I DON’T BELIEVE I can work today. I find myself angry with God again and pummeled by the riptides within me. Over the death of a dog.
This happens when someone I love dies.
Like my two younger brothers a couple years ago. And Juneau, the beautiful Siberian Husky my son rescued. And Mosby, the Black Labrador Retriever puppy, which I videotaped my son picking from a litter more than a dozen years ago. He put her to sleep in November, after dementia made her unsafe with his three young daughters.
Today, I don’t care what plan God may have in all of this.
And I don’t care much for God.
Nor am I in a state of mind to intelligently entertain a theologian who might argue that death entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned. Adam and Eve who?
Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have just crushed to death tens of thousands of people. If I lived there, I’d be angry at God there.
It’s just a dog
But I live here, and by comparison, I haven’t lost much.
- Just a stray pup my wife rescued 11 years ago, after watching him get hit by two cars.
- He was just the personal security guard, stationed sometimes in my office and sometimes at the front door of the house.
- He was my TV-watching partner, nibbling on a biscuit when I chomped on popcorn, fruit, or candy.
- He was my foot warmer at the dinner table.
- My walking companion who liked to lead the way, smell the roses, and check the pee-mail.
- My minister of compassion who stayed with me when ministers from church didn’t know to call.
- The one who gave me kisses when no one else was around to give me hugs.
- The one who lived with me, and who lived his life for me—whose greatest desire, it seemed, was to make me happy. Well, maybe second greatest desire. He was a Black Lab, so he loved food.
- He was the one on earth who truly forgave me and did so as instantly as I apologized. Sometimes even before I felt sorry.
- Perhaps the only one on earth who completely and utterly trusted me.
Yet I’m the one who looked him in the eyes and told the vet to inject the lethal drug.
I ended his suffering by ending him
Everyone says it was right to end his suffering. But to end his suffering by killing him? How is that right?
Even in the pain of struggling to breathe, he found moments to enjoy the view through the front door window.
Even in the choking of laryngeal paralysis, he woofed down his last meal of prime-cut steak, handpicked by my seven-year-old grandson. For dessert, there was ice cream topped with whip cream. Gone in seconds.
Even in his pain, he blessed us, kissing my wife and I as we took turns lying on the floor beside him during the last night of his life.
The look in Buddy’s eyes
The look in his eyes cried for help. But for this kind of help? Would I cry for this kind of help?
Perhaps. But all Buddy could say with that look is “Help me.”
So, we respond with one final trip to the vet—the first vet to ever see him as ours, and the last to see him alive.
One of my fears was that he would tremble in terror. He didn’t. But he was nervous, and constantly turning to look at me. My wife said in that room, “He has eyes for only you.”
Buddy lay on a brown and tattered blanket, where I suspect others have gone to die. I knelt beside him on his left. The vet with the drugs on the right.
Two shots would do it.
First shot would make him sleepy. Second shot would kill him in seconds.
“Okay,” I said.
By then, I was lying on the floor directly in front of him. My nose brushing his. My eyes on his brown eyes, and those brown eyes on mine. He never looked away.
“Tell me when you’re ready.”
There was no pause. “Okay.”
I can’t speak of how his eyes left me. They just dissolved and disappeared, like the words I tried to say.
His breathing stopped within a second or two. But his heart wanted to stay—and it did for a minute longer.
The vet told us, “Stay as long as you like.”
“He’s gone,” I said. “I want to leave.”
One step from the door I turned and saw him, one last look. He seemed sleeping, as though still behind my office chair, protecting me from harm.
But I had just killed him.
The cursing of God
I question God on days like this and curse him soul to soul.
How sin and death came to be is none of my concern today. How God could let them stay and stand is what I want to know.
I ask the question God almost never answers. I want to know why. Why do we have to watch others die, and then die ourselves?
Because Adam and Eve sinned?
Why should I blame two characters in a story written without a byline? No one claimed to have written that story. And scholars debate whether it’s history or an archetype, which is much like a fictional parable to illustrate a point or to begin a discussion about a topic we don’t yet understand.
That’s what much of theology is, a string of words we invent so we can talk about what we don’t understand.
The sinless life of a gentle dog
In terms of endearment, I called him Little Bear, because he looked like one.
Of all the lives I’ve ever known, Buddy the gentle Black Labrador Retriever was the freest of sin. He stole a slipper or two, and more than a few socks. But it was to keep the scent of us with him as he played or rested.
So, I can’t tolerate the talk of sin in relation to Buddy’s death.
In that moment, walking out of the vet’s offices, and carrying in one hand all that remained of Buddy—his red collar and his red leash—I stand with Job:
“You, God, are the reason…I am almost blind with grief” (Job 17:6-7, Contemporary English Version).
I know you’re not supposed to blame God. Google-search “blame God” and all you get are articles that say “Don’t blame God.”
I killed Buddy
Okay, it was me. I killed my dog.
I spend his last night watching his entire body spasm to catch a breath. He’d relax a while and begin again.
Others in the family had called it days and even weeks earlier. I was the last to give up. I made the call at about 3 a.m. on Thursday, February 9, 2023. Then I woke my wife and said, “You can’t go into work today. It’s Buddy. We can’t make him go through another night like this.”
I own my part in his death.
I do not hold God blameless.
He’s a bystander who did nothing. A coward and voyeur.
I think that, at first. Truly, I do, in my anger.
But then I wonder:
- Why did my seven-year-old grandson insist on buying Buddy the biggest steak he could find for a last meal?
- Why did his mom, my daughter, take time off work to come and cook the steak and spend the last hours with Buddy and us, saying goodbye to him?
- Why did my son call my wife and I separately, to share the pain with each of us individually, letting us each talk about what we were feeling?
- That Thursday morning after the snowfall, why did the neighbor boy show up with a snow shovel just as I was stepping out to shovel a path for my daughter and grandson?
- Out of all the vets in the service we use, why was the vet on duty that day the one with the longest history of taking care of Buddy?
Searching for God’s role in Buddy’s death
Was God more than a spectator? Was he an instigator?
Was he the reason my wife just happened to go to work a different route that day, leaving at the exact time she needed in order to see Buddy get hit by those cars?
I want to blame God. He’s in charge, right?
But I see him in others who make what is terrible a little less painful to endure.
I took Maizey for a ride the night after we all lost Buddy. Maizey is a little Black Lab mix we rescued a few months ago, on the morning she was scheduled to die.
Somewhere along the way on that short car ride, I made her a promise:
“Maizey, this was a Terrible Thursday. You are not going to have another Terrible Thursday, if I can help it. You are going to have Terrific Thursdays. You’re not going to eat your normal diet. Thursdays will be something you’ll love. It’ll be our way of remembering and honoring Buddy.”
I talk with dogs that way, like I’m talking to humans. Someday maybe they’ll talk back.
The happy ending
I’d like to wrap this up neatly and make everyone feel good again. But:
“There’s a time for everything,
For everything, a season.
There’s a time to be born,
And a time to die…
A time to laugh,
And a time to cry.
A time to kill,
And a time to heal…
A time to talk,
And a time to think” (From Ecclesiastes 3).
This is my beginning of thinking, healing, and crying as I try to adjust to what Death has done to my life again, and to what God may do about it to express his compassion and his devotion to me.
In the end, I expect his devotion to at least equal that of a dog.
Yeah, I know. That still sounds a little angry. But I’ve read Psalms, and I know God can take it.
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