Monday, November 11, 2013

Friends along the Way

Grief is the bitter tea of loss.  After a time, nostalgia sweetens the brew.  Most of us sip this bittersweet concoction on a daily basis.  In the solace of memory, we find comforts and understanding that shape our legacy as survivors.  We emerge better prepared for whatever new grief may lurk ahead.

You've still not removed the sleeping pad next to your reading chair, the pad where Sally migrated during her nightly explorations about your shared lodgings, and where, early on the morning of April fifteenth of this year, she died.

Nor have you vacuumed the rear deck of your hatchback Toyota Yaris, purchased as much with Sally's comforts in mind as your own.  The deck bears ample traces of Sally's black and white hairs.

Another animal, the five-year-old male tabby, Goldfarb, now prowls the venue of 409 East Sola, chosen from your need for an animal companion.  He, too, was acquired with Sally in mind, as an individual, not as a replacement for her.  Among the living, there are no replacements, only the comforts of nostalgia and the affirmations of lifelong chemistry.

Among Sally's gifts of nostalgia to you is her choice to die at home, with you.  In its way of affirmation, her departure reminds you of the departure of Jed Smith, a chunky, affable bluetick hound, named after the mountain man, Jedediah Strong Smith.  Afflicted with a debilitating pulmonary condition that returned after last-hope drainage surgery, the linings of Jed's lungs filled with fluid to the point where he could not lie down, even to sleep, lest he literally drown.  After six consecutive days where he could neither lie nor sleep, two consulting vets agreed there was nothing ahead for him but continued, awful discomfort.

Thus, one last visit to the hilly hardscrabble of Camino Cielo, where he and his brother, Edward, ran to the scents of deer, coyote, bobcat, and mountain lion.  The window of your car was open as you crawled along the unpaved road, Jed leaning against the inner wall of the car, sniffing in the ceanothus, yucca, chaparral, and scrub brush.

Bright in your nostalgia is the sight of him sniffing and then catching a scent.  His own splendid self took over at the flick of an inner switch.  In a moment of remarkable grace, he was out the window, his bay of joyful discovery in full bawl as he leapt out the window, then pursued the scent for the better part of a hundred yards before a heart attack seized him and took him to where he would never again have to worry about breath.

Like Jed, Sally went on her own terms, which had no tolerance for the inside of a veterinarian's office or an injection of a nightcap cocktail.  The grief of loss, even at the moment of its appearance, thus sweetened for you to sip on as you recall the extraordinary gift life gave you through the presence of another life.

Goldfarb came into your home on the 29th of April, from which point you go about the process of developing chemistry with another being, sharing quirks and foibles.  You've come to a quick basis of observation and understanding, each of the other, all the while you are adjusting to being dogless, Sally-less, for the first time in about seventeen years.

Because she was your constant companion, there are recollections of times at various venues, where her personality and yours met in a spectrum of activities.

Yesterday, late in the Sunday afternoon, you get a phone call from Sally's veterinarian.  It does not take more than a few words from her for you to detect the sob in her voice.  You ask what's wrong, and she tells you.  Her own dog, about Sally's age, of equal notional and outgoing nature, had died an hour earlier, at home as opposed to the office.

Your vet speaks of the tangible love she felt between you and Sally, reminding you of the times the two of you ran into one another at various take-out restaurants, where you'd gone for a particular delicacy for your respective dogs.  You think of the card she sent you, signed by all her staff, at the news of Sally's death.

For long moments, the two of you do what people who admire one another do best--reminisce about absent friends and the wonders of having friends.  Bonnie reminds you of the time she gave you a device called a pill-popper in order for you to give Sally medications Sally resisted taking, regardless of the treats they were buried in.  Bonnie reminds you of calling you when she needed to use the pill-popper on her own dog, wondering how you got it to work.

Small wonder Sally has been even more present in your thoughts today.  Small wonder grief and bittersweet and sweet return to visit you yet again.

Perhaps you can take her sleeping pad to storage now.  Perhaps you can come closer to vacuuming the rear deck of your car.

Such things are speculative.  What's real is the power of grief in your life and the preparation it has given you, each time you have allowed it to do so, and received the benefits of having lived so well as you have with the friends you have made along the way.

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