Death is a strange creature which comes in many flavors. There are those deaths that attack without warning, smashing one's world apart with the crash of cymbals and the ripping and rending of earth. There are those deaths that linger, oftentimes leaching a dull poisen of despair, drop by drop into the soul. And then, every now and then, if one is very lucky, and leaves one's heart open to the possibility of risk, to the possibility that where there is sorrow and grief, there can also be compassion and kindness, there is a death whose elegance, and sweetness is so fine, that to participate in such a crossing is to have an ephemeral fleeting moment of knowing divine grace. My opportunity came in the crossing of a small, four-footed friend, a non-descript golden Mexican mutt by the name of Aleuchi.
My dad's death had been of the first type. A sudden rending of earth, that switched off the colors of the world. One minute technicolor, the next minute grey. In some respects, traces of that grey were to last for many years, although I snatched at any opportunity for adventure and
excitement as a way of bringing color back into my life. The many deaths I have been witness to, or a part of, during my years of working in Mexico span the rainbow. A baby's choking pneumonia, a brief candle snuffed way too soon, his death the result of professional indifference and poverty. Don Leon's macabre destruction, body part by body part. Strokes and cancers, respiratory failures, and starvation. In Mexico, death is up close and personal. There is no buffer. During my time there, all too often, I wallowed in death like a lingering flu that once again, drove color from the universe. I began to think, like probably most of us, that death only came in flavors of ash.
And then the world of grief took on color. The loss of my beloved German Shepherd Angie was anticipated. The timing of her leaving and the emotional wrenching and churning that came with it was not. Her loss combined with the loss of my marriage to render the world in technicolor, a raging inferno of reds and blacks, piercing blues, and blinding flashes of white. My life spun totally out of control. Every hour was a learning experience, an excruciating crucible of change. Nowhere could I find firm footing. Everything was new, untried, untested, unsure. Baby steps into newness. Raw fragility was the note tone. I sometimes didn't know if I could breathe through another hour. Somehow time spun on. The sun rose and set. The moon breathed her luxurious whispers to the night.
Then came Aleuchi. Aleuchi was of that class of dogs that one sees everywhere in Mexico. Medium length hair, medium size, sort of labradory, traces of pitbull, a tail from somewhere else, and always, always, the world's kindest eyes. He, like most of our dogs, was a throwaway. Another puppy thrown out on a street somewhere to die. He stumbled into my mother-in-law's garden, and just sort of got absorbed into the family. Nobody paid him a whole lot of attention, but he got food, and managed to survive. Then we moved onto six naked scrubby acres of land near the Rio Babasac in Sonora, Mexico, and he came to the "ranch" to live. He was always, by far, the kindest of our dogs. And like all gentle, quiet things often got lost in the shuffle of the more demanding, the more problem children. And yet, his constancy was always there. His sweet smile. He was always content with so little. A brief pat. A kind word.
When Angie died, he came and sat on her grave for three days, and then proceeded to calmly and quietly go about the business of dying. Within days, his eyes were rheumy with infection. As this is common in Mexico during fly season, I simply treated it and thought no more of it. Then
shortly after returning from the states, I noticed that there was now a lump under his eye. The cheek was protruding. Abscess, we thought, after speaking with the vet, and I proceeded to try and treat it with antibiotics. Quietly, relentlessly, Aleuchi continued on his path. He knew his job,
and he was about to complete his task. Antibiotics didn't work, and upon return from the states again, I found the lump doubled in size, massive infection in his whole head, and his breathing chortling and wheezing through layers of debris.
I raced him to the states, blessing cell phones, my veterinarian, and praying to the Gods of border crossings for a speeding crossing. Ten minutes and we were across the line and racing for home, churning up the desert landscape, concentration a cold fire shutting everything else out.
Preliminary examination revealed the shocking possibility of a bone tumor, not an infection. Aleuchi's reaction to the attention was quiet gratefulness, an indomitable sweetness, even as we poked and prodded, desperately searching for simple solutions.
Sunday came and went, a quiet day to spend with him ensconsed on the couch as if by birthright. How it is that outside ranch dogs instinctively know "couch" is beyond me. Monday came, and we began more tests to see if we could find a way out. Aleuchi meanwhile was happy no matter where he was, or what we did with him. Conscious or unconscious, it was all the same to
him. Gentle eyes, soft demeanor, and a kind welcome for all. Head swollen like some grotesque medieval joke, gasping for air, post-surgery and still greeting the vets with gracious dignity. And purposeful, so purposeful. I have always wanted to experience that feeling of being so assured of where I was at. Feeling completely at peace and at home in my skin. Aleuchi manifest that at every turn. He was complete, and quintessentially Aleuchi. His kindness seemed to permeate the air of the clinic like some infinitely delicate, ethereal perfume. Everyone felt it, and commented. I found my voice changing, everything getting slower, softer. He gave everybody a chance to participate in his leaving. He gave us the time everyone needed to come to closure. He had no hurry, no impatience. He was the most content and elegant creature in dying that I perhaps have ever been given the gift of knowing.
I awoke the following morning with first birdsong. Gratefully, I felt no churning, no poisen in my soul, just whispers of that same ethereal perfume of grace with which he had blessed us in his final moments. Where always before death had brought pain, I felt infused with the magnitude of his kindness. Aleuchi died with purpose and intent. He died to complete a circle. He died to go comfort his beloved best friend. He died to teach me. He was a dog of healers. He lived and worked with us at our ranch, our simple clinic in the Sonora, quietly, unassumingly, for six years of our tumultuous lives. And yet, in the end, it was he who was the healer. He gifted me with the ecstasy of the perfume of sweet selflessness. He gifted me with a vision of the other side of the coin of loss and sorrow that I so desperately needed. He gifted me with a moment with grace.