Last weekend, Michigan was the coldest state in the Union, or so I have been told. My husband woke me early Friday to tell me that our dear dog Midnight had died in the night and that he intended to bury her in the backyard, frozen ground, notwithstanding. And with that, he went quietly out into the -15 morning to dig. (He and Midnight share the same quiet resolve and steadfast loyalty.)
I stood vigil by the body, taking breaks to watch from our tree house to the woods below to marvel as Gerry dug, saying to myself, in moments like these I know I married the right man.
I also wondered at the suddenness of her death as my prayers usually don’t get answered with this dispatch. The previous night, after looking into Midnight’s beautiful brown eyes– always soulful, now in pain– I prayed that she would die. We were set to leave Friday to see our oldest son at a very special parents’ weekend at college. I did not want to have to choose between our family dog and disappointing my sweet Evan.
In the moments before we took her down on a sled to bury her, my mind swarmed with images of Midnight, the perfect mutt blend of Labrador, Border collie, and Chow. She possessed a Lab’s hearty appetite and sense of play, a stick ever in her mouth. She had a beautiful black Collie coat, more like long locks, than fur. And she dutifully paroled and protected her borders. (I used to complain that she needed a job, after my kids no longer needed herding.) And Midnight had the weirdest pink and black tongue, owing to her chowness.
But she was a breed apart, “a big, gentle block of black fur. ”
Midnight had a rare form of empathy. My friend Cindy bonded with Midnight very early on, not only because Cindy and I walked our pups in all weathers and hours, but because Midnight comforted Cindy during a very bleak time in her life. I remember one weekend where Midnight would not leave Cindy’s side, nuzzling her in sadness, giving her the speechless consolation of close physical comfort. I thought of that time as I watched Gerry stroking and consoling Midnight the night before she died. We were returning her gifts.
More than once we said to ourselves. Will our kids ever realize what a great dog they have, with their experience of one? I know Shane, our middle son, did. Midnight was Shane’s belated tenth birthday present, for which he had waited not too patiently since he was five years old. In fact, when Midnight was diagnosed with lymphoma after our friend felt a lump during a routine hug, we decided to give her steroids so that Shane could say goodbye during his spring break. He texted: “She just needs to hold out two more weeks.” But this time Midnight wasn’t patient.
She knew before we did. I just wasn’t listening. The frigid day before she died I could not get her in the house. She lay on the cold ground outside, not wanting to come in. After I “rescued” her, she went to the door again and again.
My son Shane said she knew Midnight was gone when he woke up Friday morning because he dreamt about her and said goodbye. My husband and I asked him.” What time? “ “Sometime between 3 and 4.” We looked at each other. We had also woken up between those hours. I had even gone downstairs, and put my ear to the mudroom door, feeling the quiet. “She’s peaceful,” I thought, and comforted, went back to bed. My colleague Sarah, who didn’t know how sick Midnight was, also had a dream about Midnight…in a field, barking, with other dogs. Sarah was her first and favorite dogsitter.
The Universe communicates in mysterious ways.
It is not the unseen, but the every day physical rituals that move me as I putter about my quiet house this week. I am washing water bowls, finding bones under couches, and sweeping up the fur that lurks everywhere. As I wrote to my friend and fellow dog lover Karen, it is strange to say goodbye to any commitment that occupies your mind on a daily basis, let alone one that wags. And welcomes you home with open, joyful paws, even when you were just taking out the garbage.
I cannot close without honoring Suzie, her friendship with Midnight, and our pioneering Among Friends days when every workday included a walking reprieve with Midnight. As Gerry wrote to Suzie this week: “Midnight always danced with joy when you arrived.”
Joy. Wonder. Delight. Acceptance. Loyalty, Empathy…. “Become the person your dog thinks you are.” We have our walking orders, Midnight. Rest in peace.