Monday, March 10, 2014


I began my annual office clean-up today, a chore fortunately and unfortunately created by the need to gather all my tax information, and, as usual, I spent way too much time browsing through what I call "fresh finds."  Fresh finds is just another way of saying that I have once again run across something I forgot I had.

Today, it turns out, is the 20th anniversary of the passing of Shirley, a wonderful little black and white Shitzu that Geri and I had.  I selfishly include myself in the relationship, although I only had around a quarter of the time with Shirley that Geri did.  It was tough when she passed.  I'm sure many, if not most, of you have been there.

Two days later - we were living in Nashville at the time - we picked Shirley's remains up from the vet.   She was in the little wooden box Geri had picked for her years before, and she was with "her man."  (That's a story Geri can tell.)  We drove to the farm in Kelso - Mom and Dad were still alive and farming away - and laid Shirley to rest.

It's hard to believe it was twenty years ago.  The fresh find I stumbled upon today was a tribute I wrote to her.  It was published in the "Milan Leader" since Shirley was a Michigan girl by birth, like her Momma Geri.  But she was also a solid Tennessee transplant.  Like her Momma Geri.  Shirley was "The Dog of Your Lifetime" for Geri.  And for me too.  Memories of her still bring a simultaneous smile and tear.

 I wouldn't mind bringing a simultaneous smile and tear when people think of me one day.  I think that would be one heck of a heritage, doggone it.  Here's to you, Shirley.


She sleeps now beneath the sheltering branches of a gnarled and aging cedar.  With a shovel we chopped away at roots that ran for yards, roots that the cedar did not need as much as we needed the spot they occupied.  We dug with care, each scoop taken as gentle preparation for our loved one's final place of rest.  And we lifted the small wooden box that held her tiny, still body and lowered it kindly and carefully in her now special place.  On the lid of the box we placed a rose we each had kissed, then blanket after blanket of clay and loam.  And then it was complete.  The trip that had begun almost 119 years ago, in doggie math, seventeen years ago for Geri, and four years ago for me, had reached an end.  But now, our time with Shirley, our "Momma Dirl," seemed as brief as a lightning flash.

Shirley left this life on March 10, 1994 in the kind and knowing hands of Dr. Charles Beauchamp, who understood what it meant to give up a wonderful pet.  We chose the serenity of my parents' farm in Lincoln County as our place of and for tribute.  And on March 12, under God's blue skies and sunshine, to the rushing of light breezes in high cedar boughs, we stood heart-deep in grief and memory.  To the north, along the creek, a mourning dove lent her song to our sadness.  To the south and the river, a crow protested some sudden annoyance.  A cow searching for her stray calf bellowed, waited for a familiar bleat, and cried out again.  The sweetness of hay from the century old barn caught the breeze and mixed with the richness of the countryside coming to life beneath our feet and above our heads.

The newness of life without Shirley is very difficult to bear.  Instead of the weight of the loss, we try to concentrate on the seventeen years of a Shitzu's brand of joy.  Now it is important to remember and realize the things Shirley taught us - especially the grace with which she accepted her burdens and how she bore the infirmities of old age, still giving joy and lending comfort to us, her caretakers.  How she accepted what each day presented her, some better, some worse, the last several wavering somewhere between continuing or stopping.

Shirley taught us patience in the way she waited for us to wait on her, passing long days in the house, moving from room to room, marking time until companionship and supper. She taught us courage as she dealt with the aches and pains of canine senior citizenry, eyesight and hearing going slowly, arthritis claiming her little bones.  She gave us an appreciation of simplicity, showing contentment in her plain, slow lifestyle, finding pleasure in an occasional taste of "table food," a nice long afternoon nap, or a short walk in the outdoors.

Today we seek for time to go backwards to when Shirley was with us.  We mourn with hearts made heavy with the molten lead of grief.  Tomorrow we will still miss her soft paw-steps; her sneezes; her lifted-tail, rolling prance.  Next week we will think we hear her bark or see her in a shadow that flashes across a room.  In a month, we will still hold our breath in the dark and listen for her quiet breathing or whistling snores.

We will go to her place in the country and set a white fence and a smooth stone.  We will plant grass and flowers and sit in the shade of the big cedar and talk with her, tell her we miss her, and relate our recent life changes and challenges.  Hopefully, we will mostly rejoice in the knowing of Shirley.  We will remember the lessons we know now and revel in those that will come.

Though we will wonder at what price the joy, we will come to learn that the answer is that joy costs us only when we mark it with the price of grief.  That's not what Shirley would have done.  She would have just rejoiced in the moment.

Thank you, Shirley.  We love you so much.

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