The Suddenness of Loss

His portrait. This really captures his spirit.

This morning my dog, Major, died. He was 11. We’d had him for 4 years; an SPCA rescue. Some part of me knew that this was his last summer, but for some reason I thought he’d be around longer — that I’d have a few months with him, instead of two weeks. (I came back to live with my mom at the beginning of May.)

We think we’re so prepared for death, and it happens and we’re not. Not emotionally, not practically.

He fell down the stairs and was on the landing, underneath mom’s altar to Kwan Yin. We tried to move him down the second set of stairs, but we just couldn’t. In twenty minutes, he died.

While mom looked in the back yard for a place to bury him, I wandered around like a lost ghost, unsure of what to do with my life. Neither of us even thought to move him into a better position for rigor mortis to set in.

We finally got him down the stairs, with the help of some stronger friends, three hours later. We set him on his cushion, his ears still in the alert position, three of his four legs resting outwards from his body, his stomach bloated with the gases now needing to escape. One of those friends started the digging of the grave; later on I would go out and help him finish.

While this is happening I’m wandering, wondering Where is my copy of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying? Wouldn’t this be useful to have right now? I want something personal, but spiritual as well.

The book, of course, is packed away in some box somewhere. I have no hope of finding it in time to find something, some sort of ritual. It scares me, the thought of winging things. In times of grief and sorrow my soul craves familiarity — a ritual that I can easily fall into.

But I have no daily practice. I have no preparation for this, because there is not even a daily devotional ritual that I can adapt. For so long I have been unsure of what I believe; now that I’ve started to figure it out, I haven’t actually sat down and done the work. That has to change. Today taught me that.

Eventually the grave is dug. Major is loaded into a wheelbarrow, wrapped in mom’s cotton sheets. They are multicolored and striped. Perfect fit for so regal a dog. I go to the garage to grab some of my sacred items, and see that some things have broken in the move. I would cry if I had any  moisture left in me. I avoid getting cut on the broken glass and gather my things.

Friends are in the backyard now. Major has already been taken up to the gravesite, his body waiting for us, still. We take a glass of wine each, flowers, and I carry my sacred items, a lit black candle in my hand, and bring up the rear of the procession.

We end up winging the ceremony. There was no way to plan. No time. No ability. My brain can barely wrap itself around the standard routines of feeding, bathing, or clothing myself today — how could I be High Priestess as well?

First, Major is lowered into the grave. Despite our not digging it to fit his legs, forgetting that rigor mortis takes 36 hours to disappear, he fits, accommodating to the last. I read a poem, one that I’d written for my first dog Blue, when she’d passed. I cannot keep myself from crying while I read the poem.

Then mom gives him his favorite toy — well, a squeaky toy that he could never get the hang of; he growled whenever we squeaked it at him — his breakfast from this morning, that he never got to eat (it was a sausage), some treats, his collar tag. I give him black coral to pay the animal ferry man (this is an UPG inspiration that hit me as we walked to the gravesite), black feathers so other spirits know he’s Morrigan’s and cannot be bothered, some of my hair so he won’t forget me in his next life, and the black candle (extinguished), so he’ll have light on his way.

We drink a toast of white wine, and I pour in some of mine into the grave. We tell stories about him; there are some good ones. He loved to howl at the sirens — once I was watching a movie, and there was a car chase avec sirens in the film. He started howling so loud that I couldn’t hear what was being said in the film. In honor of this, we all have a good howl for him.

Bunny-chasing — Major loved bunnies. He was such a gentle giant, I think if he actually caught one he wouldn’t know what to do with it. Probably cuddle it till it passed out. So he’d chase the bunnies on campus at VIU, or up here in town, and one would go one way, the other the opposite, and Major would have a nervous break-down, trying to figure out which one to chase, whimpering the whole time. He was never fast enough, anyway.

Then, the stories die down, and we throw lilacs on top of him. Each of us helps pile the dirt on top, and soon he’s covered. We then pile rocks on top of the grave, both for practicality and tradition. A jar of fresh flowers from our down the street neighbor’s house is placed in the rocks. And we all walk back down to the house, not a dry eye among us.

The very last photo I ever took of him.

Our friend, the one who helped me dig the grave, called Major a bodhisattva dog. Another friend of ours, a psychic, said he was her greatest teacher — the true enlightened master.

I don’t know if they’re right. All I know is that the four years Major was in our lives, and especially in my mom’s life, he made us the happiest humans on the face of the planet. He healed our wounds, made us smile when we were down, and was infinitely patient and gentle. He was an ambassador of inter-species peace, showing people that wolf-dogs really are the best dogs. And he was the best wolf-dog.

And I know that I will miss him very, very much, because he was one in a million, and we were incredibly lucky to have him for the short time that we did.

3 replies on “The Suddenness of Loss”

  1. *hugs* Regardless of the fact that maybe you didn’t do it “by the book”, I think you still did it perfectly. You did it from the heart, with the things that meant something to you. You did right by Major.

    I pray he has plenty of bunnies to chase, long fields to run in, and companions in the life he is resting in right now.

    1. Thank you.

      I realized, while doing the ceremony, that it’s really important that I start creating practice, and especially around death. There needs to be something for me to fall back on in times of grief.

      Regardless, I know he appreciated what we did. And that it was just as good as something that had been planned out before hand.

      So, I think I’ll take inspiration from what we did for him and then make a ceremony that can be easily done on short notice. And share it with others.

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