Death, My Only Friend

Today I was struck with emotion. Not something I’m prone to.

My friendly neighbor who retired about six months ago has lost his long time companions. Two beautiful golden retrievers. The female had to be put down some months ago. Still having his male dog was enough to keep him going and happy. He is a manly man. His life has been one long hunting and fishing trip only irregularly interrupted by the necessity for work. His big game trophies adorn the walls of his home, witness to the grand fun he has had in his life. You might not agree with that sentiment, but trust me, he does. It has been and is a source of meaning for him. He *IS* the great white hunter. This aspect of this man makes this post even more …. more something.

Today, as is our little game, I managed to finish the yard before he finished his so I was thinking of wandering over to his place to gloat in a mock kind of way.  It’s one of the ways that we greet each other, a friendly competition that neither of us thinks is important. It’s one of those things.

Today was different. I had grabbed a beer and smoke and made it half way down my driveway as I watched him fishing something out of his truck. I noticed that his initial glance seemed odd but I could not figure out why it struck me that way. As he was fishing through the window of his truck for something he stood still, twisted his neck so he was looking at me and then he uttered only three words. He struggled to say even these three small words. I could see those words on his face. I could hear them before the sound reached my ears. His face was puffy and his voice timid in that way that young children have when they are about to cry.

All he could say was            “I lost him.”

Eight letters, two spaces, and a handkerchief full of sorrow.

In one breath he had shown me the depth of his loss, his love for his friend, and the meaning of life… at least for him.

He shook his head slightly as if to say he didn’t know what to do as he pulled a container out of the truck. He held up a beer box and said something as he turned to go into his house. I don’t know what he said, but the meaning was as clear as the distress in his voice and on his face. His inability to stand and talk said as much in this moment as would have a thousand words.

I waited a bit then took him a replacement for the beer box and a sympathy card, signed by all in my house.  It is not much. It can’t replace his lost friend. I doubt it will make him magically feel better. It is all I know that I could do in that moment to let him know that I feel for him, for his loss. Several times this evening I have felt the urge to walk around the neighborhood and make all the dogs be quiet. No barking. No reminding my friend of the hurt he feels. Just stop it… take your dogs inside mister. Show some respect.

I wonder now, can it be that humans are that much more important than other animals? Are we really that special? Might it not be that we are no more special than my friends dog. At least in some ways we are equal, of equal value to the universe. Perhaps in more ways than that.

I stood outside tonight, hoping that the neighborhood dogs would be quiet. I looked up in the night sky, my dog relaxing on the ground near me. I whispered to him. I told him that between each of those points of light in the sky are millions of other points of light that are too dim to see. Each of those points of light is made from the light of billions of stars. Around those stars are billions of planets. On some of them are probably other dogs. Maybe some day we’ll meet them. Until then it will seem like we are the most important beings in the universe. You and I may never know for sure, but it seems such a waste to have all those planets if there are not other dogs

He looked at me in that way that always makes me wonder if he can understand me and yet probably is saying to himself “will this guy ever shut the fuck up?”. I may never know what is going on in his head, but I know that he loves me in his way, and that when he is gone I too will be having a bad day.

Death is perhaps not my only friend, but I know he’ll be there with me to the very end.


Twofer night, I guess


What do you think? Are other animals less important than humans? Is it okay to feel hurt when they die?

Does a connection with another mammal species mean less than with a human?

  1. Are animals less important than humans? That depends.

    If it was a choice between rescuing a child or a puppy from a burning building, I would try to rescue the child first. So yes, I would value human life more. But if the animal alone needed rescuing, I would attempt to rescue it as I would any human being. Animals or no less worthy of being saved from suffering and torture.

    And even though I know that animals are not capable of the same unselfish, non self-serving love that humans are capable of, I still find animals to have many qualities that are favorable over most human beings.

    • So you’re saying that you would rescue a family member before a distant cousin or a neighbor?

      Does that qualify as unselfish, non self-serving love that other animals are not capable of?

      • By self-serving, I mean “loving” you because you provide food and shelter. Human beings have proven to be capable of loving even the most useless of human beings. Animals would never display this kind of love. If you provide nothing of tangible substance for them, you can forget about their being concerned about you and your well being.

        On the other hand, animals are also incapable of being phoney, judgmental, or contemptuous which would make them more favorable than human beings. So just because I pointed out some fundamental differences between human and animals does not mean that I am saying that humans are necessarily better than animals. They’re not.

        • I agree with you, but will choose to disagree that animals are incapable of loving/caring if no food/reward is in the transaction. There are plenty of examples of mammals doing a kindness for others and other species even though no reward is likely. I believe it to be a mammalian thing, not simply a human thing. Google has plenty of examples of such ethical/empathic behavior in mammals.

    • Apollodorosh
    • June 24th, 2012

    All life is equal, from the most advanced multicellular being to the simplest virus. It is perfectly okay to love them and be sad if they die. Especially with pets, even more so with dogs. They aren’t *just animals*, they are part of the family, and just like with human family members mourning their deaths is perfectly natural.

    • I agree with this and I am struggling to rationalize this with the world/universe as I know it. I seem to have a model of who I think is worth saving and who is not; who I would mourn the death of and who I would not. I don’t think I understand this model well.

      In this case, I will not mourn the dog’s death, but I am moved by the loss his death created.

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