The Happy Sad Day

April 29th, 2014


On Sunday, our Littlest Who turned ten. The night before, he had a Minecraft-themed sleepover party (and by “Minecraft-themed,” I mean they played Minecraft and ate some brownie squares with green icing– don’t bother looking for the DIY tutorial on Pinterest). In the morning, they had more Minecraft, and donuts. The birthday boy opened his presents from us, and began planning how to spend the gift cards that were burning a hole in his pocket. I told him we could go shopping wherever he wanted, as long as I was back in time to bake cake for our dinnertime family celebration. In spite of a worrisome weather forecast that his Dad and I were keeping anxious eyes on, it was shaping up to be a very happy day.

Shortly after the last guest left,  Patrick quietly alerted me that our dog, Fanny had taken a sudden turn for the worse.  Fanny was an old lady–at least 15 years old, since she was an adult dog when I adopted her from a shelter in 2001. It’s been clear to us over the last month that she was winding down–she had all but stopped eating, and was sleeping almost around the clock–but she wasn’t in any apparent suffering or distress.We agreed there was no point putting her through the trauma of a visit to the vet until it was clearly time.

Clearly, on Sunday, it was time. As I sat next to her on her bed, it was plain that she was not resting comfortably anymore.  After a brief period of hoping against hope that we might be able to postpone the inevitable just one more day, we gathered the boys together and explained that it was time to say goodbye.

I accompanied each separately. “I’ll have my birthday supper tomorrow,” my youngest said, as he wept. Our thirteen-year-old, who has always been the most nurturing to Fanny, stroked her fur in silence, his face ashen. Then he went to his room and lay face down on his bed.

My eldest son came with me to the emergency vet clinic. I’ve never  been so proud of my firstborn as when that tall young man wrapped one strong arm around my shoulders, and kept his other hand gently stroking our dog as she went to sleep for good. It happened very swiftly and serenely. She was there one minute, and then she was gone.

It’s a holy thing to be present for someone when they die, I told him, remembering that we were both beside his grandmother when she took her last breath, him tumbling in the womb, yet to take his first. Birth and death, joy and grief, the coming and going of things, all mixed up together.

“Let’s have a birthday,” I told our not-so-little Who when we got home. “We can be happy and sad today. That’s how life is sometimes.”

And so we had a very happy birthday on a very sad day. Gift cards spent to the last nickel, extra big slices of chocolate cake, the declaration of a family rest day on Monday, and a special wish granted to a 13-year-old brother who is a friend to animals (even the orneriest ones like Fanny), and deserves his own phone. None of it to deny what was lost, but to celebrate all we’ve been given.




Goodbye, Fanny. You were a crabby, crazy old dog. And we miss you.

10 Responses to “The Happy Sad Day”

  1. Crystal Long says:

    So, so beautiful.

  2. Martha Landfair says:

    Billy Collins says this about ten
    On Turning Ten
    The whole idea of it makes me feel
    like I’m coming down with something,
    something worse than any stomach ache
    or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
    a kind of measles of the spirit,
    a mumps of the psyche,
    a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

    You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
    but that is because you have forgotten
    the perfect simplicity of being one
    and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
    But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
    At four I was an Arabian wizard.
    I could make myself invisible
    by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
    At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

    But now I am mostly at the window
    watching the late afternoon light.
    Back then it never fell so solemnly
    against the side of my tree house,
    and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
    as it does today,
    all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

    This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
    as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
    It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
    time to turn the first big number.

    It seems only yesterday I used to believe
    there was nothing under my skin but light.
    If you cut me I could shine.
    But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
    I skin my knees. I bleed.
    Billy Collins

  3. diane says:

    very nice blog Kyran…..

  4. Betsy says:

    Lovely post! It brought back so many memories of the dogs that we have lost over the years and how we celebrated each of their lives. Hugs to you and your family. Hope you all are safe with all the storms.

  5. Yes, a lovely post and way of dealing with such difficult circumstances.

  6. Lee Cockrum says:

    I shed some tears for your family as I read this. I always cry for those I happen to see at the vet when I am there. It is the saddest of things, but is the last best thing we can do for our dear ones when they are suffering. I am glad that your family was able to have some bits of happiness as well.

  7. John C. says:

    Two thoughts: First, 10 was my favorite year as a boy. I wasn’t yet in 6th grade, still safely ensconced in the comfort of elementary school before the tectonic shift of junior high. The yearning for “big kid”-dom wouldn’t hit for another year or two, so I was in that sweet spot of childhood where nothing seems terribly urgent or scary. I hope the same is true for your boy.

    Second, I, too, said goodbye to a nearly 16-year-old dog I had rescued as a pup and who became one of my closest companions during a tough stretch of years. And it happened on New Years Eve a few years back … So, here’s to happy-sad days — may they be more happy than sad.

  8. Janice says:

    Thank you for this, Kyran. We have a dear old cat who we will be saying goodbye to all too soon. It helps to know how others deal with such losses. Glad the Littlest Who had a happy birthday – though it was such a sad day. Sincerest condolences to all.

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