I call Red “My Good Boy,” because that’s what he is. As I took this photo, I said, “thank you, My Good Boy.” In the firmament of dogs, he represents a special place for me. Red is failing, his heart is weakening, his movements are halting.
Once or twice a day, I think about that, but not all day, and not for too long.
Red is in a good place this week, a plateau, he can do some mild exercise, once or twice a week, I walk with him, just the two of us, on quiet country roads near the farm.
Dogs have taught me much about mortality, both directly – when they die – and indirectly, by leading me into my hospice and therapy work. I’ve seen a lot of death, thought a lot about it, read about it, written about it.
Dogs have led me to a good place when it comes to death. If you love dogs, you will know death, and I believe I have no right to grieve or complain for too long or too deeply. Look what they have done for me.
The lesson of Red for me is not sadness or lament, it is really a celebration.
How lucky I am to have him, how generous it was of Karen Thompson to give him to me, how many people love him, how much good he has done, how much comfort and grounding he has given me and Maria, what a wonderful working animal he is, how much easier he has made life here on the farm, what a peaceful and loving anchor he is and has been.
I know his loss will strike me in the heart, and leave a hole in my life and the life of the farm. Little Bud will feel his loss for sure, as will all of us (maybe not the sheep). But what I have learned about death is that it is as much a part of life as breathing, or flowers or love.
To love life is to accept death, it is our universal experience, a thing that binds all of us together.
As Paul Tillich wrote some years ago, we will all end, and Red’s time to end is coming, this week, next month, next year.
Mostly, what I feel for Red is gratitude rather than grief, celebration rather than mourning, I don’t intend to dishonor him by making his life or death into a matter of pain and self-pity. I do not feel the least bit sorry for myself, and I will not be posting memorial photos of Red on social media for years to come.
I accept life and I respect it. Death is not a shock or betrayal for me.
We were great together, he was a great gift to me, we did a lot of good together.
That’s a lot to be happy about, and my wish for this generous and loyal spirit is that he gets to dance with the spirits of animals in a green meadow by a clear running stream. That’s where I will think of him when he is gone.
I don’t expect Red to die very soon, this is not about preparing to grieve, it’s about preparing for the richness and joy that life can bring us, even when we don’t deserve it, even when we least expect it.
That’s what I though on walk with Red yesterday, we fit each other like gloves, I have never had a minute’s worry in my life with Red. He is always by my side.
He will always be my good dog, my good boy.