“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” wrote Mary Oliver.
Our dog Baudelaire is coming to the end of his life. And while he is 17 and I get that 17 years is a pretty darn good run for a dog, that doesn’t mean that I am feeling any less sick about this news. This remains a big moment in what our own John Hammond calls my apprenticeship with grief.
The layers of loss are many. Part of what I mourn is that Bodhi has been such a good and faithful friend, coming with us from Vancouver to Berkeley to Sorrento to Spokane to Portland, always just so, so pleased in his doggy way to be included. Part of what I mourn is that he is radically diminished, and the dog who was ready to get into a fistfight with every squirrel and skateboard who went past our house, who was ready to hump every object even close to his weight class, is now slow and hurting, confused and lost even in our small back yard. Part of what I mourn is the absence of the way that he used to greet Phoebe and me and other family members when we would reappear after a trip: he would not have been more excited to meet Taylor Swift or the Pope. This is a dog who believed that we were fucking rock stars.
And part of what I mourn is that, like our old cat Maggie who died a couple of years ago, Bodhi is a living link to another season in our lives. He is a link to happy days early in our marriage (don’t misunderstand me, these too are happy days, just different), to another career in another city, to that almost unfathomable time before kids. Heck, this is a dog who can testify to a time when I didn’t go to church and I was rocking a pony tail, two indisputable facts that I can now barely believe. With his death (and maybe this is irrational, but if so it’s no less real for its irrationality), those days will recede a little more, they will move still further into that place that is inaccessible except through memory.
In the classic Twilight Zone episode, the recently deceased man is saved from the snares of the devil because the devil refuses entrance to the man’s dog, and the man knows that if your dog can’t come with you, then it can’t be heaven. And in a more recent cartoon, a man at heaven’s gate sees his old dog bounding towards him across the cartoon clouds, and Peter exclaims to the new arrival, “Rufus has been going on and on about how wonderful you are for years now.”
May the Twilight Zone and that cartoon point us to the truth. And may this grief, which is the price of admission for this life, which is somehow a sacrament for all of the other griefs, for the presence of the absence of Bob and Don and Doug and Doris and Chris and so, so many others, stand as irrefutable proof that we love and are loved.
Good dog, Bodhi.
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The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.