The dread of death, I have come to know, is as fierce and unrelenting as a tornado in full destruction mode. Your heart sticks in panic, peaceful sleep retreats for days or weeks, and you dash around desperately trying to stop the steady assault with whatever humanly means you have, such as prayer and medicine.
When the storm stops, its roar falling silent at the moment that the loved one’s breath quiets, there is a wrenching sadness that rushes over you but, strangely, it is accompanied with relief because there is no a longer a dread of death. It is over and done. The storm has hushed.
From the moment I began to love Dixie Dew, a short-haired red dachshund with lively dark eyes and an intellect higher than mine, I began to dread the day I’d lose her. Sometimes, I’d push that dark thought aside.
“Maybe I’ll go first. That could happen.”
But such was not the good Lord’s will. Somewhere in the celestial realm, it was determined that Dixie Dew would be treated to a trip to Mama’s lap in heaven, and I, my heart crushed, would fall to my knees and plead for mercy from the grief.
When she was 6 months old, she followed me to the mailbox one summer night as the light was draining from the sky. She poked her nose into a yellow jackets’ nest, unfortunately at the same time that the evil ones were returning from a day’s adventure. She yelped in stunned pain, and I leapt toward her, swooping her into my arms, covering her with my head and running to safety with yellow jackets blanketing me while others took hot pursuit. Dixie Dew’s few stings were soothed by a shot during an emergency trip to the vet.
I fared much worse. When we got to a hundred, we stopped counting the stings on my head, face and neck, plus there were a couple of dozen more on my arms. It was painful, but I bore it without regret because Dixie Dew was OK. I wasn’t “purdy,” though, as evidenced by a friend who stopped by the next day and shook his head in disbelief at the balloon size of my face and head.
“You look gruesome,” he commented.
I shrugged and smiled.
“Yeah, but look how good Dixie Dew looks. I would rather it be me than her.”
That story reminds me of the Scripture that asks, “Oh death, where is thy sting?”
I know where. It’s in my heart, for it stings with more ferocity than those hundred mean yellow jackets. And every Southern farmer and bush-hogger knows: Yellow jacket stings will always ruin an otherwise perfectly good day.
Dixie Dew grew old before my eyes. Her hair turned gray, her long backbone begin to buckle in the center, her hearing faded, and her teeth were mostly gone. I laughingly told her that the actor who played her in a semiautobiographical movie about one of our adventures was chosen because he had all his teeth. (Though he had two removed as soon as the movie finished shooting.) She seemed more indignant that the actor was a “he” rather than a “she.”
As time drew nigh, I was besotted with heavy sadness at the thought of saying goodbye to our adventures, her devoted love and the precious link she provided to Mama, who had enjoyed her tremendously. I knew I could make it through, but the mere thought of the challenge was so tiring. After a stroke, there was no choice. I cradled her tightly, cried until I threw up, then handed her to Dr. Jane White to do what was necessary to comfort my baby.
“All men, regardless of age, die too young,” lamented Katherine Hepburn in Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly, Last Summer.”
Dixie Dew was 14 years and 8 months old, but my sorrowed heart feels that was way too young.