Monday, October 09, 2006
Death of an Angel
This might just be the longest blog post I have ever written. On July 4, this year, there was a death in my family. The death of a soul who came to us in the form of a tiny little puppy, wagging its tail and floundering around on four little cute legs, a soul who I always felt was more human than most humans I ever knew! My little Lulu. This little angel came into my life when she was just over 2 months old and left just as suddenly at the ripe old age of 9 and half years. I must admit it wasn’t love at first sight when I first saw her. Lulu was a Daschund, a breed of bloodhounds originally from Germany, and although a puppy had been on my prayer list for a couple of years, I had always dreamed of a big, furry, Lassie-like dog, so Lulu was kind of like an anti-climax, with her short stubby hair and legs and long sausage-like body! But she sure knew how to wiggle her way into my heart and the hearts of my family. Her biggest conquest was my mom, who was a sworn dog-hater. Over the course of a few months, Lulu managed to take pride of place in my mom’s heart, usurping even my brother and myself!
When she came into our home at first, she was strictly forbidden to even set paw on the family bed and the living room sofas, and given her own little doggie bed and doggie mat, but it was only a matter of time before my parents promoted her to sleeping on their bed, between them, nicely tucked into the blankets! Of course, before this stage happened, there was a succession of weeks in which she would bring the house and the whole neighborhood down with her barks at bedtime, which would progress from outraged barks at the indignity of having to sleep separately on a doggie bed (which was actually an old “divan”), turning to a persistent sad whimpering, and finally become a long resigned sigh, lulling herself to sleep. This would sometimes make my brother and me feel so sad for her that we would go and sleep next to her (yes, on her bed) without our parents knowing, just to keep her company! It wasn’t very long before everyone gave up and she finally won the battle to secure her own place on our beds, sofas, and hearts!
I remember when we used to live in a bungalow on the premises of a rubber estate, my dad used to keep ducks, turkeys, and assorted birds on the farm, as a hobby. We had built a kennel for Lulu (this was before she got promoted), but just a few hours of long drawn out barking was enough for all of our hearts to melt and put her back in the house…the kennel went to the ducks instead! Of course Lulu was very happy at this, as that was a clear sign that she had indeed won another battle. Often, when the ducks were in the kennel, she would make a round of it, looking into the door at them as if to say “here i am with my masters and you lesser creatures in my kennel!” Of course, even though she had a holier than thou attitude towards the birds, she often displayed a maternal side too. When any of these birds were sick. she would pay them a visit in their cages and look at them, but this time that arrogant look would be replaced with one of maternal sympathy...and I’m not imagining things here!
During this time, my brother and I were away at a city about 30 kilometers away from where my parents and Lulu stayed, so we would visit them during the weekends. My parents and our maid were witness to the fact that Lulu somehow knew the days of the week, because, apparently, when the weekend was to start, she would become anxious and start pacing at the door, as if waiting for us. My parents felt she could pick up on telephone conversations between us, so we started talking to her on the phone too and tell her we were coming. Once, when I was coming home during the middle of the week, I decided to experiment with telepathy, just for fun, and told Lulu, only in my mind, that I would be coming home that day. This was entirely a surprise visit, mind you. Imagine my amazement when dad told me that Lulu was waiting that day just as she normally did during weekends! Of course, the welcome that my brother and I got when we got home was something even maharajas and maharanis would never have got! She would be so happy to see us that she would run around the house in a complete circle, as if all the joy was too much to bear and she just had to throw out some of the energy. Of course my parents would receive the same welcome when they came back home from work every day, only she would run around in a smaller circle inside the house. The pleasure she felt on seeing us was the same whether we had been out for a week, a day, an hour, or just a few minutes. She would just wait at the door until we arrive. If it was her naptime, she would give up that too to wait for us. I have often wondered at this trait in dogs, this unalloyed pleasure they express even after years of living with us. Because most human beings don’t express or maybe even feel that kind of joy when they meet their loved ones at the door after they have been out for the day, either out of tiredness or stress or is it plain taken-for-granted? Most people very quickly take the people they love the most for granted. But not dogs, never dogs. However many years they have lived with you, they meet you at the door with the same freshness, the same delight, as they might have had on the very first day they fell in love with you! How nice it would be if we humans too could keep that freshness, that newness alive in our hearts, in all our relationships. I don’t advocate running around in circles when you meet your loved ones, but a warm tight hug and kiss would be nice! Whether it is your wife, husband, child, friend, or parent. What a world of difference it would make to people’s lives and their self esteem!
Now as far as appetite goes, Lulu had so many of our likes and dislikes in foods, so much so that I’ve often wondered if it was genetic!! For example, there is this type of banana that I like and I basically don’t eat any other type. Lulu was the same. Then there was this snack, called “manda” that only my dad relished, and Lulu shared that too, something that even my brother and I didn’t inherit from him! It was hilarious watching the two of them sit and munch on that after lunch, both of them lost in their worlds! Then of course, Lulu did not gobble down foods like other dogs. She really savored each molecule of it, rolling it around and munching it like a true connoisseur (used to remind me of those wine tasters I saw on a TV program, rolling and twirling the wine around in their mouths). Although she normally ate only two meals a day, lunch and dinner (not including tea time snacks), she made an exception at breakfast time if it was appam and stew on the menu. This is a kerala bread made with rice flour with a soft, delicate, lacy trim on the edges, and she loved it so much that even if she was fast asleep somewhere in a room farthest from the kitchen, she would come wagging her tail and waiting for her share, licking her plate clean. She was very particular to leave aside any curry leaves or spices like cardamom and cloves! Everything else would be wiped clean. The only thing she was allergic to was pills. The expert on this was dad, who would literally push his hand down her throat, deposit the pill there, and close her mouth tight for a few minutes, rubbing her neck to make sure it had gone down. But after all this, what do we see after a few minutes but the same pill, cleverly coming out the side of her mouth when she thought we weren’t looking! I really don’t know how or where she managed to hide it! So we would repeat the above procedure until the pill was finally history! Bathing time was another ordeal. If it was me, she would literally plonk herself on my lap or stand at my shoulder, so that I would, in effect, be giving myself a bath! So later dad would do the honors, as she was better behaved around him.
One thing I noticed about Lulu was that she had a way of winning people’s hearts even without trying too hard. Even people terrified of dogs would be won over by her gentle ways. She had this trademark look in her eyes that was a combination of the most heartwarming looks anyone could ever give you. Many a time, she would just gaze into my eyes with those soulful eyes of hers, and any doubt I had about whether animals could communicate with humans was thrown out the window. When my mom was not keeping well, Lulu would never leave her side, preferring to lie down on the bed beside her and keep her company rather than playing with anyone. If I was upset about something and sobbing my heart out, she would be there by my side in a jiffy, licking the tears off my face until I broke into laughter. Once I was hiding with my head under a pillow but this did not deter her. She burrowed right inside the gap in the pillow and plonked her head by my side and proceeded to lick my face right there! How could I not laugh?
I often used to think that Lulu did not know that she was a dog. She had a regal air about her that was amusing but admirable. When taken out for walks, she would refuse to walk on muddy roads and sometimes even had to be carried over a puddle, rather than walk. Then there was the time when the elevator at our apartment building was under repair, and since we lived on the 6th floor, we had to walk her down the steps and all the way up for her morning and evening walks. She made it very clear she didn’t relish taking the steps and would much rather take the elevator, when once, when the lift was repaired, and we had come down the lift for the walk, I attempted to walk her back up by the stairs rather than the lift (thought it would be good exercise for both of us). But she refused to budge, stubbornly setting her paws firmly on the floor in front of the staircase and not moving an inch and before I could change my mind, pulling me with all her might towards the elevator door! Talk about being exercise-lazy! I think that too runs in the family…
Over the last few years, I had been drawn to study Reiki, which is a form of spiritual healing, discovered by a Japanese college professor-turned-monk. After getting my Reiki level 1 and 2 attunement, I would try it on myself and my family and friends, but I soon got a chance to try it on Lulu, when she developed a non-healing wound on her leg. Concerned, we had called the vet, who prescribed a course of antibiotics, and since we suspected that she might be diabetic (again, runs in the family!) the vet asked to bring her in for testing after the wound healed. But since it was taking a long time, I started treating her with Reiki. After the first couple of sessions, she would soon know when I called her for it and would voluntarily come and lie on her back in front of me, waiting. I realized then that animals somehow were more receptive or sensitive to this energy than humans were. I later read some research papers too confirming my guess. The effect that Reiki had on her had to be seen to believed. Even if she was in a playful mood when I called her for the Reiki session, she would soon fall into a deeply relaxed mood and even fall asleep. Even after the session ended, she would still be on her back, all four paws stretched out, deeply relaxed as if she were hypnotized. I haven’t seen that effect in any person that I have done Reiki for till now. Whether because of the antibiotics or the Reiki, the wound healed much faster and she was soon back to her usual self.
It was soon after this wound, that Lulu began to lose weight and began her downward spiral. We brought 2 vets to meet her but both of them brushed aside our fears of her weight loss, saying instead that she was an obese dog and needed to lose weight! All this time, her appetite was at an all time high and she made the kitchen her favorite haunt, so much so we had to drag her out of it sometimes, something she never used to do before. It was all of a sudden that she became lethargic and refused to eat or drink anything. We tried all of her favorite foods, and I even started giving her wheat grass infusions (which I had been growing for my mom actually). At this time, dad had just joined a new place of work and only my mom and myself were at home. When we told dad, he immediately took leave and came down and we took her to the veterinary hospital, where an abdominal scan showed that she had inflammation of the uterus and had to be operated upon. But because she had become very weak after not eating for 2 days, the doctor recommended waiting until she got better. We gave her an IV and injections and brought her home. By now, it had been 4 days since she had stopped eating, and my mother was very very upset, and so was dad, although I know he tried to put on a brave face for us. My brother, who was working in Delhi, would call every day to find out how she was. All our friends and family members who knew also would message or call to know about her health. At this time, I called a family friend of ours in Trivandrum, who was a veterinary surgeon, but as I soon as I told him about the symptoms, he knew the prognosis was not good. Although he tried to sugarcoat it, I just knew what he meant was that these were her last days and to be prepared for it. I just could not bring myself to tell dad and mum, and after keeping the phone down, I remember just sitting there and crying my heart out. Never have I felt so lost, so desolate, so so very sad, in my entire life. I had forgotten then that Lulu was lying down on the divan in that same room, just a few feet away from where I was sitting. This was the fifth day and she was very very weak and had not walked anywhere and basically had to be carried outside. What she did next I will never forget and remains one of the most heartwarming gifts Lulu has given me. Through my tears, I heard the soft fall of paws on the floor and saw that Lulu had jumped down from the divan where she had been lying down and was slowly walking towards me. She came near me and put her paws up on my knees, asking me to carry her up, as I usually do. So I lifted her up in my arms and then she just started licking my tears, one by one, each and every one of them. I stared at her and just broke down crying all the more, and the more she just kept licking my face until my tears were almost gone. I told her through my tears that I would miss her, that I knew she had to go, and so did she. Because at that moment when she came up to me and started licking my face, I had the feeling that she knew what was going to happen and was trying to comfort me, tell me its okay. I told her over and over how much I loved her, what she meant to me, and also asked her to forgive me for all those times when I was too busy with my work or other things to pay attention to her, all those times when she wanted me to play with her and I said “later”, all those times when I was too lazy to take her out on her favorite walks, all those times when I was late in giving her food…Oh! So many times we take for granted so many things which mean the world to us. So many times we think there will be a tomorrow, we can do or say what we need to tomorrow, not knowing that such a tomorrow may never come! If I could take back every moment when I could have been with Lulu but chose to be somewhere else, I would, but obviously that isn’t possible. I then realized that Lulu never kept count of all the things I didn’t do for her. All that mattered to her was my love and she knew that. Everything else was forgiven. That night would be her last night. Mum was just too distraught and was in tears most of the time. Recuperating from a surgery, we did not want to stress her out more. So dad and I spend that last night with Lulu on my bed, tucked in between the two of us. Since she was throwing up the whole time, we would have to wake up almost every half hour to clean up after she threw up or take her out on the terrace to pee. We were still giving her infusions of rice water and egg water. That day of all days, when the vet said to give her egg white in boiled water, there was no egg in the house! Not a single one. At 10 o’clock in the night, dad was frantically getting dressed to go out and buy some eggs, when I said I would try to get one from the other families living in the building. Since it was after 10, most were asleep and the one family that did open their doors had only egg yolks, not the whole eggs. Desperate and praying, I knocked on one last door, and the lady luckily had eggs which I so gratefully took and sprinted up back home. This was something I would never forget, that night, because it made me realize that at the most crucial times in life, sometimes the most simple things which we take for granted become the most important, and at times of emergency, we really don’t know from where help comes from. That night Lulu took a turn for the worse and by morning had begun to have breathing troubles. She would slip in and out of consciousness and was so desperate for air, that she would grab at us just to breathe. She couldn’t walk and couldn’t open her eyes sometimes. It was the most painful sight in my life. Before that day, I used to think I would do whatever I could in my power to make her well, but on that morning, I realized I loved her so much that I could even let her go, if it meant she would not suffer more. I think it was then I realized what love really is. I have never loved like that before and never thought myself capable of it. But now I really knew. I knew my strength and I knew my weakness and it was then that for the first time in my life, I fully felt what it meant to be human. I realized you don’t become fully human until you have loved like this, even for one moment. For one moment out of an entire human lifetime, if you can love with all your heart, then and only then do you become a human being.
We took Lulu to the hospital again, mummy kissing her goodbye after we had taken her to our prayer room and prayed and put Sai Baba’s vibhuthi (sacred ash) on her forehead. Daddy carried her in his arms all the way down the steps to the car. After that, I had her in my arms, wrapped in a blanket, all the time with her gasping for air and eyes opening and closing and pawing the air frantically for breath. At the hospital, the decision was taken to not put her through any more pain. Before that, dad went and brought a tranquilizer so that she would not feel the lethal drug go through her little body. With her lying on the hospital bed, and dad and me by her side, the doctor slowly did what he had to do. Dad was all the time stroking her and calling her, as he usually did, his “little daughter”, kept saying it over and over again. I have never seen my dad so emotional, so tearful, and my heart went out to him. I didn’t know what to do, whether it was daddy I had to be with or Lulu. I was trying to give her Reiki at the last minute, as I knew how much it calmed her and at the same time, I wanted so much to comfort my father. When Lulu’s eyes finally closed, within just a few minutes, and her little body had breathed it last, it seemed that an eternity had passed. An angel had swept into our lives, changed it and us, and swished back away, back to where she came from. Dad then said the most evocative words anyone can say about her, just a few simple words, but words that so beautifully express what she was, more than I ever could with all my thousands of words put together. He said simply. “She was more than a dog”.
We laid her to rest at my dad’s brother’s house. I will be forever thankful to my uncle for allowing us to bury Lulu there, as it was after all, in the family itself and she knew that home very well, having stayed there for a few days once. Whenever we visit that site, we always take some flowers and sweets, and somehow or other, I’ve noticed that when we happen to go there, we always had some flowers or vibhuthi from the Sai Baba temple, unintentionally. Having read Sai Baba’s biography, I know how much he loved dogs, and so I choose to believe that Lulu is now safe and happy in Sai Baba’s arms!