Friday, August 24, 2012

All Dogs Go To Heaven, But Not All Of Us Will Join Them

Two rings and then an excited “Balcom Canyon Pet Lodge, can I help you?”

I said, “I am calling to check on Cassius”.

Her response cheery, was much like a babysitter would offer regardless of how your child had actually behaved.  Then, I went for it.  “Would you mind bringing him the phone so I can say hello and he can hear my voice?”

My mother was happy to have us home for the holidays, but in that moment, she looked at me as though I were certifiably insane.  “Just wait until you have kids,” she chuckled, “that dog will totally take a back seat.”

Flash forward 4 years, 2 daughters, some staunch refusal to drive a minivan and a second (even more fashionable) dog.

It was just before Halloween of last year and I was in Las Vegas wrapping production on the Vh1 sleeper-hit Mama Drama when my husband called concerned that our 5 year-old Rottweiler, Sugar Ray, seemed lethargic.  Within hours, but before I had the chance to make it home, one of our best friends lost his battle with cancer just as we learned it had begun.  We were devastated.

I have learned the hard way that it is possible to die of a broken heart.  Shortly after my father died at the ridiculously young age of 41, his mother quickly followed.  So it shouldn’t surprise me that not long after losing his brother-from-another-mother, we lost Cassius as well.  He was barely 8.

Whether a blessing or curse, the time we lacked to process what was happening with Sugar was abundant with Cassius.  In the end, due to his terrible veterinary anxiety, we had him put down peacefully in our home.  My girls were in another room, but I knew my eldest was aware of what was taking place.

After he was gone I returned to her with puffy eyes.  “Where's Cassius?” she asked, already knowing what my answer would be.  At a loss, my mind raced.  How do you teach a toddler about death?  And how do you explain heaven to a kid when you can’t even understand it as an adult?  Deep breath, I thought.

“Cassius went to heaven to be with Sugar”.  She looked at her hands and paused briefly before responding quietly without tantrum or tears.  “Can I get a new dog now?”  I realized in that moment that our innocence protects us from heartbreak, but wondered at what point we lose that miraculous gift.

I wish things stayed that simple.  A mother can only hope that her child’s first encounter with death will be that of a pet.  I think the best case scenario is a carnival-won goldfish, but unless your arm for the ring toss is perfect, those chances are slim.  And my arm sucks.

Emilia just told me Cassius and Sugar are sad in heaven because she can’t see them.  So, she understands what happened, maybe even more than the rest of us.

Working on Mama Drama was an incredible experience, but in all honesty, it scared the ever-living shit out of me.

(Here's a little gem from behind the scenes...)
It made me worry even more about raising strong, confident, satisfied women- and we haven’t yet had our first parent/teacher conference.  Luckily I’ll have a great pair of watchdogs keeping an eye on us from above.