Destroy a childhood fantasy…
Santa – been done.
Easter Bunny – Done.
Your parents are happily married – Done.
Your teacher loves you and reallylikes your stupid drawing of a cat – Done.
Doggie Heaven – well, now here’s a promising topic. Let’s see:
“Okay, Kevin, you know how you really love Barney over there, right? And Barney, well, he’s getting a little old. Remember how grandma got old and when her body couldn’t work any more, she went to Heaven? For dogs, there’s the same thing. Big fields to run around in, birds to chase all day, naps in the sunshine. It’s fantastic. Barney’s going to love it there. You want that for Barney, don’t you? You don’t want him to be in pain like this any more, do you? You want him to have the chance to be happy and playful again, just like he was when he was younger, right?”
Ah, the bullshit we spew at the younger, naive generations in order to ease our own trauma. Why lie? Because it makes us feel better. We empathize with our youths’ sorrow over a pet’s death. So we must attempt to alleviate our own suffering by first alleviating theirs.
Here’s the real deal, kid. Your dog doesn’t have a soul. There is no distinction between “Barney, the basset hound” and “Barney the doggo spirit inside”. Barney himself couldn’t tell you where he stops and another dog starts, outside of the physical limitation / barrier / known divide of his nose and ears and paws. So to presume that there is something different from the aging, failing, tumor-ridden body that can barely get up off the couch to pee, is a rather egregious transgression of adultory responsibility.
Instead of lying to you, to try to minimize your sorrow, we should instead be telling you the truth, and helping you to process the sorrow, to help you to understand and properly grieve the loss. Here it is.
Barney is dying. Barney’s body does not work so well any longer. Pretty soon, maybe today, maybe next week, but certainly not much after that, Barney’s body will not work at all. Then Barney will be dead. He won’t run and jump. He won’t chase birds and squirrels and eat treats all day long. His body will just be there, and the personality, the “spirit’ that you have called Barney, the one who, yeah, did like to lay on your bed at night, and who did like to eat Hormel Chili but not Manwich, and who, yeah, did get into the neighbors’ trash once in a while, that “personality” will die with the body. It’s impossible to separate them. They are a whole, a togetherness, and integrated union. Take your hands – lock them together in two fists. Can you figure – that’s it. See how, together, they make a strong, tight, compact bond? Well, take them apart, and what do you have? An empty palm. Nothing. Blankness. What used to be something.
And that’s how it’s going to be with Barney. His body will be “done”. His spirit will be “done”. At that point we can give him a burial, if you’d like, and I think it would be very appropriate to write a good-bye letter to Barney. Hey, you may even want to do that now, so you can read it to him. That way he can hear it, before he disappears, and then that can be your last, best memory of him. What do you think – are you up to it?