Thursday, February 16, 2006


My mom called this morning with some sad news from Southern California: the family dog, Dente, a huge, sweet Saint Bernard, died last night. He was only eight years old, and though large breed dogs typically do not live past ten or twelve, it does seem like his time came a little too soon. Poor ol' guy. He went peacfully, though, all warm and cozy, snoozing while my stepdad watched T.V. My stepdad did what he could when he realized that the noises and strange breathing coming from the dog were signs that something was very wrong with him. I don't think I would have had the presence of mind in that situation to massage my dog's heart, or try breathing in his nose, as my stepdad did, but in the end, it turns out that Dente's number was up. We will miss him.

As time would have it, the girls and I are gearing up for a trip to my mom and stepdad's house this coming Monday. Just this morning, Hazel and Mike and I were chatting about Dente, and how much Violet would love playing with him, because she is a huge sucker for dogs. She flirts with dogs on the street, and grunts loudly (barks?) as they approach her, in a bid for play. Violet would have loved big, soft, too-lazy-to-get-up-so-go-ahead-and-sit-on-top-of-him Dente.

At three years old, Hazel has no concept of mortality. I wasn't sure whether or not I should tear the lid of that can of worms for her. Ultimately, I decided it may be preferable to have a discussion about death at home, following hot on the heels of the one we'd just had about Dente and Violet, and give Haze a few days to digest our conversation, before heading down to a now Dente-less house. Over lunch, after we'd exhausted the topic of what she did at school today, I broke the news as gently as I could. I explained that last night, Dente's body had become very sick -- so sick that it could not work anymore, and that he had layed down and gone to sleep, and that he would never wake up.

"Never?!" Hazel asked.

"Never again," I confirmed.

"Because he DIED?"


"Because his body got sick and tired?"

"Right. He was very old, honey."

"Like a flower dies when it doesn't have enough water?"

"Um... sort of like that."

"Like a marker dies when I don't put the cap on?"

"Um... well, it's --"

"Because it doesn't work anymore!" she chirped. "The marker doesn't work and Dente died, too. Can I have a lollipop?"

I let the subject drop with that, and was generally pleased with it's overall tone. Hazel was clearly stimulated by the discussion, as opposed to frightened by it, and although I couldn't really tell whether or not she GOT it, I wasn't about to press the issue. It was a few hours later, at rest time, that Hazel, who had clearly been mulling the concept of death over internally, as is her custom, popped the big question.

"Mama, am I going to die?"

I totally panicked. If you held a microphone to my stomach, you would have heard it drop to the floor like one of those cartoon anvils. She caught me totally off guard.

"N-No," I stammered. "Um... well, not until you are very, very old. In a really, really, really, REALLY long time."

"But I'm not sick!" she pointed out.

"No. You're not sick. You are very healthy and you are going have a long and wonderful life."

Thankfully, that satisfied her, and that was as far as it went. ((BIG EXHALE))

"I am sad to miss Dente," she said.

"Me, too, Hazel."

We hugged it out, and she layed down to watch 'Max and Ruby', and that was that. I'm sure it will come up again in the next few days, but for now, I feel like Hazel's introduction to death was a relatively healthy one.

A recent re-reading of my favorite zine quoted author Sarah Vowell quoting a tombstone (which was quoting someone else): "It is a fearsome thing to love that which death can touch." And that pretty much sums it up, I think.

We'll miss you, Dente.


Blogger MrsFortune said...

Wow ... that's all I have to say is wow. How bittersweet and ... I can just imagine the stomach feeling.

Sorry about the dog. I know that when mine has to go I'll spend probably about a month in a catatonic state. They're the best.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Binky said...

I'm sorry Dente's time was up. I'm so thrilled that my daughter is going to be raised with a dog in the house, but my glass-half-empty self is always worrying about the day when Tolby will have to say goodbye to her best friend. Ugh. This is one of my major neuroses, so I better discontinue this line of thinking right now. I'm glad that Hazel seems to be more well-adjusted about these things than I am!

11:52 AM  
Blogger Misfit Hausfrau said...

What a sweet dog. I am so sorry. I have been dreading that conversation with my three year old. I have been fortunate to not talk about it as yet. Linus, our 7 year old boxer, is starting to be less spry by the month. I'm just grateful that Eleanor wasn't around when our very first boxer died at 4 from a brain tumor. My husband and I still cry every December 20--and it's been 5 years.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Alisyn said...

Hausfrau, I know what you mean. Having the conversation was a big deal for me, too. But I thank my lucky stars that it wasn't our dog -- a 5 year old pit who is also slowing down significantly -- that we had to say goodbye too. That day will be a black one, indeed.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

How sweet and lovely and sad and perfect in every way. A friend recently quoted her elderly grandmother as saying, "I look at death as my next great adventure." If that we could all live our lives so fully, that we will feel this way one day.

But don't tell that to Hazel--she might think you're going to Six Flags.

3:05 PM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

This is one of my favorite posts of all time. I just read and reread and cried a litttle bit and giggled and fell in love with Hazel and you and you're family.

It's really hard to lose a pet, especially a dog. Explaining death to the very young is poignant, almost a juxtoposition.

Anyway, beautiful post. Thanks for sharing,

12:02 AM  
Blogger Bridgermama said...

Great quote! Isn't amazing how intuitive little people can be? My little guy is only 6 months, sometimes I forget about all the big things ahead and the conversations that will be inevitable. Thanks for the little heads up.
p.s. Sorry about Dente :(

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dread this talk with my daughter...though it's got to be a ways away...she's only 10 months...i have a feeling I will be explaining this fact about her great-grandma. Who is 80 now, in decent health...and a big part of her will be hard.

- Jon
- Daddy Detective

4:20 PM  
Blogger Mistry said...

i cried and weeped and sobbed, i hate the loss of pets and oh explaining it to dear hazel. I am so at edges and always worry what i will do if something were to ever happen to my dadrling tito who is turning 11 years next month, how will i tell jenovia who loves him and feeds him and is his best buddy.. so sorry for your loss.. hugs to you all.

10:29 AM  
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