Saturday, September 30, 2006

28 Days (A work in progress)

28 days gone by. Four whole weeks without our boy.
The sheet upon which he died is now on its way to the laundry. We've held on to it long enough.
His body lies in the earth.
His beat-up old boots, held together with duct tape, sit on a shelf with his collar and tags.
And his body lies in the earth as his spirit soars.

---Keith

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Balm for the Soul

Having Sparkey's grave right outside our door, I'm clearly seeing for the first time the beauty and emotional balm which a well-tended grave provides. In my personal cosmology, the body is a shell in which the spirit briefly travels, and although I realize that Sparkey's body is not truly "him", there is great comfort in knowing that his body, which we knew and loved so well, is returning to its organic source directly under our gaze, on land which he himself knew and loved.

Sitting out there tonight after sundown, lighting a candle, I found it easy to talk to him. It's simply a place to connect, a place where I can feel his spirit, knowing that, on some level, he feels my love and beams his love back to me. I feel even more connected with him when we're out walking or biking in his beloved fields, and Mary felt his presence the other day as we wheeled along the pond in the late afternoon sun, Tina racing behind us.

This autumn, I plan to climb a few small local mountains that Sparkey loved, to sit and contemplate this land with which he was enthralled, and to relive some of those moments of joy we experienced side by side in nature. He loved the snow, he seemed to enjoy the slowness of the heat and the coolness of a splash in the pond or the creek, although he admittedly seemed repulsed by getting wet in the rain, and would often sit at the door and refuse to go out in anything more than a sprinkle. When he did get wet, however, there was nothing he seemed to like better than a vigorous rub-down with a nice dry towel. I would thread the towel under his belly and "floss" his undercarriage, and he would stand so still as I did so. He seemed to love these post-walk ablutions, and it was a joy to rub him down and then watch him roll on the carpet in satisfied delight.

Now, the times when he rolled in rotting mushrooms or got a face full of porcupine quills were not such fun, but they were part and parcel of life with a dog, especially a dog as spirited as old Bob. How we loved so many things about him, like a benign uncle who just always seemed to be there when you needed him, but rarely asked for much in return. He was beloved by many,and even our friends who are not such "dog people" admit that he captured their hearts and filled them with joy with just a glance or a turn of the head. His specialness was contagious---and unavoidable.

So, his body slowly melts back into the earth, returning to the soil from which it sprang. The bulbs which blossom in the spring after the thawing of the long winter will be a testament to his enduring beauty, and to our unending gratitude for his kind soul's visit to our home, and our hearts.

---Keith

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Carnival of the Dogs

For those of you unfamiliar with blog carnivals, they are collections of blog entries on certain subjects from various participants, generally published on a relatively regular basis. I frequently submit posts from my other blog to Grand Rounds, a medical blog carnival, but last month I submitted a post to Carnival of the Dogs and was just informed that the current version of that carnival is dedicated to none other than Sparkey. You can click here to see the entry, graced with Sparkey's smiling photo. His fame is apparently spreading.

---Keith

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Gift

Just last week, we received a sympathy card in the mail. We've received many, but this one was from an organization in a nearby city that is committed to rescuing homeless cats. It seems that the home-visiting veterinarian who compassionately assisted Sparkey in leaving his tired body made a donation to this organization in Sparkey's honor, and they were writing to inform us of this loving act. We were very moved, to say the least, that she would go to such a length, and we are so very grateful that this donation was made to honor our Sparkey's gentle life.

Money never really entered into the scenario with the vet on that day when she came to do what we and Sparkey needed her to do, even as we dreaded the moment that he would close his eyes forever. I handed her a blank signed check and told her there was no need for further discussion---we were to just focus on him. She complied, and the gift we receive in return is her generosity of spirit in making this donation.

Sparkey gave us so many gifts, but it seems that the gifts just keep on coming. He must be having a cosmic chuckle that I'm even surprised at that outcome. "How else would you have it be?" he asks. "My life is the gift that keeps on giving."



---Keith

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Autumn Arrives


Although Sparkey was beautiful during any season, I especially loved the Autumn when his orange coat would often match or blend in with the leaves on the ground. He seemed to revel in each season---naturally---exalting in the snows of Winter, the crisp leaves of Autumn, the verdant newness of Spring, the cauldron of Summer. He loved it all because he was so present. Present and always accounted for.

Today marks three weeks since his passing, and though the ache is less, it is still present, as is his spirit. I was talking to someone at a party last night, and she showed me laminated photos from her wallet of her dog who died several years ago. Another person shared with me that she could cry every day---if she allowed herself to---about her dog that died three years ago. These notions normalize my grief, and also bring home the fact that I will always miss Sparkey's body and physical presence, but I can still be thankful for his thirteen-year visit and the joy he brought to so many.

I still miss him so.

---Keith

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Signs of Sparkey

There are so many physical signs of Sparkey around the house. How they tug at the heart strings and bring visceral memories to life.

When I would give Sparks his IV, he would sometimes bleed from the puncture site, and if I wasn't diligent about putting pressure on the site after removing the large needle from his skin, he would inevitably shake (like he was coming out of a pond) and diluted blood would spray in all directions. There are some spots in the house where spatters of reddish pink still adorn the walls, and we are both reluctant to remove the stains.

So many windows and sliding glass doors carry smudges from Sparkey's big nose. These smudges are memories of how he would press himself against the glass in our absence, getting as close to the outdoors as possible. Lucky for him, he had a lovely screened-in porch for six or seven months of the year, plus a doggie door and fenced-in yard. Not bad digs, really, but the yard was small. He always seemed to hate the backyard and fenced-in feeling. One of our housemates who helped build the fence named it "The Sparkitentiary".

The little foam mattress where Sparkey breathed his last breaths is still on the porch in the exact place where it was when we held him and set him free. It is covered with a burgundy flannel sheet which we have been hesitating to wash, his essence still palpable there. Tina often sits or lays on the spot where he died, and we too spend some time there. We're getting ready to let that one go, but it is a slow decision to be made.

The house is much less covered with fur now that Sparkey is gone. Tina sheds very little, and the dust bunnies were certainly more of a Sparkey origin, to be sure. As we do late summer cleaning, those reminders of his earthly presence slowly disappear into the vacuum, and eventually his fur will no longer sit in little corners of the house and under furniture. As we let go more and more, the physical reminders will also slowly diminish, and other memories will suffice.

This is yet another step along the road. Many people might not understand the visceral quality of this type of loss, but those who have lost an animal companion will "get it" immediately. Unconditional love is an amazing gift, and Sparkey gave us that gift for thirteen years. Our unconditional love for him continues unabated, and these remembrances are just part and parcel of the journey.

---Keith

Monday, September 18, 2006

Memories and Blessings

Sorry that the posts are so few and far between this week, but life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, as John Lennon once wisely sang.

More than two weeks after Sparkey having physically left us, his essence still abides in the house, and we feel him among us in different ways. The candle still burns on his grave every night, and we still extinguish the flame before retiring to bed for the night.

I still so want to see him beside the bed in the morning. I would just hang my arm off of the bed and almost inevitably find his ribs to stroke, that resonant sound reverberating as I patted his bony flank. I'm sure Tina misses him, but she does seem to be doing OK, just without canine company to chat with as the neighborhood noises come and go throughout the day. I even miss the nightly ritual of the IV, and the late evening walks we would take together, Mary and Tina huddled in the house or on the porch. How many hours I spent sitting in the street with him, or on the side of the road in the dirt or the grass. Whenever I had the time to spare, I would let him lead the way and guide the trajectory of our parambulations, even when we would just sit for an hour on the sidewalk, watching the world go by his only apparent agenda.

The pain and emptiness of not having him on walks around the neighborhood has calmed. The ache is less, although still there, and at times my heart just cries for him, even if my eyes are dry. I think of the many hours I spent over the years just laying on the floor next to that loving creature, nose to nose, breathing with him and communing in the most simple way. Just being together---that was the sweetness.

My conversations with Sparkey in the last week have been many, mostly having to do with memories, as well as my blessings going out to him as he explores his new world, his new etheric body. I have recounted the states we visited, the cities, the towns, the parks, the lakes, the ponds, the trails and mountains. How many homes we visited, hotels we slept in, places we camped. I visited with him in my mind all of the stores downtown where we would go to get treats and love and water. I talked to him about the grand re-opening of our local collective bookstore where he was a frequent visitor. The party was in 2005. It was crowded, a DJ spinning Latin CDs, food galore, and Sparkey on the dance-floor with us, among the people, a true party animal.

We had so many gatherings and parties in our several homes over the years, and he was always right there with us. Wild dance parties, Sparkey nipping at people's butts as they danced to the music. Healing circles and meditations where he knew just what to do. Dinner parties when scraps were like manna from heaven. And simple gatherings of friends where he could relax and be a dog among a pack, content to listen to the cadences and timbre of our voices, always alert for movement towards shoes, the door, and finally a walk.

Memories come and go so quickly, and I will continue to write them down for you to also share. He was a true member of my soul family---not just a dog, but a piece of who I am. I miss him so, but thank him for all he gave me.

Thank you for spending some time with us here. And please do come by again.

---Keith

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sparkey at Rest


Here are some photos of Sparkey's resting place, taken after Rene came and planted an Ivory Halo Dogwood bush (center), as well as several varieties of Mums. In the Spring we will see thirteen crocuses, narcissus and tulips bloom, representing the thirteen years that Sparkey brightened the earth with his presence.

We are still lighting a candle every night at sunset, and words and acts of compassion still flow our way regularly across the wires, ethers, and miles.

Walking Tina around the block just before sunset tonight, I felt a wave of missing Sparkey. As a friend wrote to me recently, "There is now a Sparkey-sized hole in your heart." May that hole be filled with sweet memories of the past and joy for his new life.

Meanwhile, the candle burns.

---Keith

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Continuing On.....

We returned from our retreat/conference to a happy and playful Tina, well-cared-for by our son Rene for the weekend. It was so sad to not see Sparkey's face looking longingly through the window, but lovely to be greeted by Tina's furry and seemingly well-adjusted self.

Rene used his gardening and landscaping skills to adorn Sparkey's grave, planting mums, a dogwood bush, and thirteen bulbs representing Sparkey's years on earth, photos of which are forthcoming when our computer issues are sorted out. He continued the ritual of lighting a candle on Spark's grave at sunset each night and blowing it out at bedtime. Our mailbox offered even more sympathy cards, our voicemail and email still oozing with verbal sympathies from friends far and near. We give thanks for everyone's thoughtfulness.

In a gentle yoga class this morning in a temple space at the retreat center, I was lying on my back and the teacher was talking about accepting death as readily as we accept life. Moments later I felt Sparkey walk through the solid wood door of the temple and settle on my right side, thumping into me as he would do when settling next to me in bed. I silently acknowledged this visitation and thanked him for it. This incident reminded me of a similar occurence after our friend Woody was murdered. I was lying in fetal position on the bed, weeping, and I literally felt Woody lay down beside me and "spoon" me, a sense of momentary comfort which I still remember to this day.

In James Agee's A Death in the Family, Agee vividly describes the family of the deceased character sitting in the living room on the night of his untimely death. They feel him enter the house, a worried and distraught energy filling the air. This visitor then climbed the stairs, entered each of the rooms of his two children as if to tuck them in, and then exited the house as swiftly and silently as he had appeared. They are all dumbstruck, and all but two agree that what they had just experienced was not a mass hallucination but a phenomena which has been described for millennia. Whether these incidents are "real" in the literal sense means nothing to me in the sense that they were "real" enough for me to experience them and be affected by them deeply.

This process continues, the candle burns on the grave, and another day ends with Sparkey's physical vessel lying in the earth not forty feet from where I type. My missing him is still so stark, but my love for this very special animal knows no bounds of physicality.

---Keith

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Retreat

We will be on retreat until Monday, away from all things digital. Thanks to everyone for the kind words, delicious food, kind notes, loving emails, compassionate comments and support.

May your heart be filled with compassion and love, today and always, and may all beings be free from suffering.

When someone is suffering and you find yourself at a loss to know how to help, put yourself unflinchingly in his or her place. Imagine as vividly as possible what you would be going through if you were suffering the same pain. Ask yourself: “How would I feel? How would I want my friends to treat me? What would I most want from them?”

When you exchange yourself for others in this way, you are directly transferring your cherishing from its usual object, yourself, to other beings. So exchanging yourself for others is a very powerful way of loosening the hold on you of the self-cherishing and the self-grasping of ego, and so of releasing the heart of your compassion.----Sogyal Rinpoche

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

All Part of the Process

Tonight, my face muscles feel tight, perhaps with unshed tears.

Looking at this photo, Mary reminds me that we both were outside with Tina when this photo was taken, separated from Sparkey by the glass. Now we are separated by the veil which divides the world of the living from that of the dead. But as Sweet Honey in the Rock once sang, "The dead are not under the earth; they are in the waving grass, they are in the rushing stream....."

Each day, each hour presents a new moment to experience in a new way. A smile, a tear, a wave of sadness, a moment of forgetting, another moment of remembrance. It is a sure sign that the process is under way, unimpeded.

Do I think it strange to not have cried for two days? Does this pall over my face and around my countenance mean that I'm holding back? Or is it just what I'm supposed to do? I've been here before, this grieving place, and it's as unpredictable as the New England weather.

The evening candle burns bright on Sparkey's grave, and I'll go outside and blow it out when I finish writing. It's my way of ritualistically acknowledging him, of remembering, and then saying goodnight as I move toward the dream world where I hope to catch a glimpse of my sweet boy. Some people might ask why I grieve so for this animal, this four-legged, and I can only answer that those who have known this kind of love would never have to ask such a question.

The tears come now in a sob, and I just send him love and thanks for his unconditional loyalty. Perhaps now these facial muscles will relax and transform into smiles of joy for his soul's beautiful and well-deserved freedom.

---Keith

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Missing Sparkey

Here we are on Tuesday. Sparkey's body has been in the ground for three days. A candle glows on his grave every night.

It is so difficult to fully take in the fact that he's gone, that this thirteen-year physical relationship, so grounded in the physical world, is over as we knew it. Walks, food, snacks, water, affection---it all revolved around his needs and ours. It was mutual regard, love, and loyalty. That has not changed, but his warm body is the missing piece in the equation, and that is the change most difficult to embrace.

To the left is the final photograph taken of Sparkey alive, no more than two hours before the vet arrived on Saturday afternoon. After a walk around the block, he sat on the driveway---as was his wont---and just wanted to watch the world go by. Rene teased him with a stick, playing with a line of drool---that ubiquitous drool (in these latter days, anyway)---that fell from his old man's dog-lips. He seems content in this photo, playing with his human brother.

Tina seems to be adjusting well, although how she'll be when we both return to work tomorrow remains to be seen. After finishing her dinner tonight she immediately ran over to Sparkey's old spot by the 'fridge to see if there were any morsels she could scarf up, but his bowl is no longer there. Ten years they spent side by side every day and night. How this will be for her in the long run remains to be seen. For now, we lavish her with love and affection.

This will be a long road.

---Keith

Dream visit

Here is the scene of my dream with Sparkey, whom I asked to visit in our dreams as he was leaving his body and we were saying our sweet farewells....Already he has honored my request:

Water Blessing

Sparkey is in the center. It is the shape of his body that is here, though is hair is longer and there is a general dullness, or lackluster, about this color. It seems as though it takes a lot of energy for him to be here, but he gets up, as he always did, and moves about and asks for water. He drinks water, and he assures me that his body is dead, not to worry, but that his visit is to tell me to drink more water and to tell me that he is okay. How does he know that I have been parched since his death? All the water coming out of my eyes and nose and lungs! He just knows and he’s made this special appearance to care for me. I will call Keith and encourage him to drink water too, but I think Sparkey knows Keith will drink a lot of water at work today, so Rene' will definitely get the friendly reminder from beyond via a call from mom.

Thank you, Sparkey, I got your message, and beside me is a big glass of water (with Emergen-C in it). I will always remember the gingerly way you sipped the last water you had here on earth…Right before the doctor came to the house, you were lying in the bed on your beloved porch, all ready for leaving, and I was holding the top of the glass decanter, a little drinking glass, up to your lovely snout. When you realized it was water I was offering, you tenderly lapped some up until you had your fill---you had just had your last drink from the toilet and it was pretty major, so you didn’t care for much. It seemed like such an act of affection, you drinking the water from the little glass as you did. Keith said a prayer over you as your tongue moistened your kind mouth, wishing that you may drink and never thirst…We drank from this glass before you did, and when Tina returned to the house to say good-bye to your body with us, she too drank from this glass, as if she smelled all of our scents on it, knowing it was her turn for the water blessing…The glass remains, as yet unevaporated, one of the Sparkey shrine that holds your collar, leash, and roughed up booties, Bob.

Thank you for honoring my request to visit in my dreams so soon after you have passed. To you, I lift my glass, to you I give thanks for your long and glorious life on earth with your human/canine pack, and to you I bow in humble recognition of your new life...

Goodbye sweet boy. Be free. We will be okay, but it sure ain't easy and it's gonna take some time.

~Mary


Monday, September 04, 2006

Blessings on Sparkey's Journey

Dear Sparkey,

We never met this time on earth. I feel though like I know you. I met you through a prayer and healing request, on a network that I shepherd.

Sparkey you have touched my heart deeply. I know that you are a kind, gentle and noble being and have been a wonderful healing for those who you have been with. I have prayed for you in your transition. Now you are free. Your loving nature will always be.
Bless you on your new journey.

Joanie

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sparkey's Passage From This Earth

Dear Friends and Loved Ones,

Yesterday, September 2nd, 2006, at 2:20pm, Sparkey left his body and this physical existence in the most peaceful way imaginable. The screened-in porch was a sacred space---a shrine created lovingly by Mary---of photos, candles, objects of devotion, and mementos of Sparkey's sweet and noble life. The party lights were lit all night on Friday, the porch glowing, the cool breezes cleansing the space. Mary smudged the house with sage, and also smudged Sparkey several times briefly.

The vet arrived at 1:30, Tina already in the care of a neighbor, her shades drawn so that Tina would not see the vet's van and be traumatized by the sight of it. Rene and I dug the grave in the morning, the area protected from rain with a brown tarp suspended from surrounding trees, that piece of earth blessed and consecrated by the three of us before beginning our task. We had at the ready an urn of our dear friend Woody's ashes, several of Rene's wisdom teeth, three sticks representing the three of us, a bone unearthed while digging the grave (most likely buried by Tina some long-forgotten afternoon), and a sage smudge stick. We had chosen a lovely cotton tapestry of aqua and earth tones and Native American design in which to wrap his body. This fabric had covered a favorite chair in our house where he had lived as a puppy. The grave was round like a womb and three feet deep.

The compassionate doctor sat with us on the floor of the porch as we connected with Sparkey. He had ensconced himself in the very spot where we had planned for his transition to occur, and we only had to shift him slightly so that we could all kneel on the foam mattress at his head. The vet sat at his feet and explained that she would inject a strong sedative into his buttock muscle so that he would become very drowsy and probably fall asleep. Only when he was completely relaxed would she access a vein on his hind leg and insert a needle and small catheter which would allow for the overdose of anesthesia which would actually stop his heart. Following the first injection, we all brought our faces very close to his, looking in his eyes as they became heavier, telling him sweet things, what dogs to look for in his new home, and how grateful we were to him for his service and loyal companionship. Even after more than a minute, he still was not completely drowsy, his head moving slowly from right to left, approximately four inches above the bed. I had the image that he was already slightly above his body, trying to detach, and was looking from left to right to take in a final image of the three of us and the scene in which he was the central player.

Following a whispered conversation between myself and the vet, she injected another dose of sedative and he slowly lowered his head to the soft mattress covered with a maroon flannel sheet, closing his eyes for the last time. Crying, we all said goodbye and urged him to float on, and we each placed a hand on his heart which was still beating slowly. The doctor then began the infusion of anesthesia into the needle placed in a vein of his right hind leg. A small patch of hair had been shaved and that hair was stowed in a small wooden urn kept on hand for that purpose. With our hands we could feel his heart slow and then peacefully cease its motion. He did not take a final deep breath as is sometimes experienced. His heart simply stopped beating and his respirations halted. Beautifully, a single tear formed at the outer corner of his left eye, fully visible to the three of us, and we wept as this lone tear increased in size and then streaked down his lovely orange face. The muscles around his nose were the only ones which twitched for a minute or so, almost as if he was getting a last scent of this earth which he so loved.

Taking her leave, the very sensitive vet exited quietly, and we were left to tend Sparkey's beloved body in private. Rene brushed him down, and gathered some of the fur. We also cut some of his hairs from several places with a pair scissors. I fetched Tina from our neighbors and brought her to see her brother's body. Wrapping him in the chosen fabric, we carried him to the grave, lowered him in gently, each took a turn kissing his head, and tucked him in, his spine gracefully curved, his front paws below his chin. The three sticks, Rene's wisdom teeth, and the bone were placed in the grave, and some of Woody's ashes were rubbed into the fur over Sparkey's heart by each of us in turn. Finally, covering his head and face, we then took turns putting handfuls of dirt over his shrouded body. One of the most difficult things I have ever done was gently place a shovelful of dirt over what I knew to be Sparkey's head. It was at that moment that I knew he was gone forever and would never return. Rene assisted me in completing this task of closure, and we then had our private family time around the grave, Tina at our side.

His body is now resting in the earth, his soul free to run with his friends old and new, and we give thanks for this loyal companion who loved us so unconditionally. His grave is now our sanctuary, and we will tend it with as much love as he tended our home and lives.

Sparkey's body is dead. Long live Sparkey's spirit.

Namaste.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Love to Sparkey From Uncle Kenny


Sparkey, your Uncle Kenny, Aunt Barbara, cousin Adam, and cousin Sabina love you very much. You have been a part of our lives for almost as long as Adam has been alive. We have pictures of you on our refrigerator, pictures of you in our family photo albums, and a wonderful video that Adam made of you last year. Most important of all, we all have an image of you in our hearts- you as a puppy running alongside Keith's car as we raced around the track at the university near town, you with Tina on those many walks around the Hollow, you lying near the Franklin stove in the winter keeping warm, lovingly licking our faces as we said hello to you, you patiently lying still as the iv fluids filled you with life. You have lived your life well Sparkey, a life full of love and dedication to your family and of love and caring for your sister Tina. You have touched so many people with those beautiful, soft, and seemingly all-knowing eyes. You were Rene's constant companion, and then when Rene moved away, Keith and Mary's constant and loving friend. It's sad to know that you are leaving us my dear Bobby. You have been so brave during this past year, dealing with constant pain, and eating when you probably felt that you didn't want to eat. But it is time for you to leave this earth Sparkey and go to a better place, where there is no pain. You will live on in our hearts and in our memories, where you will be chasing squirrels, playing in the snow, and giving us wet licks of love. You were the first dog that we grew to love, and we will always remember you Sparkey. You are the best dog a family could have ever hoped to have. We feel so lucky to have been part of your life. We love you Sparkey. Be happy and go serenely to that better place. You will live on.

Love, your Uncle Kenny


Friday, September 01, 2006

Grist for the Mill of Surrender

Today is Sparkey's last full day on Earth, and we've spent the day doing that which would bring him pleasure and ease.

After a quiet morning at home, we walked the one minute stroll down to our neighborhood pond and set up shop with blankets, water, snacks, and camera, a small rainbow smiling down upon us for over an hour, a Great Blue Heron standing meditatively in the reeds. A number of friendly neighbors happened by and wished Sparkey bon voyage. Even our favorite mail carrier who always brings our dogs special treats---even treats wrapped with shiny ribbon on Christmas---stopped and said goodbye. It was sweetly sad, and Sparkey seemed to take it all in stride, going down to the water's edge every half hour or so to drink pond water and eat tender shoots of grass. We must have taken 100 photographs, some of which will make their way to Latter Day Sparks in the weeks and months to come.

Unbeknownst to us, Sparkey even snuck out of the house this morning when Mary left the door propped open for a moment, and our neighbor saw him out her window and brought him home. She felt very clearly that he had performed that little maneuver so that he could will her to look out her window and see him, allowing them to connect one last time. She and he have a long history of running into one another during Sparkey's great escapes, and he seems to always enjoy the process.

A short trip to our little town yielded some sweet time in a small downtown park that we frequent with the dogs, each of us taking turns scooping water out of the fountain, letting the dogs drink from our cupped hands. Sparkey kept nudging Tina out of the way in order to keep drinking. Some sweet treats from the local bakery piqued Sparkey's interest to some extent, but not as much as a small outdoor covered container set up with water and cat food for some downtown strays. He made a bee-line for the container, put his head inside, and helped himself to some stinky wet cat food. What could I do? He had his fill and we mosied along.

Now we will while away the hours of the evening. A dear friend was going to help me dig a grave in the front yard this evening in preparation for tomorrow, but that has now been postponed so that our son and I can do that task together in the morning, rain or shine. Rene will roll into town later tonight in order to spend a final night with his childhood pal. I wish we could post photos from the days when Sparkey was a pup and Rene was a little tow-headed nine-year-old, but we don't have a scanner. Maybe we'll borrow one.....

We cry intermittently, sometimes feeling OK, sometimes not. At times, the reality of what will happen tomorrow hits one of us, we realize that the hours together with Sparkey are ticking away, and we feel a wave of grief as well as somatic feelings of nausea and lightheadedness. It's a strange feeling of waiting, dread, grief, joy, relief, and disbelief. This creature has made himself part and parcel of our souls, and his departure from our midst seems somehow impossible. A childlike part of my mind keeps playing tricks, hoping that the vet will somehow decide that he's OK, or he'll make some miraculous recovery overnight. Ths morning, he was on our bed, head hanging off the side in a way that he would never usually do, and I thought he had peacefully died in his sleep. I found myself looking at him, hoping that that might be the case, but was also so very glad to see his bony chest rise and fall.

So many feelings, so many sensations. This being human is physically and emotionally draining and simultaneously wondrous. We all know that grief lessens with time, but I feel that this is really going to be a long one. There will be so many reminders---every day---and although it will get easier over time, my soul is just so very deeply connected with that furry creature who we call Sparkey.

I breathe deeply now, steadying my mind and stomach and heart, and hold him in my mind's eye as he rests in the next room. A number of people have looked Sparkey in the eyes in the last two days and acknowledged that, yes, he is uncomfortable and ready to go, supporting our decision and praising us for doing the right thing. Even a stranger at the park today said, "He looks uncomfortable". We know this is right, but at the same time nothing can make it right. It just is, and we're here together by choice. I truly believe that Sparkey is a member of my soul family, and our connection will continue on. Letting go is a lesson in this life, and here is one more piece of grist for that venerable mill of release and surrender.

So be it.

---Keith

Sparkey, the Lost Puppy

Here is how Sparkey first came into my arms, and into our lives and hearts, forever...

Downtown was the Firemens' Pancake Breakfast...an annual outdoor autumn event and a bright light in the sad ole city where we work. Fire engines were proudly shinin' brightly in their reds with kids climbing up and down the ladders guided by the big arms of smiling firefighters. Smoke from the pancake grills was lifting artfully into the air, carrying the tittilating aroma of pancakes, reaching the nostrils of many humans and canines alike. Children were jumping and screaming with glee in their light little bodies. Colorful balloons danced on their strings as if they were trying to free themselves and fly over the whole, happy affair.

At the time, I was a social worker and advocate doing AIDS education and community outreach. And there I was at the Pancake Breakfast, a huge outdoor event, hosting a table alongside fire trucks and other service providers, welcoming people who took interest in the info. Mostly, I was an observing participant whose heart was warmed by such a classic, fun, family event. I remember feeling good that I was getting paid to be there as all my original resistance to working on a Saturday simply dissolved.

As I took the scene in, I looked across the way and noticed something orange and alive, about the size of a bread box, darting crazily around, quickly telling the story, "I'm a puppy, a wild little puppy, and I have gotten away". I stood up and called out to the puppy, opening my arms wide, coaxing the cutest thing I ever saw over to me. When we locked eyes, he came a-runnin', no, barreling over to me like we had been best friends who parted and were, at long last, reuniting. When he reached me, this little creature leapt into my arms and proceeded to lick my face until his nibbles between licks were sufficient for us both. While I would love to have taken this boy (yes, boy) home, I knew I needed to help him find his people and vise versa. So, with a make-shift string leash and a big sign, I set out to help reunite this dog to his family. I asked everyone I could if they knew if someone had lost their puppy. No one had a clue, so I parked the pup under my table, gave him some water, propped up the lost pup sign, and waited, secretly hoping that he was indeed a stray. After all, we had just moved to a house in the country with a huge fenced-in back yard that bordered conservation land, at the base of a small mountain which made for great daily hiking. My colleagues and I compared notes to see who had the best set-up and I was the lucky winner, hands down. They encouraged me to take the boy home, which was all the encouragement I needed before packing my stuff up, including the adorable puppy dog. Didn't dare call home first---my strategy was to simply introduce the little dog in person and take it from there...(Not to worry, dear reader, soon after my lucky find, I contacted the MSPCA with a found puppy notice, as well as a special lost and found radio program, and not a soul responded).

When it came time to hop up into my car, this cute puppy hesitated and it took lots of coaxing to assure him it'd be alright. The little guy was so exhausted that he crashed right out in the back seat of my car, on his back, legs completely splayed out...What a character, i thought, and then I noticed how he either peed or threw up en route upon our arrival to home. I called ahead to tell our then 9-year old son Rene' that I was coming home with a great surprize--and i instructed him to be in the bedroom with his Dad, Keith, with the door closed. Rene' went along with the plan, not even knowing who or what was to come, but he believed me when I said it would make him very, very, very happy.

As I entered our house with the pup securely in my arms, all was quiet and serene, bedroom door closed...I hollered out, "Are you ready for the surprize?" and I heard a resounding chorus of "Yes". I then let the puppy down, ran to the door, opened it and yelled, "Surprize!" and in charged the puppy who proceded to leap right onto the bed to meet and greet the rest of his new family. Within minutes of the bliss fest that followed, we knew he'd always be with us, and we immediately set out to give the boy a name..."Happy" was the runner-up name, but because he arrived fresh from the Firemans' Pancake Breakfast, we all agreed that Sparkey, who was indeed as sparkly as a sparkler, was the perfect name for who would become the epitome of a great dog, a dog's dog, an only brother to our only child, and our forever baby, Sparkey D. Dog.

~Mary
who wrote this on Sparkey's last full day on earth