Life, and mortality.

Possibly the most important lesson we can learn from dogs!

I was aware when writing the concluding part of Meet the dogs – Pharaoh that the next day I would be faced with writing about a subject that is a whole degree more difficult.  Death!

It must have been in my mind when I wrote “of the need to smell the flowers in this short life of ours.

What has prompted today’s post?

Simply that Dhalia developed a limp in her front, right-hand, leg.  That was a few weeks ago.  Naturally, we took her to our local vet, Dr. Codd, who diagnosed a strained elbow joint probably as a result of arthritis; Dhalia is believed to be ten-years-old.  With the recommended medication, the limp came to an end.

Then about two weeks ago, the elbow weakness appeared in her left-hand, front leg.

On Monday, we returned to Dr. Codd who took further X-rays and sought a second opinion.  That second opinion came back with the probability that it was a “osteoproliferative neoplastic lesion” or bone cancer to you and me!  It’s not one-hundred-per-cent certain but likely.

It only seemed like yesterday that Jean wrote about Dhalia in our ‘Meet the dogs’ series. That post included this photograph.

Love and Trust - Grandson Morten hugging Dhalia.
Love and Trust – Grandson Morten hugging Dhalia, September 2013.

Jean is very sad, as one would expect, nay we both are.  Dhalia, like Hazel and some of the other dogs here at home, has a loving openness towards humans that is truly remarkable when one learns of how these dogs came to be rescued: Dhalia being found by Jean living rough in a desolate part of a Mexican desert.  This is what Jean wrote in that ‘Meet the dogs‘ account:

I named her Dhalia and after treatments for mange she became quite beautiful. She was the pivotal part of a short story, Messages from the Night, Paul wrote back in 2011. Under her sweet exterior remains that same will to survive so evident when I rescued her all those years ago. There has been more than one occasion that she has brought me a recently killed squirrel or an ancient bone. We love our Dhalia: she still reaches out with her front paw when she seeks attention. Dhalia will be ten-years-old this year.

Somehow, Dhalia’s possible last few weeks of life resonated with much else going on.  Close to us, the recent death of a chicken, and one of our cats that does not have much longer to live.  In the wider world, the Washington State mud-slide, flight MH370, and the Ukraine.  The news media treat death as almost a trivial, incidental part of the scheme of things.

It takes others to offer words that elevate death to its deserved meaning.  Take, for example, author Brian Beker, who writes the blog The Dog in the Clouds.  Brian recently wrote the following post:

Prayer for an eagle

Please say a prayer for beautiful bald eagle who just died a death he did not deserve.

He was stuck on the ground near a concrete barrier on a stretch of interstate under construction in Arkansas. I spotted him with his head down, facing into the traffic that was passing a foot away from him.

He was an adult bald eagle-big and brave, facing down the oncoming 18 wheelers.

There was no place to pull off, concrete barriers on both sides, so I went to the next exit and backtracked. My adrenaline was rushing in horror and fear. My plan was just to stop and block traffic, and pick him up. But he had been killed by the time I got back to him three or four minutes later.

I failed that bird.

I hope he is circling over the lakes and trees he loves.

Back to learning about death from our dogs.

Dhalia’s possible terminal condition; my Pharaoh being the age he is; somewhere in there has come the recognition that we should embrace life yet also embrace our mortality; our death.  As Leonardo da Vinci was reputed to have said, “While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.

What does death mean; truly mean?  I don’t know.  All I know is that death is the end of a life.  That our immortality is only an echo, a reverberation of who we were and what we stood for.  Or no better put than by American lawyer, Albert Pike, who left these words before he died on April 2nd, 1891 (Yes, I looked it up!)

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us;

what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.

Last thought from our dogs. Recall that yesterday, I wrote, “Pharaoh has been my greatest inspiration of the power of unconditional love; of the need to smell the flowers in this short life of ours.

Day in, day out, anyone with dogs in their lives know how often they offer us simple acts of love.

A life of simple acts of love – now that does give death a meaning!

Dhalia - picture taken two days ago.
Dhalia – picture taken two days ago.

13 thoughts on “Life, and mortality.

  1. What a wonderful and very deep post. This made me think, yet again, of my own dog. I hope things do turn out for the best in Dhalia’s case, but it never hurts to put ourselves to a stand-still and recognize all that is beautiful around us. We must appreciate life while we’re living it, not while we’re facing death.

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  2. The contract of life comes with the clause that all must die. Death is an aspect no longer celebrated or acknowledged in modern society as it once was, another sign of a humanity separated from nature. I wrote about an oak tree last year that I thought would outlast me, but a storm sent the oak tree into the embrace of death. Nothing lasts, all things end, enjoy the moment of life that is available.

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    1. Very well said! Life is a terminal illness. In my view we should celebrate death, for without it there can be no life; things that don’t change are truly dead. Sadly, our society, as you say, is out of touch with nature, and therefore with reality: we yearn for more life, and though we might achieve more in quantity, it’s doubtful whether we achieve more in quality. Death is only a maudlin subject because we avoid talking about it.

      Just my tuppence.

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  3. What a beautiful and well thought-out post. Sweet Dahlia and Pharaoh, regardless of age and immortality, will always live on. I think all dogs do. Because their impact on this world is much greater than just a companion, they define unconditional love.

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  4. One thing I have learned from 60+ years of life shared with dogs and cats. They have no regrets when the time comes for that final journey. Each of them has lived to the fullest, every minute of every day of their lives. I think this is perhaps the largest, most important gift they share freely with us, a lesson that comes so naturally to our animal friends, but seems so hard for us two-legs to learn.

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  5. I read this the day you posted it and I cried. I am one of those highly emotional people and one who cannot even watch a movie with any animal than is in trouble or worse. (I blame the movie Bambi). For me, my animals have always been more than just a bird, a fish, cat and dogs. they have been my siblings until Chloe – my first daughter and Sydnee Pee. I would like to ditto all of the comments above, because what has been said is perfect and typing and crying is getting a bit difficult. xx kimberly

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    1. Kimberley, Jean and I are just the same and even reading your comment a few moments ago has produced some wetness in the eyes at this end. Don’t ever change! 🙂 lol Paul

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  6. This is a lovely post, Paul. My heart was pulled numerous times by Dhalia’s story and by the poor bald eagle on the highway. Animal death on highways always hurt me very deeply. I have witnessed it more than once and it often overwhelms me.

    I think it is important that more people speak openly about mourning animals and what it means to contemplate losing their companionship. I think we need to make this part of the discussion in our culture; no life is ever trivial. I wrote a piece several years ago about losing a parakeet and a rat within 6 weeks of each other and how heartbreaking this was (I saw both of them turn ill and could only do so much for them). I remember feeling that I had to explain to some people why talking about my grief was not silly or mawkish but deeply important to me. Their lives mattered and losing them put a hole in the midst of my life. I wanted to honor their life and memory by being very open about how much I missed (and miss) them. In other words, their lives mattered and radiated far outside of their own bodies. That counts.

    I really appreciate what you do here at this blog. Perhaps I have not said that enough.

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  7. I should add that I wish only the best for Dhalia and Pharoah (and you and your wife). I know how much my dogs mean to me. . . .

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