Hazel and THE BIG QUESTION.
My mom called this morning with some sad news from Southern California: the family dog, Dente, a huge, sweet Saint Bernard, died last night. He was only eight years old, and though large breed dogs typically do not live past ten or twelve, it does seem like his time came a little too soon. Poor ol' guy. He went peacfully, though, all warm and cozy, snoozing while my stepdad watched T.V. My stepdad did what he could when he realized that the noises and strange breathing coming from the dog were signs that something was very wrong with him. I don't think I would have had the presence of mind in that situation to massage my dog's heart, or try breathing in his nose, as my stepdad did, but in the end, it turns out that Dente's number was up. We will miss him.
As time would have it, the girls and I are gearing up for a trip to my mom and stepdad's house this coming Monday. Just this morning, Hazel and Mike and I were chatting about Dente, and how much Violet would love playing with him, because she is a huge sucker for dogs. She flirts with dogs on the street, and grunts loudly (barks?) as they approach her, in a bid for play. Violet would have loved big, soft, too-lazy-to-get-up-so-go-ahead-and-sit-on-top-of-him Dente.
At three years old, Hazel has no concept of mortality. I wasn't sure whether or not I should tear the lid of that can of worms for her. Ultimately, I decided it may be preferable to have a discussion about death at home, following hot on the heels of the one we'd just had about Dente and Violet, and give Haze a few days to digest our conversation, before heading down to a now Dente-less house. Over lunch, after we'd exhausted the topic of what she did at school today, I broke the news as gently as I could. I explained that last night, Dente's body had become very sick -- so sick that it could not work anymore, and that he had layed down and gone to sleep, and that he would never wake up.
"Never?!" Hazel asked.
"Never again," I confirmed.
"Because he DIED?"
"Because his body got sick and tired?"
"Right. He was very old, honey."
"Like a flower dies when it doesn't have enough water?"
"Um... sort of like that."
"Like a marker dies when I don't put the cap on?"
"Um... well, it's --"
"Because it doesn't work anymore!" she chirped. "The marker doesn't work and Dente died, too. Can I have a lollipop?"
I let the subject drop with that, and was generally pleased with it's overall tone. Hazel was clearly stimulated by the discussion, as opposed to frightened by it, and although I couldn't really tell whether or not she GOT it, I wasn't about to press the issue. It was a few hours later, at rest time, that Hazel, who had clearly been mulling the concept of death over internally, as is her custom, popped the big question.
"Mama, am I going to die?"
I totally panicked. If you held a microphone to my stomach, you would have heard it drop to the floor like one of those cartoon anvils. She caught me totally off guard.
"N-No," I stammered. "Um... well, not until you are very, very old. In a really, really, really, REALLY long time."
"But I'm not sick!" she pointed out.
"No. You're not sick. You are very healthy and you are going have a long and wonderful life."
Thankfully, that satisfied her, and that was as far as it went. ((BIG EXHALE))
"I am sad to miss Dente," she said.
"Me, too, Hazel."
We hugged it out, and she layed down to watch 'Max and Ruby', and that was that. I'm sure it will come up again in the next few days, but for now, I feel like Hazel's introduction to death was a relatively healthy one.
A recent re-reading of my favorite zine quoted author Sarah Vowell quoting a tombstone (which was quoting someone else): "It is a fearsome thing to love that which death can touch." And that pretty much sums it up, I think.
We'll miss you, Dente.