Morgan was always an old soul – wasn’t a giddy, licking puppy, but more a serious schoolmarm with a very warm heart. She slept on the foot of her boy’s bed until he grew too big and rolled over on her too many times in the night. Our daughter’s first word was “woof!” and her first delighted belly laugh as an infant was while watching Morgan chase balls, barking, in the yard.
So today I am doing, for the first time, what I’ve advised to scores of bereaved friends during my years of bookselling. I’m bringing home “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. This simple, sweetly illustrated book tells the story of what might greet a dog if God were a dog lover: fields for running, biscuits without end, puffy clouds for napping … and a chance to slip down from time to time, to check on family below.
I know it is a fairy tale, but its worth lies elsewhere. It will help my middle school daughter – actually all of us – understand why we had to say goodbye. These are the things that Morgan lived for when she was well and hale: Running with her younger “siblings” Lizzie and Cocoa, and keeping them in line when they got too rambunctious (she believed in a certain decorum). Sneaking slices of bread off the counter or out of our neighbor’s compost heap. Jumping up on beds to sleep before she got too old and arthritic, something she knew was off limits but still did whenever she got the chance. Being with her people.
And chasing squirrels! She caught one once, here on earth. It shocked her as much as it did the squirrel, and she spit it out quickly once both realized what had happened and the squirrel directed its fury at her muzzle.
We will need that comfort tonight, a fairy tale to remind us why we released her to the great sleep today. We will always know her as that dog in Dog Heaven – happy, healthy, free, a big part of our hearts forever.