In the early hours of Monday, December 18, Alex Dog Schmitt died of complications from a brain tumor. He had lived with my daughter, Wendy, and her three sons to the ripe old age of ten years, well beyond the seven-year life expectancy of the Boxer breed.
In his death, he taught all of us something.
Alex was such a beloved member of the family that he had his own Christmas stocking. It hung from the mantel next to those of his “brothers”—my grandsons. Santa stuffed his stocking each year with treats and chewable toys, for Alex was a good boy.
In recent weeks, Alex had been suffering violent, terrible seizures. Medication designed to lengthen his remaining time sometimes left him disoriented. He used that time well, however, attaching himself even more closely to my daughter, trailing her from room to room, not wanting to be out of her sight.
Do dogs really cross over the poetic “Rainbow Bridge” that supposedly connects earth and heaven?
. . . a land of meadows,
hills and valleys with lush green grass.
When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this place.
There is always food and water and warm spring weather.
The old and frail animals are young again.
‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” Shakespeare, as usual, had just the right words. [Hamlet act 3 sc. 1]
Pope Francis surmised this in his November 26, 2014, general audience:
Sacred scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this marvelous plan cannot but involve everything that surrounds us and came from the heart and mind of God.
If you want to read into the Pope’s comment that dogs go to heaven, as much of the media did, go ahead.
What we do know for sure is that dog ownership stirs up such deep feelings in so many people that they think of themselves as moms or dads of animals they consider their children, valued members of their family.
I believe this is testimony to our innate craving as humans to find reciprocating outlets for our love. After all, we are made in the image of God, and God is love. [1 John 4:8]
Novelist Erica Jong:
Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love, they depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog, it merely expands the heart. If you have loved many dogs, your heart is very big.
On this Christmas morning, Alex’s stocking will hang from the mantel empty and limp, the lump in our throat a remnant of the love that lingers when a good dog dies.
If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: One Hundred Wanderings, available at: Amazon