and weeps, “I don’t know what to do”.
I take her by the hand and say let’s go home and take care of things. I lead her to her house and see yes, the dog is indeed dead there on the floor of the silent, seemingly deserted house. Yellow haired Lab-mix, she has peed a bit in her dying. She is stiffening but still warm.
Where are your children, I ask. She has sent them to their room. I sigh. Here is my task. I look her in the eye. Get them. She hesitates. Get them, this is sad, but not horrifying. This is a lesson for them about death. Keeping them away will make them more afraid. Let them say goodbye to her.
She ushers three small boys into the room where their dog is now cooling on the tile floor. 6, almost 4, and 2 1/2, blondes that will turn brown haired as they grow. Mom sobs something like Trinity has died, we need to say goodbye to her. 2 says Bye Bye Trinity. 6 says nothing, holding himself together bravely. He is the only child who really knows what is going on. Almost 4 says, Is she with Jesus? Yes! I turn to middle boy, grasping at the first clue on how this family needs to handle this. Trinity is with Jesus now. Her spirit is, she is done with this body now, and we need to make it ready for her funeral.
Where is your husband? He is calling around seeing where a cremation can be affordable on a Sunday afternoon. The dog is leaking gas and I know she will poop soon. Get him, we need to wrap her in a blanket. Middle boy says, She peed! Woman crumbles again and hurries out of the room leaving me with her kids and her dead dog. I know her husband does not like this dog, he has said so more than once. I also know this is her dog, about 3 years older than her first child, both from her first marriage.
I have a moment to look around the home, noting crosses and plaques with bible verses. Me, in this so obviously Christian home alone with a stranger’s kids looking at death for their first time. The parents are useless in her grief and his irritation. Yes, I tell middle boy, she has peed and she might poop soon. Middle and little giggle, oldest still stoically trying to not cry. When our spirit leaves our body we don’t need our body anymore and so it forgets what it knows and it can make a mess.
Husband arrives with a blanket and we get the dog on it and wrapped just in time. Middle and little follow Dad down the hall and into a room. Oldest stays with me. No. Oldest stays with his dead dog. I start to cover her head and he sets a gentle hand on mine, stopping me. I nod. I remove her collar and hand it to him. This is for you to keep. Your parents are going to take her to the vet to prepare her body. Let’s go see what they have found out. I take him by the hand and lead him down the hallway.
Husband is googling dog cremations, getting hits for the human funeral homes that also do pets at truly phenomenal fees. Call your vet, I tell him. He tells his wife to call, she gets a recording. I give him the name of the weekend and evening vet to search. Oldest sits on the bed beside the computer desk. No one seems to notice the great struggle he is having controlling his face. I give Husband a significant look and nod toward the child. He gives the boy a manly hug, boy bursts into tears. Husband lets go and goes back to googling. Boy sits back down on the bed and renews his struggle with his face.
Husband asks if $180 is a good deal on cremation. It is, so he tells his wife to call that number. Woman calls and starts sobbing so hard she cannot speak. I take the phone and handle that part, too.
We are all crammed into a small bedroom/office, the youngest kids running in and out with toys. I sit on the bed next to the oldest, who is still trying to control his face but leaking tears and snot. I see the youngest two run into the family room, where the dead dog is partially wrapped in the blanket. No one else seems to notice, so I follow them. They are very curious about Trinity’s situation. I call Husband to us, we need to finish wrapping her and get her in the car. I finish the wrap while Mom sobs, oldest attempts his leaky stoicism, middle and youngest run off to play some more. Husband is mentally tapping his foot. He moves Trinity to the car. By this point I’m getting really irritated with him. All that is left to do is the driving, so I hug the Woman and go home.
The next day after work she is at my door again, looking her usual pretty self. She thanks me for helping and tells me what happened at the vet. She invites me to the dog’s funeral Saturday. Of course I will be there. She says she is so grateful I took charge. I smile, and tell her I was grasping for some direction until her middle boy said is Trinity with Jesus now. Then I knew to take the Christian route. She looks puzzled. I tell her, Oh, I’m not Christian, I’m pagan. She says, but that was such a Christian thing to do! I smile and hug her and say, yes, but being nice and helping neighbors predates Christianity by a long time. I tell her I am honored to be invited to the funeral. Her face sort of falls and freezes, then she smiles a sad smile, says thank you again and goes home. I say let me know what time. She lifts the corners of her lips and waves her fingers, turning for home.
Well damn, Cyn, open mouth, insert foot.
Saturday comes and goes. I did not go ask what time they have their ceremony, I know I have been uninvited. Poor Trinity. Poor Oldest Boy who loves her. Poor Woman who accepts the kindness of strangers who do not share her dogma in an emergency, but does not welcome them into her home when the crisis has passed. I am sad, but it is not my place to intrude.
That night I go out in my yard under the moon and cast a circle. I ask Jesus to look out for Trinity, she is a good dog. I ask him to look out for her people, because they surely need his most wise counsel. I ask my gods and goddesses to help them in the same way. I write Trinity Is A Good Dog on a piece of paper, set it in a bowl of sand and light the paper with a short candle. As the smoke and ash rise, I say Trinity is a good dog, thank you for helping with that most excellent child and for loving his mother. The paper burns down to a smolder, then black. I crumble the ashes under my rosemary bush and rub them into the dirt. I blow out the candle. I break the circle. The night is clear and starry.
copyright 2012 by Cynthia McCollum
Cynthia McCollum is a dog trainer, writer, and poet. She lives in the Clearwater, Florida area. She can be reached through www.TrainWithCynthia.com.