Monday, May 18, 2015

Ode to Ethan

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

-W.H. Auden 

Last week I told you a story about a dog named Susie who was a part of my family when I was growing up. In retrospect, I think Susie was on my mind because I was a bit nostalgic about the dogs that have been a part of my life, mentally girding myself for a goodbye I knew was coming, & one that's hit me a little harder than I expected.

On Thursday of last week, we said goodbye to Ethan, our Brussels Griffon, whom a few of you lucky readers met over the years.

Ethan was over fifteen years old, & he led a life every dog, & many humans, would envy. His many years with us are a testament to my mother, pictured here with him when he was a pup:

When I was in college I got a call from my mom one day letting me know she & my dad & my sister were headed to Texas to pick up a dog. My sister had seen the movie As Good As It Gets & fallen in love with the small dog, Verdell (a Brussels Griffon, if you've ever wondered). I don't think I said much when my mom explained what they were doing; I think I said, "Oh, okay," & hung up the phone to contemplate the extent to which my sister had managed to wrap our parents around her finger in my absence.

I came home on the weekends often when I was in college, & during those weekends I spent time with my family, which I quickly learned included Ethan. I knew they all thought he was something special because he was the first family dog to live exclusively indoors. I began to suspect Ethan was what you might call a high maintenance dog. I remember nearly vomiting one Saturday when my mom explained to me that the pot on the stove was what she used to boil the chicken livers (I think it was chicken livers) she fixed for Ethan, which she was instructed to do for the young pup for a few weeks to ensure his nutritional intake. In retrospect, boiling the livers was nothing compared to the nasal & gall bladder surgeries in Ethan's future; I feel compelled to add that Ethan was transported to Baton Rouge for the nasal surgery.

Ethan gave me my first real taste of what it means to be responsible for a dependent. My sister played a lot of softball when she was younger, & in the summers this meant traveling a great deal. Most of the trips were weekend ventures (which meant Ethan was my responsibility for a day or two), but there were a few occasions when softball demanded my parents & sister be away from home for an entire week, & guess who was at home with Ethan? Yours truly, the one who was away at college & had absolutely no say when the decision was made to purchase a dog who had to be let out at six in the morning to do his business. Keep in mind that I hadn't had kids at this point in my life, & you know, those dewy, humid Louisiana summer mornings I spent standing in the wet grass, begging Ethan to, um, complete his business so I could go back inside, peel my sticky, soaked nightgown off, & return to unconsciousness might be the reason I was thirty before I had a child.

There was one week I spent with Ethan during which the absence of my parents & sister was not softball related. In order to graduate from college in four years & not overload myself during the fall & spring semesters, a few hours of summer school were a necessity one summer. Thus, I found myself at home with Ethan, attending summer school & caring for my sister's dog while my parents, my sister, & two of my sister's friends went to the beach for a week. Perhaps one day I'll dedicate an entire blog to the lingering feelings of bitterness that blossomed that week.

My life changed tremendously during Ethan's fifteen years. I earned two degrees. I lost two grandparents. I gained a husband, two kids, a brother-in-law, & a niece. After I talked to my mom last Thursday, I was upset, naturally, but a few hours later I was still whimpering & snotting excessively, so I attempted to assess the situation rationally to try & determine why I was as upset as I was. I realized immediately that I was frustrated that life was continuing to move, & I just wanted a few minutes to be by myself & cry, & that wasn't possible with two kids demanding lunch, insulin, a clean diaper, etc.

I also realized that since I haven't shared a house with Ethan in several years, having last lived with him when I moved back in with my parents in the months before I married in 2009, I didn't fully appreciate how old he was. He hadn't been my responsibility in a long time, & when you're not the caretaker, you just aren't immersed in the details. I've been busy with my kids & diabetes & life in general, & I knew, intellectually, that he was pushing the limits of dog years, but as is always the case, there's a chasm between knowing & experiencing.

Naturally, there are pictures. When Jessica & my parents brought Ethan home, Jessica & I were both single & had no kids, & so we thought it perfectly normal to dress up the dog & take a ridiculous number of pictures of him & with him.

(okay technically he's not in this next one, but look how skinny I am!):

We often took him with us to celebrate holidays with the extended family, which delighted my Aunt Kathy, whose motto is, "I love dogs, especially dogs at the dinner table."

The always popular, "Dog in gift bag."

Ethan was a big LSU football fan (after all, the folks at LSU fixed his nasal passages). He saw the Tigers win multiple national titles. He got so excited in 2003 when Eli Manning failed to hand Ole Miss what would've been its first SEC West title ever, ever, falling to . . . hmmm . . . oh that's right, it was LSU!, that he bit my mom in the middle of one of her screaming fits. (If your memory of that game is unclear, click here for a fun recap).

Ethan saw more of America than most dogs, making a trip to Destin (& Colorado, as you'll see momentarily), where we naturally dressed him in a Hawaiian shirt & took pictures:

I graduated from college & lived at home with my parents & Ethan while I attended graduate school.  Once I had my masters degree in hand, being the good, self-sufficient Republican I am, I moved out & got a job & an apartment. I lived alone, I went to work, I paid bills, & I decided the real world was kind of blah & I wanted a dog.  Enter Sophie.

When Sophie was a pup & Ethan was a spritely middle-aged man, my parents & I thought it was a fantastic idea to load both dogs in the Tahoe & drive from our home in Louisiana to visit my sister, who lived in Colorado at the time.

We all made it to Denver eventually, & the dogs enjoyed the mountain air & general dog-friendliness of the city of Denver:

This is one of my favorite pictures of Ethan, mainly because he appears to be slightly snarling, likely thinking, "Why don't you morons stop taking my picture?"

I must end with this C.S. Lewis quote that came to mind when I learned of Ethan's passing Thursday.

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it in tact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable. 

The first photo I posted, this one . . .

. . . was displayed somewhere in every dorm I called my temporary home, precisely, I think, because dorms always felt so cold & impersonal to me, nothing like a home, & this picture reminded me not only of my mother, but of her unselfish devotion to whomever is in her care. I'm sorry if this makes you cry, Mom. I love you; you were Ethan's favorite, & his fifteen years were great years, for him & for all of us. He was, as am I & Jessica & our kids, blessed to have you as a caregiver. His life was, & our lives are, absolutely as good as it gets this side of Heaven.   

Farewell, sweet boy.


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