There is something about humans that makes us want to take care of things. Some people love plants, a dog, a fish tank, a musical instrument, or even a car. These things are just a vessel into which we pour some part of ourselves, usually, the very best parts. Now that I have a child, I can officially say I don’t think you need to have children to experience love in this way. It has to do with a biological and spiritual need to love. It may seem unromantic to describe love in this way, but it really is true- we are wired, down to our DNA, to nurture.
Recently, my beautiful, 2-year old dog, Potato, went into acute renal failure and died within three days. Testing revealed that she had a congenital kidney malformation that was so severe there was nothing they could do. She was basically born with one, really messed-up kidney that was barely even recognizable as a kidney. Who knows how much function she had? Sometimes dogs don’t know how to feel any different, the vet said.
Being alone in the mornings without Potato made me realize how much I channeled the part of me that wants to nurture into her, since the day we brought her home at 6 weeks old, too young to be separated from her real, doggie mom. She was rescued from a bad situation where several puppies in her litter were killed by another dog, and so we took her in early. We fed her by hand, and with the help of our other dog, Leah, taught her doggie manners. Looking back, Potato gave me signals the whole time that she was fragile. She preferred people with a gentle touch, and always stuck close by my side, indoors or outdoors.
She was with me after I got my wisdom teeth pulled and suffered a massive dog bite on my hand. She was with me through the miscarriage, the flu, and the long months of an extremely difficult pregnancy. When Annie was born, Potato got up with me for every night feeding, and sat up into the early hours of dawn with my husband. One of Dan’s memories of our daughter’s first few weeks is being comforted by Potato, and how tired she looked the next morning, staggering into the nursery, refusing to miss a feeding. We joked how unfortunately there was no dog coffee for Potato to enjoy, and I broke out in a sleep-deprived rendition of the Ani Difranco song, “Dog Coffee.” We were all slap-happy and in love, and Potato, more than the other dogs, wanted to be right in the center of it. She surprised us by taking responsibility for the baby, always guarding the crib or the bassinet.
Once, when I had a broken heart, someone wise said to me: Just think of it this way, the love that you had- or have- no one can take that away from you. You take it with you- it's yours and you carry it forward into the world." So, I take my love and drag it, ragged and hurting, to focus on keeping the floor clean, trying to fold laundry without resentment, the fabric of life, the shirts my husband wears, the baby’s clothes, the teddy bear and t-shirt we left in Potato’s kennel when she had to stay overnight at the animal hospital.
Maybe love isn't something else mixed in with the elbow grease, maybe it is the elbow grease. Because what I most miss is filling her water bowl, whistling for her to come in, brushing her silver-white fur. I was vacuuming after she was gone, and when I was finished, I found one perfect tuft in the middle of the living room, cream colored with a touch of the lightest brown towards one end, like a toasted marshmallow. I put it in a clay bowl and kept it by the kitchen sink. In two weeks, I moved it upstairs to my office.
I planted seeds and sat in a chair while my daughter napped, adjusting the lamp and giving them water, then draining off the extra. I fussed over my lazy labeling system, which is already all mixed up. There is Clary Sage, wildflowers from Vermont and Oregon, Nettle, Marigold and Tulsi. I moved the light closer, then farther away, finding the sweet spot where they will grow strong, a little leggy but not too leggy, not having reached too far for the light.
So where does love live? Is it in memories? In action? In our minds? Hearts? All I know is it doesn’t leave us along with what, or whom, we lose. My friend and fellow poet Krayna said this, when I told her I was sorry she too had lost a canine friend:
I'm not sure what I've lost. I mean, I know the body is no longer appearing to me and that's natural enough, phenomena being what it is....and certainly these "disappearances" take some getting used to. Though the most essential thing remains. These are just my contemplations through the day......
I also love what my friend Joleen said about dogs, when I told her about Potato, she said simply, they are so lovely, they are so lovely. I carry this loveliness with me, and after a month, plant my seedlings in the ground. I feel a fragile hope as I check on them each morning- will they make it? Was the frost too much? Either way, I feed them fish emulsion and set up a bird feeder nearby. There is too much lovely to bear, sometimes. Perhaps in another month we will scatter her ashes among it.
For more information about Krayna's work as a poet, life coach and artist:
Want to know more about how we are wired to love? Here's a start:
Love and the brain