Archived Story

How to be sad in the speedy 21st century

Published 2:31pm Saturday, November 23, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish by Alexandra Kloster

I woke up with a feeling of dread.

My mother was coming for a visit, a rare and wonderful thing. After a long siege of sickness, we were all on the verge of healthy. It was my favorite time of the year, almost Christmas. I had every reason to be happy, but my stomach felt like I was on a rough sea, and I didn’t know why.

I lit the fire, sat down with my coffee and began to count my blessings. That always lifts me out of a bad mood. Gratitude is a potent antidepressant. Then Sidney, my Yorkie, crept over to the fireplace, laid down and started to cry.

No. No, I thought, as I reached for my phone and stared at the number that would speed dial the veterinarian.

Sidney is sick, completely and incurably sick. With every option exhausted, we’d settled on benign neglect as the only way to treat him. We kept him comfortable and tried to manufacture some measure of quality of life.

He never complained, never showed that he was hurting, so I knew that the day he cried would be his last day. I wouldn’t let it go on after that.

Even though I knew what the next hours would bring, I needed the moral force in my life to tell me what to do. I needed my dad.

Daddy was tending the horses. At least that’s where his mind had taken him, and we had no choice but to follow. There’s no predicting when his dementia will take hold of him or when it will let him go. There would be no pep talk today, but I knew his heart, so I put his voice in my head and listened.

“Ducky, life goes on even as it’s ending. You can’t let that poor dog suffer. It wouldn’t be right.”

It was a good death, as deaths go. Nothing was left unsaid, nothing left unfelt. I cupped Sidney’s face, looked into his eyes, and repeated, “I love you, I love you, I love you” until I felt the weight of his head drop into my hands.

I sat in the car in the parking lot of the vet hospital and wished I had a manual for how to be sad in the 21st century. In this era of the 24-hour tragedy cycle, how much grief does a little dog go for these days?

Every minute of every day, misery is piped into our homes. We know despair like never before. Thousands are killed by natural disaster and war. Crime breaks families. Illness robs children from parents and parents from children.

Knowing a troubled world as intimately as we do compels us to search for perspective when sadness enters our own lives. I used to think that was a good thing, and for the most part, it probably is. Yet I wonder if all this perspective deprives us of some of the simple human feelings we’re meant to have.

Instead of quashing our emotions, perhaps we should focus on distinguishing the bad from the sad.

It’s not a bad thing that Sidney died. He lived over 12 years, most of them happy and healthy. It’s not a bad thing that my dad is experiencing dementia. At 88 years old, he has long stretches of lucidity, and when he is confused he is not unhappy. He is simply elsewhere.

I am sad about Sidney, and I am sad about my dad, and on this Thanksgiving I am grateful that today I have sadness and not tragedy.

Sid and my dad were great friends. My dad named him and picked him from the litter. I won’t tell Daddy that Sidney died. There is never a good reason to make an old man sad.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful that in my dad’s mind, Sid is alive and vibrant as a pup. I will take the sadness and leave him untainted memories.

Sometimes Thanksgiving is hard. Last year at this time we lost Gizmo, our Pomeranian, and this year, Sidney. I know these losses mean little in a world so full anguish, but to me they are painful.

My two best friends are gone. I will feel their absence even after the pain begins to fade, but I resolve to remember them with gratitude. It wasn’t tragic, but it was sad, and perhaps it’s the gratitude we cling to in the face of sadness that heals the broken heart.

 

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.