I wore long pants to Maggie’s funeral

by Kim on February 9, 2014 · 60 comments

Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.

Afterwards, over dinner, my Dad said, “While I was sitting there I thought of a title for a short story.”

“What is it?” I asked, looking up at him from across the table. His eyes were red and his hair sprouted wildly from the back of his head.

He spread his hands out in a ta da motion. “The title is: I wore long pants to Maggie’s funeral.”

“Hmmm,” I nodded, nibbled on a tortilla chip. “But don’t most people wear long pants to funerals?”

“You’re not listening,” he said. “I. Wore. Long. Pants. To. Maggie’s. Funeral.” He said it slowly, sing-songy, like a poem. “Doesn’t it resonate? Don’t you want to know more about Maggie? About the author and the pants? About why it matters?”

“But I already know why it matters,” I said.

***

Last Sunday as I was leaving I’d said, “Tell me if you want me to be there. Just call or send me a text. Let me know.” She’d nodded, my sister, and her eyes had filled with tears.

As the words left my mouth I’d known they’d been the wrong ones. I knew I should have said, “I will be here tomorrow.” I should have said it confidently, with finality, like my absence was out of the question. And what I would have said without saying was, I will bear some of your pain.

So I pulled her small frame to my chest, hugged her, corrected my mistake. I said, “I will be here tomorrow at 1:30. Do you want me to come earlier?”

“No,” she’d said. “1:30 is just fine.”

***

It was a painfully blue Monday. Cold, but the sun was warm. My sister sat on the front porch with Maggie. Maggie ate Oreo’s and drank water from a small white bowl.

“Hi Maggie,” I said cheerfully, “Look what Aunt Kim brought you.” I held up a paper bag filled with cheeseburgers from McDonalds. I shook it. Maggie twitched her nose in the air.

“How are you holding up?” I asked my sister.

“Okay,” she said. “As good as can be expected.” She patted Maggie’s head and then broke a cheeseburger into pieces. “We’ve had a good day. Maggie had steak for breakfast. We went for a long walk. I’m so glad the sun is out for her.”

I sat down cross-legged next to Maggie. I scratched behind her ear. Her breathing was heavy and labored.

“Did Dad put pants on for the occasion?” I asked.

My sister laughed a little. “Yep, I think he did.”

***

I was in Spain when my Dad had surgery. It occupied my thoughts as I walked the Camino de Santiago and I prayed hard for his safety, believing (did I believe it?) that somehow I could alter the outcome.

I’d called him from my hotel the day I reached Santiago. “I prayed for you at the tomb of St. James,” I’d said. “Actually, I’ve prayed for you all over this damn country.”

“Good,” he’d said. “I’ll take all the prayers I can get.”

I was still in Spain when he came out of surgery and entered rehab in the hospital. I’d call his room every night, via Skype, the connection weak and echoing. I’d hear the nurses come into his room, their voices small and tinny like they were at the end of a very long corridor. My Dad sounded old and weak. “It’s because of the tube,” he insisted.

“Ask your doctors about your voice.” I’d begged him. “Ask them why it’s hard for you to speak.”

“I will,” he assured me, though I knew he probably wouldn’t.

I was in Belgium when I learned of the complications. Hospitalized. More surgery. My sister in Seattle flew home. My other sister, the one at home, sent me email updates. I’d wake up in the raw hours after midnight in a panic and check my email, terrified of any news.

***

The vet arrived right on time. Maggie sat by the window in her favorite spot. My sister lay beside her and held Maggie’s head in her hands. The vet gave her two shots, the first to relax her, the second to stop her heart. Maggie was here and then she was gone. We all cried like babies and passed a pale blue box of Kleenex around the room. My sister cried for Maggie. I cried for my sister. My Dad sat on the couch in his unpressed pants, the braces wrapped tightly around his legs in the same place we’d cling to him as children. My Dad cried longer and harder than all of us.

***

The hole in the backyard was already there. We wrapped Maggie in blankets and carried her outside. The hole was filled with snowmelt and my sister climbed into it with a plastic bowl to bail the water. She moved with purpose. I could tell that she’d run through these steps a thousand times, that they’d kept her up at night.

When the hole was free of water she climbed out. The soles of her boots were thick with mud. I squeezed her shoulder. She gave me a small smile. “It’s just hard to let her go,” she said. “I love her so much.”

“I know you do, honey.”

I asked if she wanted me to lower Maggie’s body into the hole, to cover her with the rocky clay soil of my parent’s backyard, but she wanted to do it on her own. My husband and my sister’s boyfriend broke up frozen chunks of dirt with shovels, swinging them like axes, happy to do something. My sister removed Maggie’s collar and picked her up like a child, lowered her body into the ground. I stood there silently, crying. I wondered how my sister got so brave.

***

“Let’s go to dinner,” my Dad said after my sister and her boyfriend left. “I’m going crazy trapped in this house.”

I nodded. “We might as well. You’ve already put pants on.”

My Dad looked down at the pants on his legs and the basketball shorts crumpled on the floor beside him. He laughed. He has always laughed through pain.

We gathered his walker, his cane. Slowly he navigated the living room, the three stairs leading down into the garage.

We drove down the streets of my childhood. The sky roared the fiery colors of sunset. The trees were bare and boney, exposing the places I’ve seen my whole lifetime: The neighborhood pool, the empty tennis courts, the two-story houses normally veiled behind the lush green leaves of warmer times.

“It’s karma that you were here,” said my Dad.

“Karma?”

“You know, like when the universe does something on purpose? Your sister needed you here. It was good that you came. She won’t forget it.”

“I’m glad I could be here for it.” I said. “I’m glad you were here for it too.”

My Dad patted my leg, his own legs stretched out stiffly before him. For the rest of the way we drove in silence to dinner.

Ohio sunset

***

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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Krista Beauvais February 9, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I LOVE this story. Your writing is wonderfully vivid and straight to the point. A beautiful talent you have. A forever-captured picture of a most poignant day, the loss of a family member.

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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:23 am

Yes, she was a family member and we miss her dearly. Thanks Krista.

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Emily February 9, 2014 at 3:47 pm

It’s so hard to lose a pet – no, a family member. This is a wonderful tribute to Maggie.
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:24 am

Thanks Emily. It’s one of those days that reminds you how closely bound we are to our families.

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Adena Harford February 9, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Yes. Crying.
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:24 am

Sorry!!

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RenegadePilgrim February 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Loss of a pet is never easy. I really enjoyed this piece. Thanks Kim!
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:24 am

Thanks Heather, it was a day we were all dreading.

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Sarah February 9, 2014 at 4:58 pm

I’m so sorry for your sister and for your family’s loss–and so happy that you were all able to be there together to support her and little Maggie. Rest in Peace, sweet girl.

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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:25 am

Yes, rest in peace sweet Maggie. She was a special dog and she had a wonderful life. I always say that in my next life I want to come back as my sister’s dog!

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Rhonda February 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Oh Kim… now I’m crying. It is so dreadfully difficult to lose one, to send them on to doggie heaven, when it means they won’t be there to hug any longer. Your dad is right, it was karma and as important to you to be there as it was to them. RIP Maggie… it’s all ok now.
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:25 am

I know you understand since you’ve lost one recently. It’s terrible but also what we take on when we love a pet. We know they won’t be here forever, unfortunately.

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Michele C. February 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Beautiful Kim. Simply beautiful.

I, on the other hand, am a blubbering mess.

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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:26 am

Thanks Michele. Hugs. XO.

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Gerald Englebretsen February 9, 2014 at 6:55 pm

That was pure joy, in a sad way. Having also lost a wee companion not too long ago, the steps the actual moments you have recalled beautifully. Reckon your Dad is pretty awesome too. And he’s right … your sister will never forget that you were at home for the moment.

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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:27 am

Thanks Gerald. You’re right, my dad is a pretty cool guy. I’m lucky to have my (crazy) family.

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Heather February 9, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Such a heartbreaking yet beautiful story. Losing a pet is so hard. It’s great you were able to be there for your sister.
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:27 am

I’m so glad I was able to be there too. It’s a blessing of being home right now.

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stacey k February 9, 2014 at 10:36 pm

wow. an absolutely beautiful depiction of the emotions of loss.
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:27 am

Thanks Stacey.

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Jodi H. February 9, 2014 at 11:20 pm

What a lovely tribute! I’m sorry for your sister’s loss.
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:28 am

Thanks Jodi, it was a hard day but we made it.

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Ali February 10, 2014 at 12:33 am

I love how you wrote this, but I’m so sorry about your sister’s dog. So hard to lose a pet, they really are part of the family.
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:28 am

Thanks Ali. You’re right, they are a part of the family and we’ll miss little Maggie always.

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Hannah February 10, 2014 at 1:11 am

Oh Kim, that was so beautiful, a perfect tribute to Maggie and the love your family feels for her. My heart goes out to you all – I’m glad you were able to be there with them, too. Sending you much love x
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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:28 am

Thanks Hannah. I’m glad I was here too.

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Martine February 10, 2014 at 6:30 am

Do you know where dogs go when they leave us?

They go “Over The Rainbow Bridge”…

Goodbye Maggie
xoxo
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Kim February 11, 2014 at 6:57 am

That is sweet. Thanks Martine.

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Aurora February 10, 2014 at 7:52 am

Dad’s right — great title! And…. yeah, loosing a pet pretty much sucks. I cried and cried when I had to put my dog to sleep. And I was alone. But — this is about much more than that. About being there for moments that count. About seeing the fragility of life. About celebrating love and family (by blood and adopted). It’s those moments.
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Kim February 11, 2014 at 6:57 am

Yes, it is about all of those things and how we are so incredibly intertwined.

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Pauline February 10, 2014 at 9:19 am

My heart breaks a little when I read your post today. I’m so sorry to hear about Maggie.
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Kim February 11, 2014 at 6:57 am

Thanks Pauline, our hearts are breaking too. It is helping my sister to read the comments on this post.

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Sarah Somewhere February 10, 2014 at 9:51 am

So beautiful and so touching, Kim. I agree, Kim’s Dad, it’s an awesome title for a story and perfect for this one. Maybe that’s Karma to? I’m so sorry for your family’s loss, how lucky Maggie is to have such a caring and loving one.
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Kim February 11, 2014 at 6:58 am

Maggie was a very lucky dog indeed :)

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Lauren Rinehart February 10, 2014 at 10:53 am

This made me cry!
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Kim February 11, 2014 at 6:58 am

Sorry Lauren :)

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Anja van der Vorst February 10, 2014 at 3:30 pm

What a moving story and so beautifully written!
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Kim February 11, 2014 at 6:59 am

Thank you, it was a tough day for us all.

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Tara February 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm

TIP for your readers: Don’t try and read this post while eating. The sandwich you are trying to swallow will get stuck in your throat, caught up by the tears you are trying (unsuccessfully) to hold back. This was a great piece Kim. So sad, but so touching. A beautiful dedication to Maggie (and your Dad).

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Kim February 11, 2014 at 7:00 am

Ha, I’m glad you didn’t choke! Sorry about that ;)

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Karyn @ Journey Out Of Plastic February 10, 2014 at 11:26 pm

I’m so sorry to hear this. And yes, it made me well up too. :)
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Kim February 11, 2014 at 7:01 am

Thanks Karyn. Maggie was family and we miss her.

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Kate February 11, 2014 at 11:01 am

I am sorry for your loss. You wrote this beautifully though, you can really feel your emotion through it, I just wanted to comment to tell you that!
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Kim February 12, 2014 at 6:54 am

Thanks Kate, I appreciate it.

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Catherine February 12, 2014 at 3:54 am

Losing a pet can be horrible, especially since a lot of people don’t give you the time and understanding that you need, thinking that it’s just an animal, when it really is a part of your family. This is a great tribute though, so beautifully written.
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Kim February 12, 2014 at 6:55 am

Maggie was definitely a part of our family and we miss hear dearly (and always will). Pets are just unconditional love, you know?

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) February 12, 2014 at 6:02 am

Crying at the office … ugh. Well done. Well done Kim. As much as I love the story and the writing… it is YOU and being there for your sister that moved me. I can’t even THINK of losing my Montecristo … this broke my heart. You showed a lot of understanding (saying YOU would be there, letting her dig …) and compassion. I love how you bnridged yoru childhood and your fear of losing your father into the story. Well done.
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Kim February 12, 2014 at 6:56 am

It was a hard day but I am so thankful that I was there. We’re bound to those families of ours no matter what.

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Sonya February 17, 2014 at 11:56 am

This is such a beautiful story of love and loss. I have two beautiful dogs and it made me hug them tighter today.
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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:47 am

Yep, I’ve been giving my two old dogs some extra love too.

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Daisy Wong February 18, 2014 at 7:53 am

What a beautiful story, made me cry at work. I can’t imagine the day when I have to go through this.

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Kim February 19, 2014 at 7:06 am

It’s is just the terrible and sad reality of loving our pets :(

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Carmel February 19, 2014 at 12:23 am

This is even more heartbreaking reading today as my in-laws had to put their dog down yesterday. She suddenly having seizures and they came on fast and hard, leaving them no choice. It brought up a lot of feelings from having to put our cat down last spring. It still hurts. It’s still sad. You’ve really captured the essence of that day – thank you for sharing with us. It goes to show how much our pets bring us together.
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Kim February 19, 2014 at 7:07 am

Oh, that is so sad. I’m sorry to your in-laws.

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Lance | Trips By Lance February 25, 2014 at 11:39 am

I’ve gotten behind on my blog reading and as I started this I was wondering what tragic thing had happened. Reading that you were home and talk of a funeral, I was a bit worried. I don’t want to minimize the loss of a pet. But you had me pulled into this story and wondering what “human” family member had passed. And this would make for a fabulous novel title.
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Kim February 27, 2014 at 6:04 am

I am definitely glad I wasn’t writing about a human family member. My Dad is happy that everyone likes the title of the story.

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Sarah Blinco February 25, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Really beautifully written, you had me crying (but because of the picture of the pooch I figured that’s what was coming). Some people simply do not understand that they’re not pets, they ARE family – sometimes better than family, because they’re our loyal friends (who don’t argue back lol). Thanks for sharing. Glad you could be there for your sister.
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Kim February 27, 2014 at 6:04 am

Yes, I do admit I love that they don’t argue back :) (Or whine, bitch, etc.:))

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The Hopeless Wanderer March 18, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Reading this made me bawl! My oldest baby is 9 years old now and I’m already getting worried of the future without her. :(
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Kim March 19, 2014 at 5:30 am

Oh, I so understand :( Our own babies are 14 and 11 and I know they won’t be around forever. Just love ‘em every day.

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