Monday, May 21, 2012

Goodbye to our beloved "old man" . . .

This blog of mine has served many purposes.  It is a way to share what I am thinking and feeling about the journey of life.  It is a way to promote my thoughts about music, and why I sing and play guitar.  It's a way of sharing my thoughts about spiritual things.

It is also a journal of sorts . . . at times a public journal, when I have something to share that seems better suited to an audience than to my personal private review at some point down the road.

Some of those sharing times come when you are grieving a loss of something loved and dear.

As a general rule, I don't share information about my family in this blog, out of respect for their wishes.  This time I am breaking that rule, but just a bit.  This time I don't think they will mind that much.

Last night, May 20, 2012, we lost a member of the Mang family . . . our beloved Sheltie . . . our beloved "old man,"  . . . Tigger.

He was 14+ years old.  This had been a bad year for him health wise . . . our vet cautioned us that he was getting to that point, as all Shelties do, where his health issues would be a constant matter of concern.  He wanted in his own way to let us know that Tigger's quality of life was going to start a downward path.

Over the last few year, and definitely more so these past couple of months . . . Tigger started having breathing issues associated with old age.  He has had breathing issues before, always due to his having more allergies than I can imagine a human being ever having.  This dog was just about allergic to everything.   We had to shop around and buy dog food that had "duck" in it, because he was allergic to just about everything else. 

Do you know how much dog food with "duck" costs??  You don't buy it at Wal-Mart either.

Thank goodness he wasn't a big dog, and didn't really eat that much . . . dog food wise.  Man, did he love hand outs from the table.  Never saw a dog relish eating an orange or banana.  Sliced Pepperoni??  You didn't dare drop the bag.  It was his favorite treat.  He walked by and took a hamburger out of one of our hands a while back.  We all laughed until we cried.  He liked that hamburger.  Begging was an art-form with Tigger.  No one was exempt from "those eyes!!!"

My wife and daughter shared that Tigger seemed comfortable on the back porch when they left to pick me up from a district church meeting yesterday evening in.  For the consumate "inside" dog, Tigger seemed to  once again enjoy staying out on the porch more these last days.  He seemed comfortable lying in the shade on our deck, face to the wind. It seemed to us that his breathing was better when he was laying down outside.  He seemed at peace. 

Perhaps we should have sensed the end was nearer than we thought. We knew in our hearts we didn't have much time left with our little tuxedo wearing "old man."  He was a tri-color sheltie, black and white fure with a little brown.  He always looked like he was wearing a tuxedo.

When we got home, he was laying unconscious by our back door, protecting  our home from who knows how many imagined intruders . . .  like squirrels, cats, birds and butterflies.  Even so near the door of death, he looked dignified, handsome and proper. 

When I picked him up, he was as limp as a dish rag.  We knew it was bad.  We  also knew what we had to do.

We immediately took him to the nearby pet ER, and once inside, we made in a matter of seconds the decision that we would let him go.  He apparantly had had a massive stroke or heart attack, one that at 14+ years of age he would not recover from, no matter how heroic the efforts to save him.

When the pet ER employee came and told us that "it's all over,"  my wife and I cried.  You would have thought we had lost a child.  Perhaps in some way we did.  We both were feeling such loss, and perhaps a little bit of guilt, mourning for what we hoped could have been still.

We went home, and after sharing the news with our girls and their husbands, and our grand-daughter, and a friend who "pet-sitted" Tigger for us, we knew it was time to cry, grieve, and begin in our own way the journey of celebrating what we had experienced with Tigger in our lives, instead of grieving about what might have been.

That's a good decision, actually.  A healthy decision.  It's the same advice I give as a pastor to "humans" when they suffer a loss.  There comes a time, when greatfulness for someone or something's life outweighs it's loss.  That's when we begin choosing healthy memories that are worth remembering and passing on to others, because those memories do us good.

As a pastor, I have the opportunity to officiate at lots of funerals for "humans." In fact, I'm pretty good at it, having been told many times that I am one of best at doing so.  In the process, I've held countless people when they have cried after losing a loved one, and I have also held a few people when they died.  It is a sacred thing, the ending of one's life journey.

For a pet, though, it's something different.  There is always the knowledge that you are the one who must feed and care for a pet.  You see, being "Master" carries an awful lot of responsbility. 

I think I felt cheated out of something last night, perhaps because my wife and I had to play "God" at a time when we would have preferred a different outcome.  I would have prefered something more "sacred" in Tigger's death, but I honestly am not sure what that would have been.  We had a crisis and the crisis demaded our immediate response.  It was all a rush.

But today, as I process and as I look back on last night . . . I think there was something sacred in it all.  Before being taken back into the pet ER clinic, my wife and I said our goodbyes, and shared our love with our little old man, and told him it was OK, that we would be OK, that he didn't have to be our little shepherd anymore, that is was OK to go.  Even though he was unresponsive . . . I have to believe  . . . oh, how my heart aches to want to believe . . . that he heard us . . . confirming in perhaps his own way that it was time.

My mom, who herself recently lost a beloved Golden Retriever, shared with me that "dog's know when it's time."  When it was Tigger's time, even though we couldn't have done anything at all if we had been there, and that hurrts . . . he knew it was time, and laid down by our back door . . . doing what he did best, which was always living up to his part of the bargain in our relationship . . . in a last symbolic act of protecting his home . . . laying down knowing we would find him, and that we would honor him and do right by and for him out of our greatfulness and love for him.
In the end, Tigger died a good dog!  A fine dog! A handsome noble dog!  One of the smartest dogs I have ever seen or heard about.  A full, 100% . . . just the best dog ever. 

Our "old man," . . . noble and dignified, loving us to the end.

Grieving is a time for recognizing lessons learned in the course of a relationship.   Lessons I learned from having had Tigger in our lives have in fact helped shape my understanding of unconditional love and loyalty.  Tigger was the textbook picture for both.  Oh, you could scold him for something . . . and he would saunter off, only to return shortly and put his head on your knee and give you that "please forgive me look."  If you were sick, he was at your side or on the floor by your bed. He loved to be petted and rubbed and brushed.  And he loved to reciprocate his love with lots of lick to your face and neck.  He liked kisses.

He was a Sheltie, by nature a herding dog, a sheep dog.  He always seemed most happy and content when the entire family was present.  As our family grew as we welcomed two son-in-laws and a grand daughter, Tigger was pleased as punch because his "herd" was getting bigger.  Well perhaps not so much for the family cats . . . but they all seemed to get along.

And speaking of getting along, that was another thing Tigger taught me . . . the importance of which, from a personal and Christian perspective, has overwhelmed me in terms of my passions and personal core values and ethics these past few years . . . that we all need to work harder to get along, becasue we are all in the same family!!!  Tigger welcomed every new cat with calmness, welcomed every person who came into our home with a sniff, a look, and his trademark, "I guess we have enough room for this one" look.  He protected his "herd" whenever he thought he was supposed to.  Especially from the incredibly dangerous windshield wipers on our cars..  If he was in the car, and it was raining, one of us had to literally restrain him, otherwise, he was going to defend us from the attack of those infernal evil windshield wipers.

We are going to laugh a lot, and loud, every time we share that particular story when we gather as family.

I've said before that I would not have another dog after Tigger is gone.  And I mean it now more than ever.  He was our first pet, ever, that we got as a baby (6 weeks old), who lived a long life with us, and died at the end of a long good life . . . even if at the end he got a gentle loving caring push to the other side from the injection my wife and I told the vet to give him so he would not suffer anymore.   There is no other way for me to process all of this other than to acknowledge, even if others fail to understand, that his death is a real loss. 

I will never smirk at anyone anymore about losing a truly loved . . . truly beloved pet / member of the family.  I have cried today as much as I have cried in years.  They have been all good tears.

Some will say . . ." he was just an animal . . . a dog!" 

They are wrong, oh soooooo wrong . . . Tigger was as full a member of the Mang family as any of us. 

Something to consider, as one our church staff shared with me this morning (a dog lover in her own right) that 99 times out of 100, you are going to out-live a pet.  Unless you are elderly, or God forbid, something happens . . . part of the experience of owning a pet is both it's arrival into your life, followed by it's later departure from your life, either by loss or by death.

The arrival is a time of celebration and preparedness.  The departure just hurts.  I mean, it really hurts.  But in the end . . . yeah, it's still a sacred thing.  Tigger was one of God's little creatures, a part of God's family as much as you or I.   We did him good. We thanked him, loved and appreciated him, and then we let him go.  We are a family of faith, we all acknowedge and believe that he is in a better place.

A pastor friend said the other day, "we are at our best when we remember, and we are at our worst when we forget."

Tigger, my old man, I will never forget you.  We loved you so much ... but you knew that.  We know you loved us.  In our eyes, you were just about the greatest most handsome most smartest most loving dog in the whole wide world!!!  And, you were a big part of our family.

We are going to miss you greatly.  And we will acknowlege our lives are better because you were a part of our family, and our life journey together.

Jesus, O Jesus my Lord, Savior and brother . . .  if you could, please take our Tigger for a walk in Heaven.  May that be his faithful reward for what his being in our life has meant to us.

Until my own dying day, I will always believe that God's grace, a good dog, and healing tears,  all amaze me still . . . ><>

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