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I’ve been to many a dog funeral (including a Buddhist sukhavati for my own beloved dog Wallace … and I do plan to write about this someday), but never before have I brought my own dog to a funeral. Not until this week, that is.
It wasn’t like Chloe (the dog) was invited. Nor had I planned to bring her, but circumstances were such that I had to rush back to Massachusetts to make it to the service on time, and I had to bring Chloe, because I did not have time to find a sitter. I thought I would be able to leave her in the car during the service, or at least tie her up outside the church, with a dish of water, a marrow bone and a copy of Cat Fancy magazine. But the church had no trees. And it was ninety degrees in the shade.
So I really had no choice, right? I must confess I was nervous about this decision. Risk A: The funeral service had already begun by the time I arrived, which meant I risked walking in the wrong door and finding myself at the front of the church instead of the back, thereby revealing to all the mourners my possible lapse in tact, propriety and judgment. Churches are always confusing like that—especially old New England churches, which seem to have dozens of entrances and no signs.
Risk B: The funeral was being held at a Catholic church, and, if I recall correctly, Catholics don’t believe that animals have souls, right? So would they allow a being without a soul into their chapels? Would they allow me, a Buddhist who sings Hindu and Sikh chants, and practices Native American ceremonies and believes in One God/dess Many Paths? And who believes that not only do dogs have souls, but that some of them are more advanced than we humans? (I was raised Catholic, by the way, which by Law allows me to poke fun at this institution.)
Well, there was only one way to find out. I put Chloe on a close “heel” and entered through the hallowed doors. If lightning stuck, I’d know dogs weren’t allowed at St. Joseph’s.
If lightning did not strike, and no clouds parted (revealing a hand pointing its finger of judgment at me a la Michelangelo), well, groovy.
Chloe is an exceptionally well-trained, well-behaved dog, by the way. I knew that would work in our favor. Plus, the woman whose funeral mass we were celebrating was a life-long dog lover. As was her husband, who had passed seven months prior.
We entered, and found ourselves at the back of the church. Excellent. No one noticed our entrance; the second reading had already begun and people were lost in their own thoughts—of Jane and all the goodness and kindness she had spread through the world.
I thought how Chloe was a good and kind being too. I thought of my best high school friend, sitting way up front, mourning the sudden loss of her mother. And of her father. And of her beloved, beloved dog Lydia, who had died in April. My friend had endured a lot of loss in the past seven months. And yet she sat up there with her shoulders straight and her spine erect and poised. She has always been a graceful woman. So was her mother. I said my silent goodbyes to Jane and Bill, and said a few prayers for my friend. I even said a few prayers for my long-departed dog Wallace, and asked him to keep an eye out for Lydia, who still might not be used to life beyond the beyond.
As I had this thought, my dog Chloe wagged her tail.
And the lightning did not strike.
This is when I finally cried—and how good and sweet life can be, and yet so sad at the same time. I guess you can’t have one without the other. Until you leave this world. Death didn’t seem so bad. Neither did life. Not with a dog by your side.
Anyway, I am starting to go off on mystical tangents when I am supposed to be writing about my dog.
After the service ended, we all stood, and the family filed out of the church, preceded by the priests. The first one swung an urn of incense back and forth, filling the aisles with the scent of frankincense. The second one walked piously, with his hands folded around his Bible. This second priest made a point to make eye contact with all the mourners and because I was at the very back of the church I knew I would be one of the last. My dog stood at my side, partially hidden from view. I worried again what the priest would think—if I had committed some grave cardinal sin. (I would have known this, perhaps, if I had paid attention in Sunday School, but who does that?)
I backed up a bit, as if to shield the dog from view. But then she sneezed. Incense does that to her. The second priest looked over, to find the source of the ground-level sneeze, and thereby saw my dog. She wagged her tail at him and moved forward to say hello. He smiled in a kind and loving way.
All God’s creatures, I thought.
My friend’s entire family smiled too as they passed. And I like to think that my dog brought them some sort of comfort on this day of mourning. That the dog reminded them of their own family dogs, of the dogs their parents had raised and loved. Of love itself. For that is what dogs are: love. On four legs.
So in the end, no one complained about the presence of my large furry spaniel. She was even welcomed to come to the post-funeral reception. There, the young grandchildren clambered about her, bringing her water and pieces of fried chicken, rubbing her belly, laughing at the way she squirmed and smiled when she wagged her tail.
It was heartwarming, to say the least. Especially when Clara, my friend’s six-year old daughter, said to my friend: “Mommy, Grandma is with Grandpa in heaven now, right?”
My friend answered, yes.
“And Lydia is there, too?”
“Yes, Lydia is there, too.”
“Good,” Clara said.
And it was good. Clara went over and hugged my dog.