PHOEBE, A MONTH LATER
IT’S BEEN a month today since Phoebe died.
What’s the point?
It's hardly the first death for Judy, my wife, and I. Our parents are long gone. This past year, my older and only sister died. A bunch of friends – some of them personal heroes at the newspaper where I worked for 35 years – also died. And people in our cohort are reaching the outer frontier – Judy and I turn 80 this year – so some in our group may go any time.
Why am I writing about a dead dog?
Well, we loved her. Everybody did. She was smart, patient and drop-dead gorgeous. Most of all, she was sweet, something she telegraphed instantly. Phoebe was the inspiration for this blog. I described all of this after she died – perhaps in too much detail, considering that most of people get minimal, if any, obituaries. But if you’re curious, click here.
The other reason is that I’ve been trying to work through how life will be without Phoebe.
It’s certainly simpler.
I was Phoebe’s principal caretaker, although Judy was the critical thinker when important things needed to be done, like “Why don’t we just call the vet?” Or, “Maybe she’d would like her own blanket.”
For 10 years, Phoebe organized our lives, mine particularly.
Phoebe decided when I got up in the morning (early), and how long I stayed up late at night (late). We had breakfast together; I made hers first. The daily schedule was based on her First, Second and Third Walks (weekends were no different). After the First Walk, I groomed her thick, luxurious white coat with a fine-toothed “Furminator” comb. When Judy and I ventured from the house, how long we were gone depended on Phoebe; and when we returned, the first order of business was to take her to the backyard. She got her final dose of pills late in the evening, just before I brushed her teeth (Yes, she was that sweet, allowing me to do that).
I’M NOT SURE WHY I didn’t cry when our vet ended her life on Feb. 3, after the cancers that had invaded multiple organs overwhelmed her increasingly gaunt body. I know I felt relieved that her struggle to keep living was over.
I can, and sometimes I do, sleep later in the morning. I have lots more time. I once figured that Phoebe required a minimum two hours a day of walking, feeding, brushing, medicating. I didn’t mind that. Quite the opposite, since I’m am inherently selfish, with Phoebe, I was useful.
Our house is cleaner. No tumbleweeds of white fur in the hallways, on the stairs. You’d be worried that friends might drop in before you had time for an emergency run of the vacuum cleaner. And when you did vacuum, our rugs actually changed color, having been coated by an invisible sheet of fur.
In her later years, Phoebe needed special food, special drugs, multiple trips to the vet, all of which successfully kept her on the go. On some months, we spent thousands of dollars. Now, just like there’s more time, there’s more money.
EVERY DAY, the ache gets worse.
I still take long walks – doctors’ orders – and this too, is simpler. Phoebe was not easy to walk with; she constantly stopped at this leaf, that branch, a blade of grass, sniffing, sniffing. And if the scent was really compelling, you couldn't get her to budge, as if her legs were encased in cured concrete. My walks now are more efficient, just not magical.
I look for her on the sun porch, but Phoebe isn’t on “her” couch. On clear nights, I used to stand in the backyard with Phoebe, looking up at the stars; I still could, but why? Phoebe used to lie under the dining room table where I have my computer, and I still look down there. At noontime, nobody barks at the mail carrier.
I still get glimpses of Phoebe. We have one of those digital picture frames in the living room, and among the hundreds of photos that perpetually rotate in and out of view are pictures of Phoebe.
There’s one of Phoebe next to the towering wind turbine we visited last November in Portsmouth. Phoebe as a model last September, showing off our brand new Civic in a mock new-car ad, with the Newport Bridge and the East Passage as a backdrop. Phoebe and a rainbow at Murphy Field. Phoebe against a roiling sea off Ocean Drive. Phoebe demonstrating the scale of the giant yellow chair in Newport that was used as an outdoor stage. God knows, we had some good times.
Phoebe was annoyed on nights when Judy would go to bed before I did, because the dog liked to nestle between the two of us. So, with one of us downstairs and the other upstairs, Phoebe split the difference, climbing part way up the stairs, lying on the landing, where more stairs led to the top. When I went up for the night, Phoebe would be curled up on the landing, and, together, we’d go the rest of the way.
When I go up the stairs now, I look for Phoebe, curled up on the landing.
She’s not there.
3/4/2022 02:42:13 pm
Of course we know that dogs (Canis lupus) are descended from wolves, which evolved over the years to work as a group, which meant each dog had to be loyal to a leader, the alpha male. And we know that the dog was the first species to be domesticated by hunter-gatherers over 15,000 years ago, and in so doing turned the dog's evolved loyalty to human owners, which has been reinforced over the millennia. And that's why we like dogs.
3/5/2022 11:27:04 am
Nicely put, Neale. I do believe in "souls' for both people and other creatures, something that in a perfect world would mean that I would be a vegetarian (although a friend once wondered how carrots feel). I think death is final, and Phoebe and I won't be meeting up again. That's the problem with death, and why we are so troubled by this central injustice.
Jody M McPhillips
3/7/2022 09:25:38 am
Phoebe IS there. She will be there as long as you think of her when you pass her favorite places.
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BRIAN C. JONES