When my dog died

Almost a year ago while working in Minnesota my dog died back in San Diego and I had no way of getting back home. Torn between the work I had obligated myself to and the deep longing to go mourn my friend with the people who knew him too, for a couple days I fell between moments of both untethered great high and grimy low that felt like grinding glass nausea. The intensity of the experience also set the stage for some incredible highs on the campaign trail, and more bonding than perhaps would have been likely. Deep friendships grew, and my sadness for those days broke down the boundaries that typically exist between strangers. I suddenly had people taking care of me, and opening up about their own experiences.

We got Rudy after my brother read Where the Red Fern Grows, a story about a boy and his two dogs who die, one protecting him, the other of a broken heart. My brother was 11 and wanted two dogs of the same breed, and my parents bargained that if he saved up $100 they would pitch in the rest to buy one red boned coon hound. We named him Rudy. We’d had other dogs before, but I never bonded with a dog like I did with Rudy. He was funny, at once sweet and cuddly like a puppy his whole life, and also a little uncomfortable when I would wrestle with a boy friend, he’d howl and stand by sort of switching weight amongst his legs waiting to make sure everything was okay. He was unflappable, you couldn’t bother him, except with a vacuum cleaner. He liked to cuddle on the bed, he bounded down the stairs and nearly knocked people over, he licked everyone who came in the door as though he had been missing them forever. He was a good dog. Then he got really sick, and a week later he died. He was ten years old. It broke my heart, and I still have dreams of him where he comes to visit me. That day I was on an island in the middle of the Mississippi river in the middle of Minneapolis.

“There are children, people taking wedding photos, having beautiful days in this beautiful fall weather. There is mist rising off of St. Anthony falls and I am looking across the wide Mississippi river, afternoon sun reflecting on it. Sooner or later I may need to come down from this shock feeling plane of sadness and ecstatic sorrow to the real sad but functioning place of moving on with Rudy buried under the pepper tree in my parents backyard. The other dogs are buried underneath an old christmas tree that is 40 feet tall now, but the ground was too hard there to dig a hole deep enough for Rudy. So they went over to the pepper tree in the corner, where Grace used to climb up into the branches to leap into the neighbors yard, and they began to dig there. They all cried as they tried to put him in the ground and never see him again. They said they had a hard time stopping touching him, that they kept petting his fur, and even though his body was hard, his ears were still as soft and floppy as they had been his whole life. My brother, who is not a man of many words, told me he sat there on the burm with a shovel on his knee and a tea cup in hand, looking at the hole they had been digging, and thought, “you know, there is nothing strange about this, nothing wrong with this. I am sitting here, drinking my tea, crying and this is how it’s supposed to be.” So they put two dog biscuits by his head, covered him with some chicken wire so animals wouldn’t dig him up, and finally they put dirt down over his soft red fur. I will never get to touch him again. I would like a hug, to break something glass that shatters loudly, a hot-tub, and a drink, in that order. But first…

It is raining yellow leaves and there is something the color of a sunset filling my gut and I may need to sleep or be numbed by the vibrations of loud drums because this feeling has been intense for so long. What I am doing here keeps feeling like the question and the answer seems to be, does it matter? Find your home in the hearts of others and don’t fight what has already passed. What words can I say to express such love? Does it ever get easier to bury what you love? I think, if you do it right, it doesn’t. I hope love lost always feels raw and fresh.

I’m looking at a poster that portrays the flowers, cards, and well wishes for Paul Wellstone and his family after they died 6 years ago. Some of the signs have the “st” part of his name covered up by a “D” so it says WellDone. It’s a beautiful sentiment about his service, his legacy, and what he meant to people. He’s a hero to people here in Minnesota, and I dare say abroad as well. He proved that politicians could be honest, inspiring, and effective; a rare person, and certainly not a common brand of politician. Somehow in feeling sad for the death of Rudy, I feel a kinship with the mourners of Mr. Wellstone, and I too begin to feel his loss… strange that the personal feeling spills over, and then there is a kinship with all humans who have experienced loss. So I begin to understand of the oneness of us all, in our broken and joyful hearts.

Today my favorite dog died. Somehow everything feels different, and I think a friend of mine said it best, that it makes you aware of the passing of time when you know something from the time it is young until the time it passes away. My insides are burning away and I want to go deeper into the experience, to allow my ego to dissolve in this sorrow stew. New moments of true beauty are in store. I must seek out those early mornings and sunsets while I am here, dissolve into the sky and clouds, and the faces of god all around me. I can drink to Rudy, tell stories and ache for as long as I need to. There is no need to pretend like everything feels okay. Everything feels broken, I am a little angry, a little in awe, a little quiet, a little insecure, a little unhinged. I believe that Rumi says there is a time for wine or drink. I wish I could be around a fire, I need that warmth, the isolation of experiencing great pain out of context feels cold, and this place is cold already.”


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