The gift of practice

Yesterday afternoon I dropped my daughters off with my mom and went to say good-bye to Bear.

In all the time I've known her, maybe even from the very first time I've met her, Bear has always greeted me with a fiercely wagging tail and stuck her nose directly into my armpit. It was a special greeting she saved just for me. Odd, yes. But endearing, somehow.

Yesterday her tail didn't even wag. She couldn't get up. She lay in the grass in my friend's backyard, in a patch of sun, curled up in a ball. When she registered it was me, kneeling beside her, she put her nose on my nose and then licked it. Her eyes were wistful and far away. I know it's anthropomorphizing, but that expression in a person would have conveyed years of memories she was revisiting.

I sat with her until she closed her eyes again, whispering to her how much I loved her, what a fine job God had done in making her, what good dog, a great friend, she was. I apologized for encouraging her to "fetch" rocks. I rubbed her face the way I've done for years, and when she painstakingly stretched back on to her back, I rubbed her belly, as she loved.

It wasn't a long good-bye. Maybe 10 minutes. When she closed her eyes, I went back to check in with my friend for a tearful conversation about how to know when to let Bear go and how different a dog she is to us, who knew her when, than to folks who've only known her as an old, withdrawn dog; how few people will properly appreciate who it is that has left us when she goes.

If Bear were a person this might all sound more "appropriate," I suppose. But I loved that dog as much as I've loved many people -- if not always quite as well. And, she loved me, more fiercely and faithfully than most people who've claimed to.

My friend was the one who had to give permission to Bear to go. Bear wasn't waiting for me. And I would have missed that goodbye if I hadn't written about her yesterday right here. I would have let a moment pass that warranted noticing, that warranted experiencing -- and I'm so grateful I didn't.

Bear died yesterday evening.

It's a gift, the practice.

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