My Landlord’s Dog

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My landlord’s dog is a white female American bulldog named Julie. She is 8 years old, and exudes sweetness and love to such an extent that nearly everyone who meets her tells my landlord, whom I’ll call Jim, “If you ever decide to give her up, I’ll take her.” I rent a room in Jim’s house, and when my cat Urdwill was alive, Julie accepted him as one of the pack; if anything, he, not she, was the more aggressive and territorial of the two.

For the past few days I have been caring for Julie. About 4 days ago, Jim was taken to the hospital, where he has been ever since, with a cracked pelvis from a fall, a deep upper leg infection, and urinary difficulties. Jim is a very large man, and it took a four-man team of paramedics and firefighters to transport him from the upper tier of the bunk bed where he sleeps down to the gurney they had waiting for him. When I spoke to him on the telephone yesterday, he sounded disoriented and frightened. In his deep bass voice he said, “I’ve never felt so helpless before.”

I can believe it. Jim is 74, with a lifetime of international sales, business ownership, and professional rugby behind him. When I met him, about 2 years ago, he had been reduced to spending most of his time in a chair in front of his large screen TV, watching sports programs. I learned that some years back he developed a brain embolism that impaired his hearing, eyesight, balance, short term memory, and completely erased his sense of smell, which in turn has reduced considerably his ability to taste anything. A Type Two diabetic, and a heavy nighttime vodka-and-cranberry-juice-cocktail drinker, he is also a hoarder. Nearly every square inch of his house is filled with sports equipment, boxes of books, clothing, heaps of old bills and letters, tools, memorabilia, and trash, and the yards around his house sport several huge, inoperative vehicles, including a chartreuse van and two trucks, one of which has a mobile hot tub attached to it. (In the Seventies, Jim used to drive this rig around Santa Fe, renting it out to partying hippies.)

Despite his brain damage and short term memory loss, Jim notices at once if anything new appears in his vicinity, or if anything is thrown away or moved from one spot to another. “Is that your towel on the washing machine?” he asks. “Did you move that [tiny scarlet] tag from the desk to the side table?” Severely depressed, he goes to bed around midnight and gets up around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. “It just doesn’t seem worth it most days to get out of bed,” he told me.

Jim is on Medicare, and has had a string of caseworkers who come by now and again, disappear, and are replaced by new caseworkers. This is not because Jim is a difficult client to deal with; he is remarkably sweet tempered for a man with his background and in his condition. It’s because New Mexico, one of the poorest states of the Union, does not allocate much money to social services, and typically caseworkers are paid little, overworked, and overscrutinized by middle management longtermers anxious not to lose their jobs. Still, it’s a good thing Jim has Medicare, as he tells me he will be in hospital for at least another week, and in the meantime I am more or less in charge of taking care of Julie. “She misses you a lot, Jim,” I told him. “I miss her a lot, too,” he said, and his voice broke.

I find myself grieving, for Jim’s pain, certainly, but also for my own. My father, pictured above, was a big man, too, with a bass voice, and like Jim had little liking or talent for asking for help. Tonight I miss my father keenly. I was scared of him, much of the time, and angry with him, much of the time, and yearned for his approval and acceptance all of the time. He filled the house I grew up in with his presence just as Bill fills this house with his, and after my father died, of the last in a string of heart attacks back in 1971, the house loomed vast and empty without him in it.

I have no reason to believe that Jim will die, not this time, anyhow, though the events of the past week are clearly a wakeup call for him: change your ways of handling your pain, or make a humiliating, and possibly protracted, exit, stage right. But however long he is in hospital or rehab, and however many changes must take place in his house for it to accommodate his new fragilities, for now, I am here with his dog Julie; and our hearts, both hers and mine, are aching. •

 

 

 

 

A Message from “The Family”: On Those Who Have Gone Before

Jeffrey Robert Lee (L); Rand Benjamin Lee (R)

Jeffrey Robert Lee (L); Rand Benjamin Lee (R)

On those who have gone before there is much to say and little: much, because, from our viewpoint in the plane of light and sound, the joyous celebration of complexity and union that is physical and nonphysical reality proliferates endlessly in a dance rich with meaning and worthiness; little, because all this, at core, is known to all and each of you and us both. For this is the way of things.

Mister Rand grieves for those who have left the body before him. Grief is a hard, cold thing, or can be, when it sits in the throat like a stone unexpelled. Or it can be a hot rushing thing when first felt in its entirety of passion, welling up and spilling over in a hot rush of tears and wailing. Your society permits little of this grief-show, and that is a limitation of your society; public demonstrations of grief serve a grieving one and the society both, as demonstrations of how personal loss is also public loss: the loss of a brother, sister, father, mother, wife, husband, child, animal friend marking both a personal intimate change and a change in the composition of the group.

When what is felt by each is felt by all, grief is easier to bear. But in your culture, grief is hidden or expected to be quickly moved on.

Nevertheless, the grief that Mister Rand feels, say, over the unbodiment of his friend and once-brother Jeffrey Robert, is largely a grief of the body. When two beings have been raised together in close proximity, chemistries mesh; body patterns mirror one another, smells converge, chemistries ape one another, rhythms of sleep and wakefulness converge. Bodies harmonize within close proximity, and when one of two die, the body that remains is torn loose from its patterns and cast adrift, whether the loss has been of spouse or sibling or child or pet: bodies communicate with one another, and grieve for one another. So much of the grief felt by one who has lost a beloved is grief of the body.

And there is grief of the heart. “I only have escaped alone to tell thee,” says the comforter in the Book of Iyyob. Aloneness is the shadow of oneness and its pain is keen. The Divine is One but It is never alone. In truth, neither are you truly alone, and Mister Rand, his perceptions having been keened by his psychic practice, is aware of the presence of his friend whom he knew as his brother Jeffrey, and so is somewhat comforted, when his intellect does not prevent him from accepting and acknowledging that comfort. For the intellect, whose job it is to enable beings to create and thrive in physical reality, has only limited ability to make sense of the vast light reaches.

What is Heaven like? you ask. Heaven, we say, is noisy, joyous, full of argument and banter and explosions of love. Heaven is a carnival, though not a carnivale. Heaven is a peaceful glade with a stream running through it, and rabbit-birds giggling just out of sight. Heaven is your best friend.

— Channeled 19 October 2013, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A Gentle Death

Ruby was an 11 or 12 year old Australian shepherd dog who had been kept confined in a trailer and overfed to the point where she was virtually immobile. When my housemate Dina adopted her back in June, they lived together in a cabin in the northern Colorado wilderness. They took long walks through the woods and played in the fresh sunlight and breezes. Ruby began to lose weight and get more fit. She joyously greeted her friend Dina every time Dina returned to the cabin. Feisty and long-coated, Ruby was a working dog with a deep sense both of loyalty and of her rights to her own body; Dina was the only human Ruby permitted to stroke her belly-fur.

When Dina and Ruby moved to Aurora not long ago, it quickly became clear that Ruby had reached the point where her body, severely arthritic and spotted with flesh-pads, could no longer support her fiercely independent spirit. Dina made the difficult decision to have Ruby euthenased.

Having a beloved animal mercifully killed in order to spare her the agony of a lingering, painful death is I think the bravest and most unselfish service a pet-owner can choose. My late partner’s Stuart’s wolf-dog Kaz died in my arms on the emergency vet’s operating table after a deliberate hit and run one Sunday morning broke Kaz’s spine. I felt a window in reality open up and Kaz’s spirit drop through it, and then the window closed, leaving a smooth unruffled surface behind, as though Kaz had never been. This took place about a year after I found Stuart’s dead body in his bedroom, dead via brain embolism.

Years later, I held the head of my blind husky, Moon-Pie, when a Santa Fe vet gave him his final injection. Moon’s hind quarters had failed, as had his kidneys, and he faced his death with a growl and a bark. A few years later I lay with another dog, Bear, who went to sleep peacefully, felled by the same symptoms that had brought Moon-Pie to his end. Then, last year, my husky Blessing died at my feet in our back yard, possibly of cancer (there is also the possibility she was poisoned by a mentally ill neighbor who showed up very suddenly while I was mourning her body with a friend). All these losses came back to me as I sat quietly beside Dina, observing beautiful brave Ruby’s last moments in her old body.

The deaths mount up as one gets older. But the hope I cling to, when my emotional body is wailing in grief and loss, is the memory of what I felt with most of my dogs after their last breaths: the persistent sense of their loving spirit presences around me. I am not such an anthropocentrist that I believe a dog’s purpose is to serve its human caretaker. Dogs, like everyone else, have their own private stories which sometimes coincide with ours and sometimes do not.

But I do know that love is never lost. In a dream I saw my dead brother Jeffrey’s spirit move off into light accompanied by all the dogs, cats, and birds we had known and loved in our Connecticut childhood. We are all one, and Love is the evidence of that; and I pray to Wolf Mother that when it is my turn to shed my own noble, sagging, arthritic animal body, she will receive me into her pack with the same loving playful devotion she showed to Kaz, Moon-Pie, Bear, and Blessing.

And of course, Ruby.

Moon-Pie & I, 2008, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Moon-Pie & I, 2008, Santa Fe, New Mexico