06 January 2009

On departure and attendant sorrows

Aengus a couple of years ago, still with a spring is his step, while being be pursued by his little buddy, Coco.

Tim came by Friday afternoon and picked up Aengus before I departed for Central Asia and eventually to Kabul. It was towel-swallowing time when I scratched his gray muzzle and petted my buddy for what I fear could be last time. I already miss the ol’ boy. I’ve had Aengus for 14 years and he was at least a year old when I adopted him. That mug of his and those big brown eyes, even in spite of his cataracts, still melt me, though I take great comfort in knowing that he will be loved and well cared for.

Why do animals summon my grief, that sense of loss that is increasingly pervasive, in a way that humans seem unable to? Why was I so stoic when I said goodbye to my 83-year-old mother, also possibly for the last time, at her nursing home in central New York state less than a month ago? There is, of course, a simple answer. Animals are unpretentious, uninterested of how they look to others, unconcerned about having to be cool, unafraid of not appearing to be in control.

Some 20 years ago, after I lost my ex-wife and then, shortly afterwards, a close friend, I thought I was holding up pretty well. I was working then at home in southern Colorado that provided permanent residency for a handful of mentally disabled adults and temporary shelter and meals for a larger group of homeless persons. One of our permanent residents, Duane, who was as innocent as the sky is blue, had adopted a medium-sized, generic brown dog who quickly became the “house dog.” The pooch didn’t last long, contracted some disease, and died a few months later. At his burial service on the grounds of the home, I looked at Duane, the bewilderment painted on his face, and the hole in which the dog was to be buried, and I cried for Debbie, my ex, and for Courtney, the young handsome father of two lovely daughters, and for all the losses that I had been unable to grieve.