Today, I did something I’ve never done before. I held the head of a beloved friend as he died.
Albert was one of those beings who comes into a person’s life and changes it forever. He changed me from a self-centered person to an other-centered person in a matter of days. He made me look at myself as a caregiver in ways that priesthood or ministry never could. He made me see what unconditional love was. He helped me understand my capacity to give and receive love. He helped me to see myself as he saw me- the guy who was there to be the recipient of joy and affection and frustration and excitement and joy and confusion and sleepiness and hunger and restlessness and adventure. He was the impetus behind me discovering my true self and allowing that self to live, thrive and be. He was the one who never forgot me, whose love for me never changed, even when my visits with him were short and infrequent. He was always excited to see me, and never failed to put his head in my lap and relax with me. He kept me warm on cold Montana nights and gave me great comfort when I really didn’t know what to do or how to keep going. His devotion and attention to me, never wavered, even in his advancing years and illness made him feel pain that he never had before. He was the example of love and affection that I have and will always strive to be for the ones I love. Independent, one of a kind, stubborn and always there.
He was the only dog I ever really had as mine. I chose him from a litter of eight other beagles and brought him home zipped up in my coat, next to my chest, from the breeder in Livingston. I’d spent almost an hour looking over the puppies before deciding on the one they called Albert, after my dear friend Greg who had seen them previously recommended him to me. I wanted to make sure. And after that time I was.
When I had to leave him with my friend Lois after a year (she turned 90 in August) as I left the priesthood and moved to Seattle I always visited him when I could- and when I couldn’t, I heard his baying over the speakerphone that connected us, as well as in my dreams. And when I moved back to Montana, I visited at least every month, holding him close, feeling the exact same things I felt when he was a puppy- something maybe only parents feel, or parents of animals who’ve given them a new lease on life feel. I felt good enough.
Today I felt inadequate. I wanted to hold him and look into his eyes as he drew his final breath. I wanted him to know I was there, just as he had been there for me. I wanted him to feel loved and appreciated and cared for, just as he had done for me. And when I had held his head and stroked his ears as the medicine started to go through him, I knew I had given him exactly what he had given me. I was happy to see him. I was happy to sit with him- even when it was hard. I was happy that this being had entered my life and brought me joy and comfort and frustration and adventure. I was happy that it was hard. That meant that I loved enough.
But I’m still crying. I’ll probably still be sad tomorrow. But I will never forget