Love Left Over
Love Left Over
Once for each thing. Just once; no more.
And we too, just once. And never again.
But to have been this once, completely,
even if only once:
to have been at one with the earth,
seems beyond undoing.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
I think “to have been this once, completely,” or maybe to have loved this once, completely, seems to me beyond undoing. Seems, in fact, reason enough to be.
Psychologists say that part of the human condition is realizing our own mortality and that of everything we love, but I think equally it is all of creation’s condition, not simply man’s, because animals too are conscious of their own mortality. And it is this that makes life all the more precarious if also more precious.
Isak Dinesen said that, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” I want to tell a story, but the story I want to tell feels as if it's beyond words. Those few words I always told her: “I love you more than I have words to say.”
My story is fragmented, little snippets of life.
She lies on her side, front paws under her chin like she's praying to dog gods. She sleeps, unaware that I stand hovering over her, memorizing her lumps and bumps and how her short muzzle has a zipper of fur that runs up the middle, twisted tufts that speak to her less than illustrious genealogy… Chihuahua? Yorkie? mixed in there with the beagle. Memorizing how her cream-coloured head is arched in a miniature dome and how her deep breaths sound merging to light snores.
“More than words can say, more than words can say,” I sing into her ear even though she went deaf years ago. Still I sing hoping she’ll hear the vibration and understand the feeling behind it, for it's true: I love her more than I have words to say.
On the 27th of January 2003, little Chance walked into our lives, covered in mange, already an adult dog. In 2004 I wrote her story for LaJoie and have been writing about her and the rest of our pack, accepting their gentle wisdom, and writing it up as “lessons” ever since.
From LaJoie, 2004
Once so independent and tough, now she follows me around. If I slip into the bathroom I see her coming ‘round the corner to look for me. And even though she has always been more a dog’s dog, she wants to be near me and with me, and I too want to be near her and with her. Her fragile body—atrophied, painful hips and knees, hind end stained permanently yellow from urine—worries me sometimes. Bulbous, unsightly warts grow all over her: above her eye where, when bothered she rubs at it, and on her head and under her chin. I look at old photographs of her young and vibrant self, her sleek black coat and unblemished face. And I remember walking the streets of Paris with her, and how she sat up on my lap so calmly in the airport, and how she dined out beside me at Ma Bourgogne on the place des Vosges and Chez René on the boulevard St. Germain—better company I couldn't have asked for. But she won’t be going again.
Chez René, blvd St. Germain
Now I see her old dog eyes look up at me in question. Since she can't hear, and is losing sight, she needs to watch me more carefully. Today as I squatted near the wood stove, I saw her limp her uneven gait to find me, ears pricked, searching. I waved from behind the stove and she walked sheepishly or submissively over to me, but it wasn’t sheepishness or submissiveness that caused her head to lower and her ears to lay back against her head as she came toward me. It was love. And that is a gift beyond measure.
Sometimes she walks to the back door—anticipating—when the rest of us are walking out the front door. But I always turn and wait for her. I motion with my hand and arm for her to come and she responds, picking up my hand signals and language far better than I ever learned hers. But, now, she walks with us less and less, opting instead to remain deep in her pain-free sleep. I place little treats—her protein-free sweet potatoes or other—on the floor in case she awakens. And sometimes we return to find her lying on the rug, awaiting us with pricked ears, eager. And in these moments, my heart lurches. I kneel down to her, but there are no words for what I feel.
This spot on the rug is the same spot she often lies, a little confused, staring at the door, even though we’re all home together--because she knows that through the door have come to her the return of good things: the family, human and dogs, she loves.
Many days she can’t even go up and down the steps to the bed, so I lift her and help her along. Her legs get stuck. She sleeps a lot, slipping in and out of the spirit world, where her body is free and not hurting and old.
Yet I see the vestiges of her young self when she scrubs her face against the covers in morning joy. Or rubs her face into the eight inches of snow then stares up at me, white snow freckled-faced, as the flakes swirl, falling, falling from the night sky.
In the morning she awakens and looks up, her lips and eyes sweetly squished, then barks for her food and eats with “siblings” Sasha and Olive. She goes out, and I watch her every step, watching, feeling, trying hard to lodge each moment someplace where I will never forget. Then I lift her onto the chair where she sits stoically and let's me pinch up her flesh, and stick the needle in. Not for her last breath, no, not yet—just her daily fluids to flush out the toxins her kidneys can no longer flush. And for a while she feels good. And we go about our day, all the small, mundane tasks I want to remember forever. I want to remember what life was like.
And now it is May and she scrubs her face into the just cut grass instead of the fluffy cold snow, while behind her the tulips and lilac move gently in spring’s soft breeze. I watch her nose twitch as she sniffs the air and I know, it is this she lives for—the scents, the sky and the earth. She walks halfway in through the door then stands, waiting for something, letting in bugs of all sorts, waiting for me….
And later indoors, with the windows wide open and the breeze touching us still, I sit at the foot of the bed, my hand on her and read to her the words she can't hear. But I'm there. So too is she. For this brief moment on earth.
I wrote the words above before the vet came to our home and sat by her on the bed, and put a different needle into her. And I held her and whispered into her ear for the last time the words she must have known so well: “I love you, Chance. I love you more than words can say.” She was so small and fragile, and she went so easily and peacefully. In that way, because we are forced into the present, death is beautiful. Still, how does one so small leave such a giant hole? For now I miss her more than I have words to say. It's the love left over that I still can feel, and I cry because I feel. I cry because I love.
I still love you more than words can say.
Kay’s latest book Flash’s Song: One Small Dog, One Big Miracle is available in Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores and Amazon. All profits are donated to animal welfare organizations. For more information on Kay’s other books please visit: www.kaypfaltz.com.