It was a sunny afternoon in March, 2008. I was in the second month of a theater tour. Sitting in the business center of the hotel we were staying in, I went through the routine of checking my email and attempting my third attempt at keeping a decent blog going. With nothing on my mind to write about, I gave up and logged off the computer. The shows were done for the day, and with this hotel being located within the middle of nowhere, I decided my best route was to head back to my room and turn on the TV.
As I ascended the stairs, my mind wandered over to the health of my dog.
Her name was Mindy. She was a black Lab, and she was enjoying the twilight of her years. At 15, she had been living a healthy, pretty much awesome life. Big backyard, lots of places to lay around and chill.
She was exactly the kind of dog I loved. Laid back, content to sit around and get petted for an hour. Didn’t feel the need to bark or be crazy. She had done all that. Nothing more to prove.
Recently, though, she had been going through health problems, as most animals do when they get to an advanced age. Numerous cysts and tumors made their way onto her backs and legs. It got to the point where she had to be carried up and down the steps of the patio. I considered it a privilege, though. She had been great dog to me for as long as I’d known her, and wanted to do as much as I could to keep her healthy and happy.
It was with sadness, then, that I checked my voicemail and found a message from my stepmother. She said that Mindy hadn’t been eating, and that the vet’s diagnosis was damning: Mindy had contracted something in her stomach, I can’t remember what, but it basically prohibited her from eating.
My stepmother, the vet said, had two options: Either take Mindy back home and make her final days comfortable, or put her to sleep. She chose the latter.
Now, this is not a blog post on the debate of whether animal euthanasia is ethical or not. The fact was, I knew that Mindy’s time was winding down, and all I can do is hope that she dug me as much as I dug her.
I returned home that weekend. We were planning to do a small memorial service for Mindy. My stepmother had her cremated, and was carrying the ashes in a small bag. We all stood outside on the front yard, taking turns in scooping handfuls of the ashes, sprinkling them around the bushes and wherever else Mindy liked to lay out.
It was all supposed to be very somber, introspective.
My sister, however, had another idea.
My sister, who was 6 at the time, was taking handfuls of Mindy’s ashes and throwing them into the air. Throwing, like you would rice at a wedding. Not only that, but she was laughing. Laughing at the sight of the ashes being flung into the air, watching it fall onto the ground and onto her clothing.
I was mortified. How dare this young moppet disgrace my Mindy! It was a complete blaspheming of this emotional time! What kind of twisted kid did I have for a sister?!
That flood of emotions lasted for about two minutes. Then I got to thinking.
Would Mindy appreciate this whole ceremony? I could just imagine her looking down at us, all standing on that lawn, looking morose. I could hear her doing one of her muffled woofs, telling me “Whoa, Zach, chill out, guy. I mean, yeah, it sucks that I died, but you being sad isn’t going to help anything! Do some celebrating of my life, rather than dwelling on my death!”
After imagining these words of inspiration, I got ready to do just that celebrating, complete with ash-tossing.
I turned to grab another handful of ashes, but alas, the bag was emptied. My family had moved to talking amongst each other, as well as a couple of neighbors who dropped by to give their sympathies. I looked over to my sister, who had joined the other kids of the cul de sac in playing a game of kickball. The ceremony was done. It was just me, standing amongst the scattered remains of Mindy.
I teared up a little, then shrugged it off. I was determined to celebrate Mindy’s life, just like my imaginary vision of her demanded I do.
So I took my sister aside, and spent the next hour going through old photos of Mindy, telling her about the exploits and shenanigans she found herself in. The multiple fence-jumpings. The time she shattered one of the windows facing the backyard because she thought her bone was sitting on her side of the window. And my god, so much licking.
Afterward, I had a sense of closure. True, Mindy was gone. But she was a large part of my life and for that, I’ll always consider myself lucky.