Memorial for a Beloved Animal Friend


I’m at my upstairs desk at the cabin enjoying the gentle breezes Earth Mother is breathing through the open windows. Outside, soft morning light filters through the tree canopy. The green smell of growing things drifts up from damp earth and the songs of birds and murmuring melodies of Buck Creek calm my thoughts. I’m feeling very content and present with my life just now.
What is it about this place? I’ve asked myself this a hundred times. In a post from last June titled Dream Symbols of the Beloved, Part II, I wrote: “…every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says ‘Bear Raffa: Faithful Friend’ in the cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back….Do I need any further reminders from the Beloved of how loved I am and why I love this place so?”
I woke up to the sound of Bear’s bark several times after he died. He was a big, gentle, whoofely kind of dog with extraordinary communication skills.  Loud ones! He used to scare the dickens out of my youngest granddaughter when he ran to her with a booming “Whoof!” It took her a while to get used to his way of expressing love.
The stairs to our bedrooms here are half-logs with spaces in between. When Bear was young he managed them easily but that last summer he couldn’t stop his toenails from sliding across and his legs would get hung up in the spaces. At night he wanted to sleep on the sheepskin beside our bed so for a while I carried him up and down; but when he developed a bladder infection I made him a bed near the front door and he’d wake me with his barks. If I fell asleep on the couch while I waited for him to check out the tantalizing night smells he’d bark again to be let back in. There’s no way I could have slept through the force of that blast!
His favorite thing was to go with me to feed the trout.  As soon as he saw me heading for the door he’d get there as fast as he could and start barking. The only way to get him to stop was to toss a tennis ball into the yard.  Even that last summer he managed to retrieve a few tosses before he had to give up. Meanwhile, by the time we got to the pond, the fish, alerted by his barks, were hungrily patrolling the water by the large rock from where I fed them.
This weekend we buried Bear’s ashes, along with his collar, a kerchief, and a tennis ball, beside the pond. Above him stands a beautiful memorial to our beloved friend who brought structure, love and meaning to my days here. Now his powerful medicine is merged with the benevolent spirit of this land. When it’s my turn, I think I want my ashes buried beside his in this, the most nurturing space I’ve ever inhabited.
If you’d like to know more about the artist whose sculpture guards Bear, check out this website. And thanks, Sam, for inspiring this post.

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0 Responses

  1. What a beautiful and loving tribute to Bear. The image of you carrying him up and down the stairs is very moving. How much you loved/love that sweet Bear.
    Your post got me thinking (and feeling) about both the nature of sound and of memory (yes, there’s a story in your fb box). Recently I was laid off from a kindergarten teaching position I held for a year. I was teaching in the inner city–it was a rough neighborhood–I had moms in my class who were 18 years old and many of the dads were in prison. Needless to the say the 25 five and six year olds were quite the handful. But I loved them. If you saw their smiles you would too. I had one little girl who would bound into the room everyday shouting, “Today’s my birthday!”
    “Of course it is!” I would say, “Happy birthday!”
    Anyway, on the last day of school, after the students had all gone to where ever they go, I stood alone in the classroom–except I wasn’t really alone. The sounds of their voices echoed in the room–they flowed from the ceiling, the woodwork, the tables, the chairs–they flowed from ME. And, of course, I could only weep. As I mention in the story I sent you, the soul has many shadow dappled pockets–and in those pockets memories live, and in those memories are many mansions and gardens for the child to roam and explore.
    So thank you for the post and for reminding me of the sounds of the laughter and rambunctious voices of 25 sweet, troubled children that will live forever inside.

  2. Dear Joseph,
    Your comment is helping me make some connections, as is the comment from another friend on Facebook. I asked what it was about our beloved animals that touch us so deeply and she mentioned their unconditional love, joy, and optimism: she calls them “gods of frolic.” That’s the same way you describe your Wonder Child in your amazing stories: always happy and playful. Like Bear, whose joy was like the joy of your student who bounded happily into your room every morning. And his bark was like her remark, “Today’s my birthday.”
    It’s that love, joy, and optimism I miss most about Bear. I think he was an outward manifestation and daily reminder of my inner child who, for many years, I thought of as an orphan. But the connection I’m making is that now I see he also represented my Wonder Child, or Wise Child, or Divine Child, or “god of frolic” or whatever we want to call it. And as you so beautifully write, that child lives on in me. But not just in my memories. I can call on him/her to manifest in my daily life too in my own attitudes and behavior! And I want to do more of that.
    Thanks Joseph, for your always thought-provoking responses.

  3. Thanks for a touching story, Jean. Our connection with animals, specifically dogs, is very real and powerful. They demand so little from us and give so much back. We have raised three generations of Yellow Labs – the first one born in 1987 – the last one Abby is 12 years old and the inescapable arthritis is diminishing her mobility, as it did her mother and grandmother. It’s a tradeoff…the many years of joy exchanged for the dreaded goodbye that is inevitable, but I have never regretted signing up for it. Our other dog is a rescue dog, a black lab mix (named Bear) who is 11 and has the energy of a 2 year old. Your relationship with your Bear will sustain you, and that memory is etched in your mind, body, and soul – you will reunite at some future time. Look forward to that!

    1. Hi, John.
      Your comment, “It’s a tradeoff…the many years of joy exchanged for the dreaded goodbye that is inevitable, but I have never regretted signing up for it” is beautiful and brings tears of powerful recognition to my eyes. In the last five years I’ve lost my mother, my horse, and Bear. Like you, I don’t regret having loved them, and my memories of them are indeed etched very deeply in my mind body and soul, but these losses are also so present to me that I find I’m just not ready to sign up for another one! Perhaps that will change soon; we’ll see which way the pendulum swings!
      Thank you for writing!

  4. You knocked me over with this piece, Jeanie. Beautiful. Your imagery, the tender feelings you shared with Bear, and your “lump in the throat” ending are breathtaking.
    Wonderfully voiced. Write more of these, Jeanie. Please.

  5. Thank you so much, Charlie.
    Your comments about my writing are especially valuable to me, coming as they do from another writer. And I appreciate your encouragement to “write more of these” and encourage you to do the same. It does seem, as we have both noted, that the stories which come from our deepest, most vulnerable feelings are the ones that also touch others the most.
    I wonder why that is. Is it because deep feeling reminds us we are alive and makes us grateful for the miracle of life? Or are there other reasons too? I wonder if anyone else has any ideas…

    1. You are asking, as we used to say, the million dollar question, Jeanie. I have actually written some posts on this, I think. I have to go back and read them, but I do believe, that those vulnerable feelings are universal experiences which many have difficultly accessing or expressing. When we express them in story form we create for others the space in which they can view their own vulnerabilities. Just a thought.

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