Guest post by Kateyanne Unullisi
I love dogs. God I love dogs.
And now it’s nearly time for a dog I love to die. Nina, my daughter’s dog. The Golden Retriever puppy she got when newlywed in 2001 is now 13-years-old; and though lumpy and halt, she is ever patient and tender with their three young children.
This could go many ways. I could take it on, in the name of sparing the family more pain. I could leave them to it; after all, I have plenty to deal with myself. Or we could use this sad time as guidance for Death in Our Little Family (dogs included). Because really, it’s been our dogs who have already been showing us the way.
Aiko, my Collie mix, mothered little Nina, who, when she understood she wasn’t to bark at every slight thing, rushed through the house in search of socks. Then she whisper-barked into them, wagging her tail so hard she fell over. That’s why we call her Nina Wigglesworth.
Nina and Aiko, best friends, invented the game ‘Soccer Ball,’ then taught the two-leggeds how to play. Here’s the rules: the humans stand in a great circle and all dogs take themselves to the center (which resulted in bringing all the closed off neighbors out of their houses to play). This included Star, the Border Collie, a clever girl who was aces in assist, Pili the Cocker Spaniel, the look-at-me-I’m-so-cute cheerleader type, and other four-legged transients in for a good game of pickup. A human kicked the soccer ball into the center and the dogs squared off, sometimes in teams, sometimes dog eat dog. First one to touch the ball, regardless of species, won. There was no keeping score.
Did you see the part where the neighbors came out of their houses and got to know one another? The dogs did that.
Aiko – teacher friend dog – died last year. I did that. I made the decision that 15 years and a quit hind end was enough to ask of her, called the vet to our home, and lay by her on the floor as she died. May I carry my sorrow with as much grace as she carried her pain.
And now it’s Nina’s turn. The time has come for my daughter to make this decision herself. She says she just wants to wake up and find Nina dead, to which I say, good luck with that. These dogs love us so, they just won’t leave.
My urge is to get all the planning details sorted: vet, babysitter, crematorium. I will do some of it, since Aiko taught me how. But what kind of elder would I be to disallow Nina and my daughter the grace of learning? Taking on too much just gives them feeble lessons in how to handle the logistics of death.
It may not surprise you as much as it does me, but I’m likely to die too, some day. So mine is a death my kids will also need to attend to – and a few others in their lifetimes as well. When we pre-plan our own end-of-life details without taking our (30 or 40 or 50 year old) kids’ hands and walking them into the funeral home-crematorium-cemetery, we have failed them. Big. This is a teachable moment!
Planning ahead – well, some of it makes sense and some of it doesn’t. Don’t pay ahead – show your kids why – and here’s some damn good reasons if you don’t know. Don’t plan to the letter and take that privilege from them. They need to do that when you die and they’ll do it well, because you showed them how.
This is adventure! Wander the cemetery where your finished body will be buried or hike the high cliffs your ashes will be strewn over. Take along the dog. Start talking. Bring them (what the hell, bring the dog too) to meet with a few funeral directors and show them the difference between a good, a bad and a thievishly ugly undertaker. Kick the caskets, run the numbers, then get the hell out of there and head for a cold pint.
After Nina goes, in the spirit of teaching and in gratitude to our dogs, I will pre-plan my death (supposing I will die someday) by giving my daughters a roadmap, but not the exact itinerary. They can and should work that out themselves. I just hope there’s a pack of dogs there playing a good round of Soccer Ball after all is said and done.