Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world–with kings,
The powerful of the earth–the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribb’d and ancient as the sun,–the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods; rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green;
Thanatopsis — William Cullen Bryant
It is difficult to articulate the elements of grief when they involve a loved one; and, it is an even greater challenge when that loved one just happens to be a family member of particular distinction: a Black Lab-Chow mix with bent, deformed hind-quarters from a near fatal encounter with a car, and rescued from Houston, Texas by my daughter who was in graduate school completing her PhD.
When my daughter called to inform me of her decision to adopt a dog, I responded as any parent might, especially one who forgets from time to time that his children are adults and not those wee creatures who still cavort in his memories; I reminded her of the extra responsibiliites, to say nothing of the inconvenience associated with having and keeping a pet. Of course the adoption was a foregone conclusion, the call was more a curtesy and to inform me of this latest member’s name. Judy. And so I did my best Cary Grant Judy, Judy, Judy imitation. My daughter told me that someone else had done the same thing when informed of the dog’s name and had never heard about the comedic association of this stilted delivery to Grant; it was standard fare for every celebrity impersonator’s routine. My daughter chose Judy as the closest sounding name to the one given the dog at the rescue shelter, Beauty. She was black, evoked compassion from everyone who saw her, so Beauty became her monicker during her stay in the animal shelter, but she was a Judy, one of a kind in name, personality, and life, for as long as it was hers to possess.
Almost twelve years of grand-doging established a unique relationship between Miss Judy and me. Patterns and routines were formed, expectations created, roles established and played, nicknames bestowed—unilaterally—Jude, The Big Dog, or just Big and other more silly endearments that she seemed to enjoy; she may have used some choice epithets for me, if she did, I never heard her utter them, at least, not with any hint of animosity!
My daughter’s work schedule following graduate school was rather variable for several years and involved her teaching out of state for seven weeks during the summer. Her employers made no provision for her to bring a pet during her summer assignment. So in those early years Miss Jude and I were nearly inseparable for almost two months of each year. The length of the time and the intensity of daily contact formed a special bond, one that many parents will quickly recognize: Judy became the grand dog!
When we moved from the city out into the county our surrounds became rolling pastures and acres of wooded areas. It was inevitable that our property become Judy’s country estate providing respite from first her apartment dwelling and subsequently more urban city life in my daughter’s new house. There was an abundance of grass, fields teeming with interesting creatures—Judy preferred my Yosemite Sam pronunciation, RahBut, to the more mundane, rabbit—once I uttered that word she came to attention and scanned the fields for her prey. Truth be told, if she ever caught a rabbit, she wouldn’t know what to do with it but she reveled in the mad-cap chase which always ended with the rabbit scurrying into a thicket for cover and her canine duty still honorably intact. Very soon in our long walks—in the early years they were rarely shorter than an hour with two hours not being unusual—I learned to channel the chant Dorothy used in the Wizard of OZ: kitties and squirrels and rabbits, oh my! Of course those three were only a portion of the list of creatures we’d encounter: turtles, chip monks, oposums, deer, birds, and the occasional snake. I managed to work them all into a litany when uttered piqued her surveylance of the area for any tell-tale trace of momvement.
Although Judy had a variety of tastes—she pirated low-hanging blueberries from my bushes and ate all the wild cherries I would pick for her—her favorite was corn. Fresh corn, cob and all. When she was vacationing at our house during the summer she would stop whenever we approached my garden and wait at the end of one of the rows of corn I had planted and stare at me until I shucked a very young ear of corn for her. She loved treats and snacks, of course, I obliged her.
For many years Judy was surprisingly swift despite her bent, malformed hind legs; she was hit by a car when she was a puppy and while operations saved her life they were able only to ameliorate the damage done to her legs and not fully repair them. Nevertheless, she could run like the wind, easily outrunning me in our mad dashes outside. And her legs didn’t prevent her from climbing onto the Lane chests in a little alcove off our dining room so she could watch what was happening outside from her elevated vantage point. She loved that spot so much that I pushed the chests together and put a small throw rug over the hardwood floor to make the climb to her perch easier for her. Judy quickly discovered that the chests’ cushions were perfect for napping so when she tired of spying on the world outside she caught up on her sleep; it’s tiring work being a lone sentinel.
Each time my daughter brought Miss Judy for me to dog-sit, as soon as she got out of the car, I had to give her a walk around our yard. If I failed to take her for a spin, she would huff and ruff at me until I relented, leash in hand and out the door with her. The Big Dog liked to be outside for as long as possible; she especially loved our carport. Our house sits atop the highest point in our neighborhood and afforded Judy an unobstructed view in nearly every direction. She would change her position from time to time to check for activity on the street or to scan a line of trees at the edge of our yard for movement—she was most keen for rabbits and kitties. As she aged, she preferred her various observation posts to strenuous runs through neighboring fields although she still enjoyed her morning cathartic and was especially fond of meeting neighbors who were out walking too. Actually, Judy was downright nosey. Whenever anything or anyone captured her attention, she simply froze and stared as if she were in a trance.
Jude was diagnosed with melanoma in July. The vet was candid with his assessment of Judy’s prognosis but he was also heartened that he had been fortunate enough to remove all of the tumor with surgery; chemotherapy wasn’t practicable; it was painful; and, suffering without the ability to articulate what one is feeling is tantamount to torture. Inevitability is not a concept one can grasp easily, perhaps one never can. Judy responded well after her procedure although it was unknown how compromised her lymphatic system was. She spent three weeks with me resting and recuperating at her country estate. I spoiled her, of course, as I have always done. We spent long hours under shade trees and under the carport committing all that we possible could to memory; we knew that one of us would have to be able to recall what it was like to understand there is no meaning to the end of all things. My daughter said that Judy didn’t know that anything was wrong with her, didn’t suspect the abrupt terminus that awaited her. I think she knew, I could feel it when we sat together or I scratched her belly when she went into her happy dog routine, rolling on her back and wiggling side to side in sheer joy like a young puppy. She was happy in the moment, I’d like to think she was rejoicing that no matter what lay ahead she was fully alive at that moment. It’s possible to hold onto eternity that way.
The pull of philosophy, literature, poetry is ineluctable when I am forced to confront tragedy so I cannot resist acknowledging the arc another being makes; its trajectory strengthening, stabilizing, and adding meaning to my own. I may be accused of being overly sentimental, guilty of anthropomorphism but it would be a hollow indictment, baseless, because part of what was, was and is still a part of me.
At about 9:30 every night Judy would trot down the hallway into our bedroom, and flop near our bed on the side where I slept; sometimes she would position herself with her head and nearly half of her body under the bed just below me. She snored, and in her own language often blurted out the images of her dreams, the unconscious accounting of the day’s hunt until she settled herself with a deep and restive sigh. I am stoic about those lost mornings when I will no longer be awakened by Judy flapping her ears at me and nuzzling for my hand to scratch her chin but one of us has to remember and remind the world as best we can about the simple purity of unconditional love.