An Old Dog Teaches an Old Trick: the Solace of Poetry

Always the queen of the house

Always the queen of the house

We lost Molly last week, just one month shy of her 15th birthday.

Don’t worry. For a 93-pound malamute, 15 is off-the-charts old. She had a great, vibrant life. Only in the past two months did her walks shrink to the size of our yard, and only in the last night of her life did she suffer enough to make us absolutely sure we were doing the right thing to give her peace. That certainty was her last gift to us, along with the comfort of knowing we were able to comfort her during her time of pain.

Then I shared my loss with my friends, and got another gift: poetry. My friend Lorna, who collects poems for occasions, sent me this:

Old Dog, by William Stafford

Toward the last in the morning she could not

get up, even when I rattled her pan.

I helped her into the yard, but she stumbled

and fell. I knew it was time.

The last night a mist drifted over the fields.

In the morning she would not raise her head —

the far, clear mountains we had walked

surged back to mind.

We looked a slow bargain: our days together

were the ones we had already had.

I gave her something the vet had given,

and patted her still, a good last friend.

I read it. I had another good, necessary cry. And then I saved this poem in my computer so I could share it with the next friend who loses a good old dog.

How I’ll remember her:

How I'll remember her

Then I started wondering: what other poetry angels might be out there, besides my friend Lorna?

Do any of you have special poems that you like to send to friends for certain occasions, sad or happy?

Could I talk you into sharing one of them here?

PS: Lorna, you know I don’t mean YOU are an old dog, right? 🙂

13 thoughts on “An Old Dog Teaches an Old Trick: the Solace of Poetry

  1. Ah, Molly!! She had such a big personality and you guys gave her a great life. I am so glad she made it “easier” for you in the end, without any second-guessing about whether you were doing the right thing. Worf was so hard-headed and stoic—even on his last night, he resisted resting his head and going to sleep before me. I had to literally push his head down, rub it for a long time, and tell him it was okay to rest before he would even close his eyes and then finally start snoring.

    But, anyway, in response to your query, a very special woman gave me the poem below. It’s not really poetry per se, more inspirational/affirmational/corny stuff, but (a) I’m not a huge poetry fan, anyway (I greatly prefer good prose, maybe because all the missing words are filled in) and (b) she gave it to me right after J died so it’s stuck with me. Also, to provide some context, this woman was the mother of the young man I dated during high school and the first part of college, the same guy I broke up with a couple times for J during high school and then for good for J at the end of my freshman year (i.e., about six years before J died). She knew her son was a bit of a jerk t me, though, and she was (still is) always super-good to me, which is exactly what I needed at a time when I barely saw my own mother (she tended bar from 6pm to 4am every night) and my family had fallen apart (my mother had given custody of my little brother to his father and my other brother went to juvenile detention). Even though she lived in upstate NY while I remained on my own in NC after J died, took some courses (i.e., computer technology, accounting, public administration) at the local community college in preparation for grad school at Carolina, worked full time, and just tried to stay really busy, she continued to provide support because I really would look at this poem she’d given me, think of her, and kind of adjust my deeply depressed, maudlin thinking.

    If you have a problem

    That bothers you inside

    And time does little to assure you

    That it will subside,

    Then draw upon your inner strength

    And formulate a plan;

    And every time you think you can’t,

    Remember that you can.

    Listen to your deepest voice

    Where reason still remains,

    And take control of your own life

    To minimize the strains,

    Strip away the fantasies,

    The negatives, the doubts,

    The anger, the hostility,

    And guilt’s recurrent bouts.

    Try to shift into a course

    That’s positive in tone.

    Communicate your feelings

    So that you are not alone.

    A pattern of improvement

    Is the change that you’ll be winning

    If you’ll just let a single step

    Become a new beginning.

    • So happy you shared. I’m going to make sure a young woman I know receives a copy of it. Her background sounds so similar to yours. Thank you.

    • Giving your Heart to a Dog to teare natural way
      From men and women to fill our day;
      And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
      Why do we always arrange for more?
      Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
      Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

      Buy a pup and your money will buy
      Love unflinching that cannot lie–
      Perfect passsion and worship fed
      By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
      Nevertheless it is hardly fair
      To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

      When the fourteen years which Nature permits
      Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
      And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
      To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
      Then you will find–it’s your own affair–
      But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

      When the body that lived at your single will,
      With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
      When the spirit that answered your every mood
      Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
      You will discover how much you care,
      And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

      We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
      When it comes to burying Christian clay.
      Our loves are not given, but only lent,
      At compound interest of cent per cent.
      Though it is not always the case, I believe,
      That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
      For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
      A short-term loan is as bad as a long–
      So why in–Heaven (before we are there)
      Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

      The Power of the Dog
      by
      Rudyard Kipling

      • Dang, Jay–I can’t believe I’ve never heard this poem! How perfectly it fits–both the pathos AND the situation. Thank you so much for sharing it for me; I’ll keep it for someone else.

      • No problem, Gretchen. I lost my Belgian Sheepdog when he was 12 and about to be 13. And we have 3 little guys now, one who will leave us witrhin the next year.

  2. Poetry eases the wounded heart. So far I have “collected” over 150 poems. Plus chapbooks and hardcover poetry books. I heartily recommend Roger Housden’s collections of “Ten Poems to ..” series: Open Your Heart; Change Your Life; Set You Free; Last a Lifetime.

    • Suzanne, that is a good question! Until you asked, I just kind of assumed that I did, somewhere–I mean, why wouldn’t I? But I can’t seem to find one. I know I have a couple of friends who have subscribed, so I’ll ask them how they did it, or I’ll ask the woman who got me started on WP. For the most part I’ve been flying solo (can you tell?) so when a basic question like that comes up, I have to flail around until I get help. Very frustrating to be such a beginner, but there it is. So…let me get back to you, ok? And thanks for your sweet words about Molly. My friend Dia (Diamanta) will be glad to know you got something from her poem too.

  3. What a beautiful dog and a wonderfully long life. Still, it hurts to say goodbye. I’ve been in your shoes, and it was so hard. Beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing Molly with us. Hugs!

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