One Christmas, a while back, we had to put our dog to sleep. I wasn’t going to write about it but then I thought about how she liked to sleep curled up beside my chair with her nose on the heat register, content to be doing nothing, which brought to mind a book my son gave me one Christmas called The Art of Doing Nothing which made me remember a poem I wrote when she was a puppy . . . and so it goes.
Sunny was twelve but spry until the week after Christmas when her belly suddenly bloated and overnight she could barely walk. It seemed her legs would no longer support her stomach. We thought she was constipated and the vet said to give her pumpkin and if she wasn’t better in a few days to call back. We gave her pumpkin. She ate it; she would eat anything.
But Sunny didn’t get better. She could manage the porch steps down, but when she finished her business she couldn’t climb back up. She just stood there looking up with her mournful little shih tzu eyes. So there we were, carrying her inside and out, up and down, like a puppy. My laptop sits on a table beside the heat register and it was always her favorite place, but she wouldn’t leave her bed. I put part of a fried egg in her dish. She ignored it.
The next morning, she lost control of her bladder, legs splayed in a widening pool of discolored urine. I looked down at her in horror. My husband took her to the vet. The prognosis? Possible kidney failure or a tumor or any number of other age-related ailments. The cost? $120.00 for a diagnostic blood test and $80.00 for an X-ray, and this just to find out what was wrong. Surgery, recovery . . . who knows? The vet said she could still die in six months. Our other option was $58.00 for euthanasia and $120.00 for cremation if we wanted the ashes. If not, they would “group” cremate her for $50.00.
“My God!” my daughter said. “That would be like Auschwitz!” The kids didn’t want her cremated. They want her buried on the farm with a cross above her grave.
My husband carried her home in a bag while I was at work. The problem? The ground is frozen. This dilemma makes me think of the burial-delayed funerals in the U.P. They have a no-shovel season from November 15th to March 1st. Digging into the ground would be like trying to penetrate 8 inches of concrete. Most cemeteries have thinly-walled buildings that rely on Mother Nature not refrigeration to keep the corpses cool. The caskets are tagged and slid into racks in the storage facility until the spring ceremony, which is no different than a regular burial. They’re used to this up there. There’s a large Finnish-American population in the U.P. Back in the old country, bodies were stored in the church’s bell tower until they could be buried.
We don’t have a bell tower but we have mounds of rich, organic compost. So as of now she’s nestled under a mound of compost, and next summer she’ll be spread over the farm. Is that so bad? Do the kids know this? No. They want her buried with her blanket and her stuffed animal with a cross over her head, or a marker on which would be inscribed: Here lies Sunny, a good dog. She never peed on the floor until the day she died. She liked carrots and lettuce, eggs and pumpkin. She liked people.
And this is the poem that is about more than a dog but you know how one thing reminds you of another and then another because everything is connected.
THE ART OF DOING NOTHING
The mercury outside my window
is covered with ice
and frost breached the inside of the glass.
I scrape it off with my nail—
it falls into the sink.
The furnace drones without pause
and my summersick dog lies on the register.
A draft runs through the house.
It sets chimes ringing and makes her nervous.
I inventory things not to do.
It’s in a book—The Art of Doing Nothing.
Meditate and you can see things that aren’t there—
brandied cakes and a bottle of wine
set out on the sideboard as if for a friend.
I look behind doors and pause at the stairs
come full circle to see myself sitting there—
in a winged-back chair, out of window’s view,
back to the wall, like a shell-shocked soldier.
Night blankets the house in a mantilla of doubt
but only cold comes in from under the door.
Connected with and inspired by poetry friends at: The Imaginary Garden with Real Toads for the Tuesday Platform. Add a poem of your choosing for feedback if you are a poet and a writer.