Poetry is preparation for death. Nadezhda Mandelstam
I’ve known more death while living in Mexico than in the rest of my years combined. Since moving here, I’ve lost my Grandfather and Grandmother, my stepfather, my constant companion of 24 years, my cat Elizabeth, Elvis, numerous farm animals whose lives were my responsibility, and this week, my dog Jake.
Perhaps it’s because, as Octavio Paz claims, “one of the most notable characteristics of the Mexican is his willingness to contemplate horror.” How is it my losses relate to this statement? Because in Mexico, I cannot avoid death as I was before.
I once had two very old cats. One of them, Gordy, was euthanized due to declining health and my rationalization that he was suffering. But after his death, I knew it wasn’t true. He wasn’t in pain, he was dying, and I didn’t want to watch it because I loved him, and it hurt and scared me. I didn’t want to have to call in sick to work because my cat died, so I scheduled his death for my convenience and to avoid my own suffering.
When I moved to Mexico, I brought Elizabeth with me, determined to allow her her own death. The three days she faded away were excruciating for me. She was tranquil. Still, there were times I turned away from her I wish I had not.
When Elvis died, though it was a horrible death, I didn’t avoid one second of our last moments together. I fought to save him and failed. I held him as he bled his life away on me, I kissed him and told him how good he was, and he died with the sound of my calm, adoring voice in his ear. It was my most genuine Mexican, possibly my most human, moment to date.
There are some obvious reasons for this glut of death that haven’t anything to do with Mexico. I’m aging, and so are my loved ones, and death is an integral aspect of farm life. And yet, though it may be a poet’s perverse romanticism, it seems to me that in Mexico, death is more accepted as part of life.
Though I hope to someday experience Laurie Anderson’s explanation: “Death is a release of love” (perhaps at my own death), so far, this is what I’ve learned. Death touts regret but is about forgiveness. Death is helplessness. Forgiveness is the anecdote, acceptance the balm. In these moments when I tried and failed or was without recourse, I felt the futility of life completely and inexplicably —the splendor, and with that, I went on.
As is often the case, life follows its own purposes.
After Elvis’s death, I was determined not to get another dog until I could provide a safer home. Earlier this week, I came across a tiny, sick puppy abandoned in a garbage dump. It’s a common sight. Though I’m not proud of it, I’ve averted my eyes from hundreds of pathetic animals since moving here. But something about this puppy stopped me. She wriggled on her belly, blocking my passage, and I read in her eyes, You’re not really going to leave me here to die, are you? I picked her up, and was crawling with lice by the time we got home.
Felipe wasn’t thrilled to have another mouth to feed, and the rest of my animal companions looked at me disgustedly for days. I thought maybe I could entice my friend Larry to take her; he loves dogs and has a more generous heart than I can claim.
After a long struggle with cancer, Jake declined daily, requiring more and more care, causing deeper heartache. As I ministered to him, I applied treatments to the puppy for her parasites and a solid undercoat of scab. I resisted naming her.
We decided the day Jake could not rise to relieve himself would be the day he died. His distress grew with his immobility. Felipe had the horrible task of ending his suffering. There’s no scheduling a humane injection in our world. I’m immeasurably grateful to Felipe for his strength and courage. I doubt I’ll ever be so brave or unselfish.
He came home that night with a need to talk about the experience. I listened, overawed by his willingness to embrace life fully no matter the circumstance.
We finished our dinner, and the puppy scurried around the table, harassing Felipe’s cantankerous dog, Lilly. He laughed and said. “Why don’t we name her Jakeline.”
Goodbye, Jake, my miracle dog. Such a very, very good boy you are.
© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer