Three weeks ago today, we euthanized my daughter Rebecca’s old paint mare, Lady. She was over a hundred human years so she lived a full life. Lady’s coat was beige with a hint of rust and she carried haphazard white splotches as if someone had stood back and flung a bucket of house paint on her. Her mane and tail were a shade of strawberry blonde that many women would pay top dollar to duplicate. As a girl, Rebecca proudly rode her in horse shows, competitive trail rides, parades and while racing barrels and bending poles.
The last few years Lady’s health declined and she defined the cliché put out to pasture. She ate grass and grain with her two younger companions Red and Pepper and just lazed about. The time arrived when Lady could no longer stand on her own. I carefully planned the process. A neighboring vet would meet me in the pasture and euthanize Lady, and then another neighbor would arrive, backhoe her grave and bury her in a special spot there. Nothing went as it should have, neither the process nor my reaction to it. Once the burial slogged to a conclusion I did what I do with the pain of grief, I capsulated it and buried it as deep inside as I was able.
Today, three weeks to the day afterward, with my shovel in hand I walked to the other end of the pasture near the woods and the giant cottonwood where I dug another grave. Our 13 year-old Lab mix Izzy rapidly succumbs to cancer. Izzy too has had a full, wonderful life. She has never worn a collar, or been trapped inside a fence – an advantage of living in the country. Izzy and our other dogs often went walkabout all day, returning home with burrs and scratched noses. The cancer must have spread to her stomach, as she now eats only occasional morsels. The pain she feels reflects in her sad eyes and her tail wags feebly.
For the first time last winter we fed birds with a feeder and a silt block. They flocked to us in growing numbers and it was a joy to watch them, especially in the snow. Today they repaid me. As I dug Izzy’s grave they gathered in the cottonwood to serenade me. It was not the chatter of sparrows, but rather the melodies and harmonies of countless species of song birds. Their beautiful music allowed me a focal point other than the task. They held off my tears.
Tomorrow I will take Izzy to our vet and stroke her as her life is ended. We will go home together, Izzy and I, only this time instead of running back and forth in the bed of the pick-up she will lie peacefully. While the other dogs remain inside the house I will bury my Izzy and then my feelings. That’s the way men were raised in my day. And afterwards I will feed the birds.
––Jack Kline lives with his family, dogs and horses near Louisburg, Kansas. His book Blowing Carbon (2009) is available on Amazon. Learn more at: http://jackkline.squarespace.com
One of Jack’s stories appeared in Kansas City Voices, Volume VII and another will appear in Volume IX. Come get your copy of Volume VII for just $5 when you hear Jack read at our launch on November 12 at the Johnson County, KS public library. Or order your copy today at http://www.kansascityvoices.com