One of the things I didn’t share recently, because I was worried it would make things harder for them, was that a few weeks ago my folks lost their dog. (You remember Buddy, right? He showed up for my birthday, wearing a tiara!) Buddy was having a hard time moving around when they were here in August, and in dog years he was already somewhere between “geriatric” and “Methuselah,” but that didn’t make it any easier to see him go. I cried when I found out, and he’s not even MY dog. He was just one of those wonderful creatures you can’t help but love, and even though his time had come and I’m certain he’s enjoying unlimited rawhides and squirrels and all the butts he can sniff in doggie heaven, it’s hard.
I was worried about my folks, too—especially my stepmom. My dad is better at compartmentalizing (that comes with the Y chromosome, right?), plus he’s out of the house at work nearly every day, whereas my stepmom is more like me and home all the time, feeling the Buddy-less void left behind. So it was with a small squeal of joy and maybe a sigh of relief that I read the email announcing their new puppy last week. The kids were excited, too, and I thought “Well, then. Circle of life. It’s sad, but it’s okay, and now there’s another dog to love, and life goes on.” It’s overly simplistic to say this, but in many ways the new puppy “fixes” this in my kids’ minds.
My kids don’t have a lot of experience with death, thank goodness. It would’ve been my preference for Buddy to live forever, of course, but all things considered, I think everyone handled it all okay.
On Friday, one of the teachers at the middle school had a massive heart attack and died. During school. While this remains a theoretical event for Monkey—he doesn’t go to school there, didn’t know the teacher—he was once a favorite teacher of Chickadee’s and watching her process this has been simultaneously wrenching and amazing.
Our whole town has been shaken. Teachers aren’t supposed to die. Teachers who are young and apparently healthy aren’t supposed to die. No one is supposed to die during class, in front of students who assume the teacher is playing a joke on them until “oh GOD, he’s really not okay, what’s going on?” recognition starts to dawn. A family has been left behind, a wife and young children, and no one knows what to say or do because what DO you do? Nothing is going to bring him back.
Chickadee found out that one of Monkey’s friends was actually there—like, right there—when it happened, and she immediately inquired as to how he was holding up, and then commented that said friend “Is pretty stable” (hello? Dr. Freud, is that you in there, hiding in my teenager?) and would probably be okay, but what about the more delicate kids, with less family support? What about them? And then she was gone, madly texting with her yearbook staff, discussing the memorial they’d need to put together.
My contractor showed up this morning (the deck is ALMOST DONE) and quietly asked if Chickadee was at THAT school, noting that his son is friends with the oldest from this family that has been shattered with this loss, sharing that another parent actually tried to take him to task for letting his son know what happened. (As if you could hide the fact that one of your friends lost his dad?) Death is something adults whisper about, apparently, but apparently the children should be shielded, even though that’s impossible.
I’ve thought about it all weekend. I thought about it as Chickadee stayed home from visiting with her dad because she was sick, but then on Sunday she was clearly better and still sort of whining and not wanting to go with him, and I wanted to say, “You never know what can happen in an instant.” But I didn’t, because a reminder like that could crush you, if you think about it too much. Without pointing out the obvious (ANYONE COULD DIE AT ANY TIME ZOMG!) we did get her sent off to spend some time with her dad.
Otto and I puttered around the house this weekend and finally went for some groceries yesterday and spotted a “Fresh Produce, 3 miles” sign on our way home and decided to explore. Eventually we wound our way over to a farm not far from home, where a very old dog greeted us when we got out of the car, and a sturdy, white-haired lady with farmer’s hands invited us to peruse her tables of vegetables. We picked out some peppers and potatoes and then got into a conversation about the tiny white eggplants she had—I’d never seen them before—and I turned to Otto and said, “I kind of want to try those, but there’s only a few and I’m not sure what all I could make with it.
“Just take them,” the woman said, “On the house.”
I continued staring at the tiny pile, and said, “Oh, I’ll pay you for them, just thinking of how I can use them.”
She paused from bagging up the peppers I’d already selected and peered over her glasses at me, fixing me with a steely gaze. “I said, TAKE THEM.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, meekly, and she chuckled.
We chatted, and picked out a few more things, and petted her dog some more, and we promised to come back and let her know what we thought of the white eggplant. We gathered up our purchases and headed home, waving behind us as we drove away.
This is what it is, to live in a small town. To be rocked by loss, when it strikes out of nowhere. To buy food on the side of the road from someone who tells you all about how she got her dog and what to do with those eggplants she’s just going to give you because you admired them. To feel like yes, you’ll come back and tell this woman exactly what you made and whether the kids ate it, because it’s a connection that helps combat that inevitable feeling of being unmoored that tragedy stirs up. To go home and call your parents and ask to speak to the new dog, because even though she’s apparently piddling all over their house, she’s a symbol of youth and renewal and love that goes on, even when life so often cruelly does not.
Hug your loved ones today, okay?