My Dog Died

Wow…has it been 5 months since my last post?  I wish I could commit to writing more frequently.  I’d like to put out more of my thoughts and feelings on a variety of matters; but the truth is if something doesn’t move me beyond my natural laziness barrier, I can’t find the motivation to write about it.

So, like the title says, my dog died Saturday night.  He was a little Jack Russell Terrier named Elric (named after Elric of Melnibone).  He was more my wife’s dog than mine.  He had been in declining health over recent months.  My wife and I had begun the conversation about putting him to sleep.  Then, Saturday evening, he passed away on my wife’s lap.

To be clear, this is not some tear jerker post about how awesome a dog he was.  I have no cool photos or heroic stories.  Much like my sentiments regarding my father, he was in my opinion not a great dog.  He was a dog.  A loyal companion.  A member of the family.  My wife will miss him.  I will not.  Though his passing did not please me, it also did not truly affect me.  Until this morning….

This morning on my ride in to work I began to think about a number of things relating to death.

My wife sat on the bed holding the deceased dog for a while.  She called me in to say good-bye.  When I went into the bedroom our Dobe “Kyrie” (his AKC name is Fate’s Kyrie Eleison) followed me in.  For those who wonder, yes… he’s named after the Mister Mister song, taken from the Latin meaning “Lord have mercy”.

Anyway, Kyrie walked over and put his nose against Elric’s nose and sniffed.  Then he laid down.  Not a sound.  Not an odd look.  Not even an extra sniff.  He just inhaled, knew what he needed to know, and moved on.  And I stood there asking myself one of life’s unanswerable questions.  “What does Kyrie think happened to Elric?”

A little later that evening Kyrie walked over to the bowls set aside for Elric and ate his food, and then he laid down on the couch and went about his normal day.  And I began to think about life and death.

It is a fact that all living things must someday die.  But, I think that when we witness the death of an animal or a person it brings to the forefront how fragile life truly is.  We confront our own mortality.  We begin to think about things.

I began to think about things.  I will try to convey those thoughts and the way in which I thought them by putting it like this.  Read each of the following sentences as fast as you possibly can, and then times that by two.  After a period of time I slow down the spinning cacophony of thought and focus on one or two at a time.  But in the beginning it happens like this:

What does Kyrie think?  Kyrie doesn’t seem to think anything.  I wonder if Elric dying makes Kyrie think about dying.  I wonder of Elric knew he was dying.  I wonder if he was afraid to die.  I am not afraid to die.  Of course I’m afraid to die!  Everyone is afraid to die!  Why am I afraid to die?  Because I don’t know if there is anything after this.  Which scares me more, the thought that there is something, or the thought that there is not?  Hmmm…good question, let me get back to you.  Bev is hurt.  Bev’s a big girl, and she knew this was coming.  Yes, but you should be kind to her.  I AM KIND TO HER! (in my own way)  She’s calling people.  I will probably call people.  She posted his death on FB.  So will I.  Why do people share pain with strangers (or friends for that matter)?  I don’t know…but that’s another good question, so let me get back to you on that one too.

And thus we arrive, finally, at today’s post.

Why do we (specifically I) fear death?  Why do people share pain?

The easy one first…

We share pain IMHO for essentially two reasons.

We want to feel connected to other people.  So, we share our pain so that we might receive comfort in return.  We are assured in these moments that our losses are felt by others and that we are not alone.  This is the likely reason Bev shared the loss of Elric via phone to those who knew him, and via FB to those who did not.

The second reason is a bit more nefarious, but still true.  Having grown up in church I watched on countless Sundays as people stood to give their testimonies.  It seemed that with each passing week the circumstances from which the Lord had saved folks got more and more dire.  What started out with “I’m just an old sinner saved by Grace”, became detailed accounts of drug use, prostitution, prison, child molestation…you name it.  It seemed to me the point was to say “look at me and all I’ve been through”.  Like the Lord had to take a couple extra steps to reach down to where I was at.  Or maybe simply to say, “You wouldn’t have made it through what I made it through”.

This is essentially the basis of Münchausen syndrome and Münchausen by Proxy.  When it reaches the level of full blown mental disorder.  Prior to that it falls under the age-old axiom that misery loves company.

Now, with regard to death…

It is the essence of life to know and be known; to see and be seen; to love and be loved.  Many people have a serious fear of being lost.  When you boil it down, what does that fear actually represent?  “What if I die out here and no one even knows?”  So too I think with death.

Tomorrow something will happen, but you will not be here to see it.  Your kids will grow up (or not); your wife will remarry (or not); your job will get done (or not); and you will not be here to witness it.  And so, in a very real sense, because you did not see it,  it did not happen.  Much like a child does not remember their birth.  They were simply here when they first became aware that they were here.

So death is the end of the story.  A story you very well may have not finished.  Suddenly, it’s over…and you have no idea how it ends.  But the truth is, it’s a circle…it never ends.  As such it is also, in many way, utterly meaningless.  You’re born, you procreate, you die; and the universe moves on unaware of your passing.

Unless of course you are religious.  Then you move on to a “better place”.  You live on eternally.  You break the circle, and suddenly life has meaning!  Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

Unfortunately, I’m more of a first scenario guy.  So I reckon I fear death to the extent that I do because I cannot imagine life going on without me.  I also imagine that the inability of a whole lot of people to face that simple reality is the reason there are so many people searching for spiritual meaning.

Perhaps not the deep psychological epiphany you were looking for.  But IMHO it’s the truth.  We fear death because we fear that we will be forgotten, and thus our lives had no meaning.  We seek comfort in religion because it promises us that we will remain.  Alive and aware, eternally a part of the story (and the best part if the writings are to be believed).  But then you have to ask yourself why it is that Christians cry at funerals…

Anyway, it’s about time to go home and bury the dog.  He deserves that.







The Living Years

I got a phone call Tuesday from my sister informing me that my father is on his deathbed. Stage 4 bone cancer. This on top of the dementia that has been eating away at his mind for the last several years. The last time I spoke to him it was a struggle to form a coherent sentence. He knew me, but could not tell me who my wife or kids were. That was a year or two ago, so I have no idea how far gone he is now.

Some of you may recall a song by Mike and the Mechanics from the early 90’s called “The Living Years”. The song is all about the distance and disagreement between a father and his son. The first verse says:

“Every generation blames the one before, And all of their frustrations come beating on your door.

I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear I know that I’m a hostage to all his hopes and fears I just wish I could’ve told him in the living years

Oh, crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thoughts,

Stilted conversations I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it he says it’s perfect sense , You just can’t get agreement in this present tense

We all talk a different language, talking in defense.”


That pretty well perfectly describes my relationship with my father. I did not listen to that song this morning on my drive in to work, but I heard it in my head nonetheless.

My father and I have been estranged for quite some time. So, as I type this post this morning I am not entirely sure how I feel about the news I have received. I guess, if I were a “normal” person I would have called in to work this morning, taken the rest of the week off, and rushed off to see him in his last moments. I didn’t do any of those things.

I did inform my manager of what was going on, simply because I am not sure how I am going to react. I wanted him to be prepared in case I abruptly left, or began sobbing uncontrollably, or something…

The thing is, I am as much a spectator in this situation as everyone else. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how I will feel. I have no idea how I will react when the anticipated passing of my father happens in what I assume will be the next few days. So I am, in many respects, watching a movie I’ve never seen before, and waiting to see what happens.

I think it’s entirely possible that when a new idea or concept strikes many of us we have a tendency to believe we have “discovered” something. Our epiphany is an epiphany for all mankind. I’m sure this is particularly true if we are considered (by ourselves or others) to be “smart”. But then you talk to someone else, or read something someone else wrote, and realize that there is nothing new under the sun.

Nevertheless, while exploring my thoughts and feelings on the matter I was struck by the notion that in the end our lives are really just a series of snippets in the memories of other people.

We are born, in many cases we procreate, and eventually we die. The circle of people who care about any of these things is relatively small. The number of lives most of us will touch is also relatively small. In the end, even if a whole lot of people know who we are, the people who actually feel our loss is a small subset of that number.

Who we were becomes a function of how we are recalled by those still living. Being forever silenced and unable to correct the record or defend ourselves, perception becomes reality. All the things we accomplished fade away. The awards and achievements, the degrees and certifications, all of the accumulated pieces of paper and plaques…all piled into a pine box alongside the husk of who we once were…and turned to ash and dust along with us.

All that remains are the smiles or frowns of those who knew us when, from time to time, we come to mind. The things we said or did traded in for the things people think we said or did. Nothing lasting, nothing permanent. In my case, having fathered two girls, not even my last name will carry on. All that will matter when all is said and done, is what those two girls think of me, when they think of me.

Lest I depart too sharply from my normal manner and thereby cause consternation amongst my friends, let me follow up by saying….I’ll be dead. So, in reality, I won’t know, or care, what anyone still alive thinks. It certainly does make for some interesting thoughts though…and no doubt quite a few tee-shirts and bumper stickers about how all that matters is how we treated others, etc.

Right now, in a house I’ve never seen, in a town I’ve never been to, surrounded by people I’ve never met…my father is dying.   When I imagined for a moment what going to his funeral might be like, and what I would say if I were asked to say something, I came to some conclusions. I guess it’s up to the reader to determine if those conclusions are sad, or insightful, profound, or ambivalent. I can’t rightly say.

For the record, and for those not familiar with the situation, I will briefly recap. My father left my mother in the most cowardly manner I could imagine. He was a pastor and he ran off with the church secretary. He married her shortly after his divorce from my mother went through because, as he explained to me at the time, they didn’t want to live in sin, “any longer than is absolutely necessary”.

My mother is, as are we all, a flawed woman. But she continually and constantly pounded one refrain into my mind from the time I was old enough to speak. “I hate a liar”. That can be translated over to, “I hate a hypocrite”. I did see, and still see, my father as a hypocrite. I believe he violated sacred covenants, abandoned his flock, led people astray, and committed a whole host of other things that his faith deems “sins”. Nevertheless, he did them. And he did them for the most base of reasons. I have never truly found it in my heart to forgive that.

That fact is in and of itself intriguing to me. I know women whose fathers sexually molested them, and they have found it within themselves to forgive them and attempt to repair the relationship. My father broke a vow to a God I don’t quite believe in, and (to be fair) he also lied to me in the process. But these things seem so much smaller than the things other people are able to see their way past. So I have to consider for a moment, is the failing his, or mine?

Not that I bear him ill will, or walk around with anger in my heart. I just added him to my internal list of people I prefer not to associate with. What that translates to is, in the last 15 years I’ve seen him once and spoken to him by phone 3-4 times.

I guess in my dad’s case what angered me was that he set himself up as a leader and an emissary of God, and then fell on his face. And he didn’t stumble over some unusual set of circumstances or extraordinary moral conundrum. He was tripped up by the same shit he lectured me on.

He demonstrated conclusively (in my mind) that Jesus isn’t changing hearts. He tore apart his own family, and the family of the woman he committed adultery with, and then he shrugged and said, “God forgives me, if you don’t that’s your problem”.

And now he’s dying.

What would I say if I were asked to say something?

My father was not a great man. Some would tell you he was a good man, and I wouldn’t rise to oppose them, though I would disagree. In the end, he was a man. He had his flaws. He had his vices. He had his shortcomings and failures. I do not begrudge him any of these things. We all have things about ourselves we are less than proud of. But he lacked honor, and was therefore not someone I chose to spend time with.

My father paid his bills, fed his kids, and served his country. He spent 4 years in the Air Force and the rest of his working life at NSA. He taught college courses, coached tee-ball, baseball, and softball. (An interesting aside, my dad was tried out to play Catcher for the Baltimore Orioles way back in the day.)

He gave to me my love of reading, chess, and debate. He taught me to think. And when he was younger and in decent shape, the man could play baseball.

He participated in the rearing of two moderately successful children. His progeny is no burden on society.

I hear that in recent years he got involved with child welfare and became some sort of court appointed advocate.

That’s it. That’s all I know about the man.

I recall a few ridiculous things like the way he would stick his tongue in his cheek when he was angry. I remember a few times we almost came to blows during my teenage years. I remember he was a bit of a clown, and enjoyed being the center of attention…which I suppose is the unspoken reason he chose to go into the ministry.

Mainly, since I hung up the phone with my sister, I have been thinking about more abstract things.

I wonder if he’s scared. I wonder if he’s even cognizant of what is happening. I wonder if he’s looking forward to “going on to be with the Lord”. Or is it possible that now that the question is no longer rhetorical, he has his doubts?

I wonder who has come to see him. I wonder, when I am in his position, who will come to see me? I wonder if he wonders if I will come…or if he even remembers my name. If he does remember my name, and does hope that I will come, will the last thing he feels be profound sadness? Is that my fault? Does it matter?

Assuming he has anywhere near a firm grasp on reality, I wonder does he look back on his life with regret, or satisfaction? I wonder how I would answer that same question.

In the end I am simply writing this because I am experiencing an event I will only ever experience once. I am not looking for pity or condolences. My father has not been an integral part of my life for a very long time. I won’t miss him more the day after he’s gone than I did on any given day last month.

I’m simply thinking about things, and seeing them, in a light that only shines once. So I’m capturing my thoughts and passing them on.

Maybe I’m just creating a snippet in the memory of someone else…

Sweet Little Lies

This post is in response to a daily writing prompt found here.

The text of the prompt is:

As kids, we’re told, time and again, that lying is wrong. Do you believe that’s always true? In your book, are there any exceptions?

This is an interesting question!  And for me, more complex than you might think.

In the space in which I work honesty and integrity are job requirements.  We are even subjected to periodic polygraph examinations to verify our ongoing integrity.  So I cannot simply sit here are say, “I think lying your ass off non-stop is cool!”  (For the record, I don’t).  I also cannot claim to have never spoken a word in my life that contained nothing but the stark, naked, truth.  We all color things.  We all hedge.  We have all said, “No officer, I don’t know how fast I was going”, or “No honey, those pants don’t make your ass look fat”.  We have all said, “I don’t know” when we did know, or , “No baby, I don’t think your sister is pretty.”

We all lie.  If you’re important enough, like say the President of the United States, then you “misspoke”.  But any way you slice it, something other than the truth escapes our lips at various and sundry times throughout our lives.

The author of the question did in fact hit it on the head.  My mother beat it in to my head, time after time, day after day.  Liars are the worst form of scum.

I believe she was correct.  All forms of communication rely on the ability of the listener to believe that what the other individual is saying to you is true.  Absent that belief, communication is meaningless.  So it behooves us to speak honestly.

However, there is a level of honesty commonly referred to as being “brutally honest”.  In my experience the times when brutality is a good thing are few and far between.  So I believe there must be a balance.  Not necessarily simply when it is our desire to spare another’s feelings.  Hurt feelings are not the end of the world.  But there are times when the good that comes from lying outweighs the moral imperative to be honest.

Consider for example those people who hid Jews from the Nazis during WWII.  If the SS came knocking on the door and asked the owner of the home if they were harboring any Jews, the honest answer would have been “Yes”.  But who would have been served by the truth?