It’s a painful truth, but inescapable: Give your heart to creatures whose lives are shorter than your own and grief is certain at the end.
That is the hard lesson my wife, our daughters and I have learned and relearned no fewer than 26 times in our years as a family together.
And among us we still have at least eight more losses waiting.
That is the difficult part. But as all know who have shared their space with four-legged companions, what’s of greater weight and meaning is all the joy and companionship before the sadness comes.
Mickey, the orange tabby who has ruled our household since the closing years of the last millennium, has begun to show his age.
Ours is a special friendship. I consider him the brother I never had.
He climbs onto the chair next to mine to watch sporting events on television, and particularly enjoys the flight of the ball and quick movements of the brightly uniformed little figures on the screen.
At night he joins the two of us in our bed, lying pressed between us as we sleep.
“Do you and your wife have fleas?” a reader wrote to ask.
The honest answer:
A colleague once lampooned me on the office bulletin board for the frequency with which dogs and cats have appeared in my column.
He’s a friend, and a talented man. I hold no grudge. What’s more, I have no defense against the charge. A regular column can be a trying discipline, and I use subject matter wherever I find it.
When our daughters were small, they supplied endless topics. Inconsiderately, however, they grew up and moved away, taking much of my material with them.
So I work with what I have: our furred housemates, the changing seasons, spring mushrooms and wild turkeys, the challenges of getting older, notes from an occasional Florida or Minnesota holiday.
That’s not the stuff of prize-winning journalism, but it suits me better than chronicling the triumphs and casual pairings of the entertainment elite, the hopeless ineptitude of Congress or the seamy offenses of two-bit hoodlums.
It’s the best I can do, and readers and editors will just have to live with it.