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September 8, 2013

Rituals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back when I had a lot more hair in places I wanted it and less in places I didn’t, I had a contempt for rituals.  I didn’t have a problem with the fact that they were from one or more previous generations.  My issues were that they bind us and make us predictable.  Unfortunately, like most people, I still felt best if I kept to mine, so I never led life without my routines. 

My morning routine, particularly, centered my life.  I’d get up, make and eat a breakfast—breakfast itself usually had and has a lot of variation---drink my coffee, workout on my Nordic Track while listening to Morning Report on NPR, brush my teeth, shave, shower, dress and then head to work.  During the nine years I went dogless, the only real variations were running instead of working out on the Nordic Track and, occasionally, adding in some weightlifting---my dislike of weights is longstanding.

I suppose that part of my passion for Taekwon-Do, too, is driven by its many rituals.  Like most formal martial arts, we start by bowing to the practice studio as a show of respect.  The emotional side of me does ascribe a special status to places I’ve worked out at.  The scientist in me knows that each time I bow to a dojang, I move from the outside world to a special place.  It’s the same process religions use and has exactly the same effect.  The other rituals, the increase in ritualistic courtesy, the practice uniform, even the warm-up, all re-enforce this.  I started Taekwon-Do just short of my 23rd birthday, certainly while I was trying to rid myself of my routines.

With this, not all rituals were created equal in my mind.  Among the rituals I appreciated were those dealing with death.  My first memory of death was being told to hang out outside while my father told his mother that my grandfather had passed away.  I’m sure my grandmother had been expecting this.  My grandfather had stomach cancer.  Still, I can remember her wailing in grief over her lost husband.

With this I also saw the rituals Judaism has regarding death.  It starts with a quick funeral---generally within 24 hours of the person dying.  It continues with sitting shiva.  Basically, the family stays at home while friends, relatives, and members of the community both visit and help out.  Ideally, food is brought in by others.  There are also services each evening with friends and family.  This lasts for several days---seven in an orthodox household.  After this, there are sets of rituals for one month for most relations and a year for a parent. 

Unlike other rituals, as I grew older, I favored those regarding death and mourning even more, even before I passed thirty.  The quickness of the funeral forced the realization of the loss without any time for denial.  The staged mourning acknowledged the complexity of the emotions we all feel, not the least of which is we really don’t understand life and consequently its cessation.  When my grandfather died, my father and I settled on the idea of him being on a really long vacation.  I suppose that’s still my mindset.

My first dog, Sapura, died in 1989, 27 years after my grandfather had passed away.  Sup had been my only real companion my senior year in college, my seven years in grad school, four and a half as a post-doc, and my first six months as an industrial scientist.  Between the time in my life that we shared and the simple fact that, since then, I’ve either been dogless or with multiple dogs, no dogs’ death has hurt as much.  Sup’s death wasn’t unexpected.  My sister, the shrink, had pointed out that we start grieving before a passing, and I’m sure I had with Sapura.  Still, it was a surreal feeling waking up without having to take her for a walk.

I had Sup cremated and her ashes are buried in a pet cemetery in the L.A. area.  She’s next to Gibor.  Gibor and Sapura had had a sibling relationship---love, jealousy, and bonding---almost their entire lives.  Gib had passed away only four years earlier. 

The next dog I lost was Jag.  Jag was in lead on my second run in Alaska when a moose attacked the team.  Fortunately, excepting Jag’s death, there were no injuries.  It’s likely that while trampling the team, the moose hit Jag’s liver or spleen and she hemorrhaged.  Whatever happened, my sense was that she died just as I placed her body in the sled.  Bob, my mentor, told me that he placed dogs’ bodies in the wilderness to let them return and would do this with Jag if I wanted.  That worked for me.  On the drive home, I realized that I would be more comfortable if I rearranged the yard so I didn’t have to look at an empty doghouse.  I had figured out who was going to go where while still on the Alcan Highway. 

The dog most likely to hit me as hard as Sapura was Tenaya.  Tenaya was relatively old---she had had her twelfth birthday---but had been doing much better than Sup at the same age.  She still liked bouncing around the yard.  The only scare had been just as she turned twelve. She was hospitalized with a liver problem severe enough to force me to miss the celebration of my father’s eightieth birthday----missing family events to take care of my dogs has always been accepted in my family.  The week before Tenaya passed, she had been a little hesitant about eating.  The night before, she had been a little weak on her mile and a half walk, too.  She wasn’t symptomless, but the symptoms were no more severe than she would have had for a light virus.  The time between her crying and her passing couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes---I don’t know the cause, cancer is always a likelihood and with that speed hemorrhaging is again likely. 

With Tenaya’s passing, I had to decide on what to do, for real.  There are certainly enough spots on my land to set up a nice pet cemetery of my own, but I do expect that there will come a time when I won’t be strong enough to live here and I’ll move on.  On the other hand, spreading ashes out along the trails we ran together would give me a place to visit my memories until I die. 

Tenaya’s passing had been so fast that my first real chance to say good-bye was on the drive into Missoula where I was going to drop her off to be cremated.  There, the vet suggested that I take her collar----another ritual, sadly one I hadn’t done with Jag (I do have Sapura’s first collar). 

Taking care of Dawn with her dementia and continuing epilepsy kept me from focusing too much on my grief, except I was happy that unlike Sapura, there were no bad memories of Tenaya struggling with her age.  And, to the extent that Dawn had any emotion over losing her littermate, she was happy.  The dementia had destroyed Dawn’s strong bonds with both Tenaya and me---it was her profound love of food that made her life worth living.  With Tenaya’s passing, my role as caregiver was no longer split and I’d be focused entirely on Dawn.  Even with her mind somewhat less functional, she understood this. 

After the snow arrived, I spread Tenaya’s ashes out during a walk along one of the roads and then, while skiing, along a trail we had skijored with Dawn a bunch of times. 

My first run of this season had gone well, including Zappa who had, as usual, run without a hitch.  After the run, though, he screamed.  It sounded just like he had sprained something, only louder.  At the time, I didn’t understand what happened.   After this, he was weak, but seemed to be recovering.  He drank. His temperature was normal.  I even saw him laying on top of his dog house—not a big deal, but he had the energy to jump onto it.  He had been perfectly symptomless both prior to and during the run itself, and with his improvement, I wasn’t that concerned. 

Seven hours later, he screamed again.  As it ends up, he was having petit mal seizures---- the screams and subsequent weakness were the only symptom I saw or heard initially.  That afternoon, however, these quickly progressed to grand mal seizures.  Through sad experience, I know how to keep a dog’s body temperature down while this is going on.  I also know to administer anti-seizing drugs rectally.  With Zappa’s episode lasting only an hour and a half, I was happy I was there to do these for him, even though they made no difference. 

I drove Zappa to the emergency clinic---it was after hours.  On the way there, I had decided I would move Shoshone into Zappa’s house.  I pulled Zappa’s collar and gave him a kiss good-bye.  The other thing I do after a death is spend extra time with the rest of the dogs, and I wanted to get back to my pack.

   
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