I’m going to break the chronological flow, if there is one, of this blog…
We lost our dog Buckley this week. I knew it was coming and had told my parter Steve this was going to hit me hard. Really hard…
It has been about 30 years since there was a death in my family. Mind you, I spent most of the 1980’s saying goodbye to people I loved. I more than once joked that we owned a wing at Townes Funeral Home in Danville, Virginia due to all the relatives that died in that decade.
My Father, my Grandmother, Uncle Wiseman and my dear Aunt Goldie in the 1993. We also spent most of the 1970’s saying goodbye to most of the Rush relatives there- My other grandmother, Crazy Susie, Great Aunts big and little Mary, Great Uncle Joe….the mind reals…
We went from a fairly large family to a very small one very quickly. Mainly, because my sister and I are the only members of our generation. My Mother had a sister and several brothers who never had children. My father was an only child. It doesn’t take long for a family to shrink.
It was hard to lose so many people when I was so young, but I learned a lot about loss early. The hard part was being out of practice when it came around again.
Some people are going to say: “What does this have to do with a dog?”
I had warned Steve, it was going to be harder on me to lose Buckley than it would be to lose most relatives.
We said good-bye to Buckley Monday evening at 6:15 p.m. He had been asleep most of the afternoon and was barely awake when the vet came to give him the injections to pass him on to the next world. Whatever that may be….
Steve and I were with him as he passed in his own bed, in our bedroom, where he normally slept. It was not easy for me, but I could not stand to have him go through the trauma of being taken to a vet to be put to sleep. He died at home, with us petting him and loving him until the end. I only wish everyone could go that way…..
I never knew I could love a dog like I loved that little mutt….
When you get a house, it just seems to follow that you get a dog, so we got Buckley in 2006. He was a “rescue”.
But Buckley was more than just a dog. He was our first dog together. He was part of a new phase in our relationship.
We had lived together in a condo for 10 years. It was no place for a dog. We had a cat, Maggie the Cat, that we loved, but the house seemed to call out for a dog. And we were ready. We had the white picket fence, we just needed the dog to go with it. It seemed the appropriate next step.
Steve had not had a dog for years. I had never had an “inside” dog.
He was the first dog we looked at….
We were told he was 6 or 7 years old, but we never knew for sure. We think he was older. At least we tell ourselves that now…
He was a wonderful dog. A total mutt. Part beagle, part pug, part terrier and all heart. He had a wonderful kind of dignity that made us think of a retired British Colonel. Without realizing it, day by day, we built our lives around him.
He was not an easy dog. It took an hour to walk him around the block as he had to smell every blade of grass. He took his time and expected us to adjust.
And we did.
Eventually, he had 4 beds in different parts of the house.
When Maggie the Cat passed, Buckley became the TP. Top Pet. He always assumed that was his status to begin with….
We have 3 other pets, but they were all expected to defer to the Buckster. And they did.
It was incredibly hard to say good-bye to him. Especially for me.
I try to live in a word where people don’t even go to the bathroom, much less die. I’m a realist who has to be forced into reality.
But reality hit hard. He was obviously no longer the happy, bouncy dog we had known for so long. It was the right time and place. We were keeping him for us, not for him.
The Buckley we knew and loved had already passed….we just couldn’t say goodbye until we had to…
He was family. I spent the last 3 years working from home with him at my feet every day. We shared our lives 24/7. We were more bonded than I could ever imagine being with a dog…
And when he died, I had these incredible flashbacks to the Deaths in the Family of the past. Where pain makes people say and do cruel and thoughtless things in an attempt to just get through a depseperate situation.
My Father died at 53 when I was 24. He fought a long valiant fight against cancer. We had a difficult relationship….
His death was protracted. Days, weeks and ultimately months in the cancer ward at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. My friend Sally Anne and I drove down one night for the anticipated end of the “death watch.” We spent the night sleeping in the waiting room. He rallied and wanted to see me.
My Mother and my sister were much better at this than I was…
I walked into his room that morning. He could barely breathe, was hooked up to all kinds of tubes and monitors, but he wanted to talk to me.
This was the man who had used every bit of his considerable strength to terrorize me into being conventional. Who had pushed me to fit an image, from birth to adult, that was not me. And he was failing and weak….
He told me: “I know I didn’t do you right. I was too hard, but I always loved you.”
I looked at him, laying in that bed, weak and on his last legs, but I just couldn’t feel sympathy. I wish there was a death-bed reconciliation, but there was not.
I looked at him and said: “I appreciate that, but it’s a little late for that now.”
I turned to my Mother and said: “I’m going home. I can’t do this. Call me when it is over.”
I’m enough of a gay man to think of Bette Davis in “The Little Foxes”, but this was not drama. It was survival.
Hypocrisy has never come naturally to me even when it was convenient…
A couple of years later, my mother’s mother, Granny, passed away.
If you have read this blog, you know my Granny more or less raised me. I was closer to her and my aunt Goldie than to anyone else in the family…..
She had been in the hospital and was released to go to my Mother’s house to recuperate. The plan really was for her to live with my Mother…she supposedly did not know this, but I think she strongly feared and suspected this…
She was in my sister’s former bed, a white French Provincial four-poster, in my sister’s former room. I took the day off from work to be with her. She asked me to go to the Winn-Dixie and get her some buttermilk. When I came home, she was dead….
I called the paramedics and they pronounced her dead. Then I called my Mother at work and told her to come home. She pushed for an explanation, but I just said: “You need to come home…”
She arrived just as the paramedics were taking Granny out. It was not pretty. She collapsed on her knees and screamed: “My momma’s dead”. I told her to get up and told her to at least try to behave with some dignity and like the lady she had always tried to be….to have the self-control I was raised to have….to act like my Father would have decreed.
Later that evening, we were sitting in the living room waiting for my Aunt Goldie to come in from Charlotte. I had just mixed a drink and sat down…
I said: “She was the only person who ever loved me no matter what. She loved me best…”
Lou, my Mother replied: “She never loved you best. You forget my brother Sammy, he was her favorite. She loved him best.”
She continued: “I’m your Mother. You forget that. I may not be what you want, but I’m what you have. The way you seem to be living your life, no one will ever love you best. Think about that…”
I knew, in that moment, that something unforgivable and unforgettable had been said…
I walked into the kitchen, refreshed my bourbon and water, came back, sat down on her French provincial sofa, looked her in the eye and said: “No one is here so we don’t have to play nice, but that is unforgivable. Not what you are saying, but that you have to take something away from someone else to make yourself feel better. Remember, one day I will decide what kind of nursing home care you receive.”
To my financial detriment, I didn’t let that interfere with keeping her comfortable and in the best possible assisted living facilities when the time came. But I made my point. And she made hers…
But what does all this have to do with putting a little mutt to sleep?
First of all, my partner and that little mixed breed dog both loved me best.
We made a family.
Steve will admit, Buckley became “my dog” over the last couple of years.
And for once, no matter how hard it was, I handled death with dignity. No unkind things were said or unkind actions taken.
Even though we tried everything possible to avoid putting Buckley to sleep. But when the time came, I couldn’t stand for us to take him out of the house and drag him to the vet to be “put down”. He didn’t travel well. It traumatized him even to go to the groomer for a bath…
Instead, we had a sweet lady vet come to our house. She appeared to be about twelve years old–but an old and compassionate soul.
Buckley was in his bed where he had been sleeping all afternoon. He never really even woke up…
I was concerned because, given my history, I don’t do death well…
But she made it as easy as possible. It was natural. No drama. Just an old man surrounded by love and those who loved him. It killed me, but I stuck it out.
I an so glad I was there for his final breath.
And, when it was over, we walked him out with the vet in his little basket and our sweet, lovely neighbor came by to share the grief and comfort us.
After 55 years, I finally did a death in the family right.
And he was family. He was more than just a dog. And it will take me a long time to get over losing him.
But his last gift to me was to return dignity to death.
And to remind me that drama passes, but love never dies.
Love and death really are simple. It’s the stuff that goes on around them that’s complicated.
That’s the journey that remains to those of us who remain behind….
And, no matter the past, all we can do is to just keep trying to get it right while we can….