Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Lightness of Us All

"Memory strumming at the heart of a moving picture..."

-Rush, Workin' Them Angels

The very weight of her unsettled me. She was small and light in life, with creamy brown fur and a streak of white between her eyes and down her nose.

But death brings on a heavier mass. Once the final breath and heartbeat flees the body, what's left increases in gravity dramatically, affecting everyone around it. I tried to wrap her in a cloth towel, and although I thought I could do it quickly, I struggled with it for over five minutes.

"I need help," I told the Mama, what I affectionately call my wife.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"I got her," I said, finally wrapping up one of our two pet guinea pigs that had died earlier that morning.

The guinea pig that died was three years old and it had been her birthday. She didn't know that, but our girls did. Our youngest Bryce cried and our oldest Beatrice kept it together, telling her sister it would be okay. We knew that Dandelion Clover, the full name of the guinea pig that died, was very sick and it escalated quickly over a period of 24 hours. On average guinea pigs have a lifespan of four to eight years, but poor little Dande as we called her wouldn't make it that far.

Earlier that morning we sat with Bea and Bryce and explained to them that Dande was very ill and would probably not make it through the day. Bryce cried and Bea eyes and mouth twitched a little. We continued that we could either bury Dande in the backyard, or that I would take her away to be "taken care of."

"I don't want to bury her," Bryce said in between tears.

"Do you want Daddy to take care of her then when it happens?" the Mama asked.

The girls both nodded. Bryce kept crying. Bryce and I are the criers of the family, that' for sure. I didn't cry then, but got choked up watching her.

The Mama ran some errands and I worked on my laptop while the girls played. What I didn't know was that sometime during the next hour, Dande had taken her last steps in the cage, fallen over and died. What I also didn't know was that Beatrice saw it happen, but didn't say a word to me or her sister, not until the Mama got back home and we announced that it happened.

I put Dandelion's wrapped, lifeless little body into a ziplock and carried her out into the garage. Her weight seemed to increase with every step I took. "Taken care of" can mean many things to many people, and for us it literally meant disposing of the dead pet without burying her in the backyard, and without sharing the details with your kids. They thought I would take Dande to the vet to be taken care of, and that's one of those parental lies we were fine to live with.

The girls loved the guinea pigs (and still love the other one we have that is still alive and squeaking). They don't fetch things, or chase balls of string, or laser pen lights for that matter (and trust me, our girls have tried), but they are cuddly, squeaky eating machines. And they're fun to dress up, especially when the girls dressed them up as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader right before Christmas.

Prior to the getting the guinea pigs last March, we had had two pet fish in two years. The first real pet the girls ever had, named Jumpy Tree Summer, was a handsome Betta that lived for over a year and half before he passed. We'd been at my sisters for Thanksgiving, and prior to leaving Jumpy hadn't been looking so good. Lethargic and listing, all his usual deep burgundy flowing fins were fraying and he looked more and more sickly. Then he'd stopped eating. We were only going to be gone for a few days, but just weren't sure he'd make it.

Which he didn't. The Mama saw him floating as soon checked out the tank, and while I continued to unload the car from our trip and the girls were playing in the living room, she took care of him.

And before we had Beatrice and Bryce, we had three pets between the Mama and me -- I had an adopted black and white Shih Tzu named Joshua, and the Mama had two cats from the same litter, a black and white boy named Charlie and a Calico girl named Chelsea. All three lived pretty long lives, with Chelsea living to be 22 years old. She was still living after Bryce was born and Beatrice was constantly pulling Chelsea's tail, something no cat ever likes. But in the end we had to put all three to sleep, an emotionally draining experience for anyone who's ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Each time it was me taking them to the vet's office, holding them in the cold, white vet examining room, holding them in their final moments, balling my eyes out.

The gravity of it all crushes me every single time. Because they are like family, and no one likes to lose a member of the family. Our other guinea pig, Sweetheart Watermelon, the mother of Dande, is much bigger and so far seems to be healthier than her daughter was. The girls held her fast in their laps after I took Dande away.

In the garage the weight of Dande increased exponentially. I remembered when I had to carry my father to the bathroom the week before he died, his frail body still buoyed by a little lightness he had left. I remembered the weight of my mother's arm as I held it the moment the machines keeping her alive were turned off. And then I remembered another heaviness, that of holding my own children the night I had to go to the hospital, not sure what would happen next.

But I didn't cry then. No, I didn't cry until my next weekly beach workout at Natural Bridges State Beach. As soon as I saw one of the last of the natural bridges, formed millions of years ago, the local iconic image I get to see each and every week; my spiritual anchor and gateway to God; that's when I cried. I was full of intention and gratitude, thankful to be alive, thankful to make a difference, thankful for my family, and even thankful for a fat squeaky guinea pig called Sweetheart Watermelon, one that may get another new friend at some point.

God bless the lightness of us all.

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