Descending Pumpkin Vine Hill toward the Monolith Ranch, we talked about various religious mythologies surrounding death and how interesting they all are. We talked about our favorite book about death and reincarnation.
We talked about the similarities between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Because it’s the faith we encounter most often, we talked at length about Christianity, and how each of the the slightly differing sects fractured over minutia. Each sect their believers are the only people who go to heaven. Everyone else goes to hell. Then we fell into fits of giggles about how silly it is that everyone thinks everyone else is going to hell.
As we pulled into our driveway in Laramie, I said, “I don’t know for sure, but I think that when you die, that’s it. We need to really try to appreciate the people we love and lead a happy and peaceful life.”
By coincidence a few days later, we were watching a segment of the awesome (Anthropology porn!) BBC series, Human Planet, depicting a Tibetan Sky Burial. We both found this video a little viscerally disturbing, but it provided another opportunity to talk about the wide array of death mythology. It also beautifully illustrates how the physical environment shapes rituals surrounding death. It’s all incredibly fascinating from a distance.
Shortly thereafter, our sweet, goofy eleven-year-old lab, whom our children loved as a third sibling, started slowing down. A month after the vet suspected seasonal allergies, bone cancer had invaded his left eye orbit and jaw.
Explaining to my son, who has great empathy and compassion for living things, why we had to ask the vet to kill Chaco was very challenging. Convincing my child that he would eventually be okay was even harder. Some day when he’s older, we’ll explore the fact our society fetishizes pornographic violence and yet we can’t allow suffering adults of sound mind the option of euthanasia.
What was really hard for me in the process of having our dog euthanized is the language barrier. I had no way to let Chaco know that he would finally be free from the terrible pain after a month of the bumbling humans subjecting him to the useless eye drops he hated so much. I also desperately wanted to thank him for being so patient and gentle with our kids even during his final painful hours. I wanted to ask if he was as happy as he seemed, and if he was glad we were the ones who chose him at the shelter ten years ago. I hope so. I hope we gave him a good life.
Our vet sent a kind letter of condolence that included the Rainbow Bridge poem. Which was a nice gesture, but not very comforting to godless folk like us. Especially the part about how much the dead pet misses his people. Imagining Chaco waiting and waiting for us to die and arrive at the rainbow bridge to throw tennis balls for him is actually more awful to me than knowing he is dead.
George Hrab has a fantastic atheist tribute to a beloved pet. I can barely listen to it at the moment, but it is the gut-wrenching reality-based antithesis to the rainbow bridge bullshit. Here, with Geo’s kind permission, is the song Small Comfort from the album Trebuchet.
My two-year-old speaks for us all when she says, “Chaco is died and my can’t find him!”