TW: Loss of a pet, grief, working with a body, bodily functions
I don’t kid when I tell folks mutual aid can be some of the most frustrating and inconvenient things. A case in point:
Sometimes mutual aid is helping your neighbors bury their dog when you are sick as hell.
A week before and during the week of Thanksgiving I was sick with the flu. I’ve never been that sick with the flu before, save one time when I was a kid and was so bad off with the flu I was hallucinating. I took those two weeks off from work after having to visit the urgent care multiple times, and sometime after this story’s occurence, I ended up in the ER getting seen. It was a rough illness.
This takes place about halfway through this illness. I am knocked completely out because this flu has kicked my ass up one side and down the other. I get woken up by my partner, Streaking Fate. She tells me that our neighbor’s dog, about an eight month old black pitty mix puppy, got hit by a car. There is a car stopped that is just starting to pull away from our neighbor’s driveway. I found out later they did the right thing and spoke with our neighbor about what happened, and apologized. So, having just been woken up out of a dead sleep with a flu bug that has completely leveled my ass, adrenaline starts pumping. I hauled over to check after throwing on some clothes, hoodie, leather gloves, and my winter coat. At this point I had no idea if the dog was alive, suffering, or not, so I brought some things along in case I could help their dog out to either get to the hospital or end its suffering.
First, I check on the dog, who is lying on the side of the street outside their driveway. The poor boy was a puppy, a pitty mix if memory serves, and very loving. A bit hyper, doofy, and really enjoyed breaking the rules and running around our yard, but generally a harmless pupper. All of the light is out of his eyes, and he is collapsed on the street, head to the side. I check him, speak his name a few times, and check his breathing and pulse. His eyes are glazed. There is nothing I can do for him.
I then check on my neighbors. They are a man and a woman about my age, not married yet though from what I gather they are working on that. I can see that she’s absolutely crushed, not only for herself, but for her boys and especially her partner, who loves that dog. I hug her for awhile and let her cry. Then, I ask her if there is anything I can do for her. She’s beside herself, and cannot bear to see her dog. I look to my partner who is sitting with their dog’s body. I know what I should do. I ask her if she wants me to take him, get him away from the street, and get him cleaned up in my garage. She agrees, I give her my number, and she lets me go to take care of him so she can break the news to her boys.
I come back and the poor guy has involuntarily vomited. Sometimes when we die, this happens. Sometimes we vomit, sometimes we shit,or both, because the muscles move in such a way on death that evacuation just occurs. So, we grab a tarp from my garage, and carefully put him on it, and bring him up to the garage as carefully as we can. His size belies how damned heavy he is. We get him in and put him on a large foldable clean plastic table.
We make prayers to our Gods of the Dead, to Anpu, to Hela, to Óðinn, and others. We make prayers to our Gods that are Wolves, Dogs, and other canids, including Anpu and Fenrisúlfr, and divine animals, including Hela’s hound Garmr, and Óðinn’s wolves Geri and Freki, among others. Then, after some cleansing breaths, we get to work on cleaning him.
He has pits of asphalt from the impact of the road, scratches, and bits of blood here and there. We clean out the pits and wipe away the blood on him with warm, wet terry cloths. Probably the hardest thing to work with is the vomit, because while we were bringing him inside, and I hauled him onto the table, his stomach continued to empty. To make him presentable for our neighbors, we keep cleaning him all over and especially inside his mouth. We use most of our terry towels over the course of an hour to an hour and a half. As we work we whisper prayers, and we speak with him. We tell him what a good boy he is and was, and how much his people will miss him, and how much love they have for him. We speak with the Dead, cleaning him, so his Daddy doesn’t have to see him in the state we did. Over time the grime and grit, the blood, vomit, and all the rest come up. I take one of the white cloths that served as an altar cloth, and bring it outside. Streaking Fate puts it beneath him while I lift him up, and we wrap him in it, and wait for his Dad to come over.
It takes him some time to get home, to see his family, and to talk and process things. He calls, tells me he will be over soon. I ask if he needs anything to eat or drink. He can’t, so I just tell him to come over when he is ready to. When he comes over to the garage I can see him barely contain his emotions. I hug him, and can tell he’s a man not used to this, but I am, and I give him a soft squeeze on his shoulder and let him know his grief is welcome. I can see it in his eyes. As much as this puppy was loved by his family, this dog was his boy. He was a member of the family. He speaks to him as a son. For a few moments I watch him, watch as he drapes his hands over the coal-black fur in the most gentle way over his boy, and pet him, whispering words. I tell him to take as much time as he needs, and if he needs to warm up to come into the house. We leave him.
I take a seat in one of the chairs we have upstairs, and breathe long and hard, coughing hard because the flu is trying to make me expel my lungs. I blow my nose on one of my many handkerchiefs (thank you, Grandpa, they’ve definitely come in handy), and clean my hands with soap and water. A while later he knocks on the door from the garage. When my neighbor comes in he lets me know he needs to get some things from his home and to bring his truck around to take his puppy home. He asks if he can leave his boy with us for an hour or so, in order to get some things ready. He mentions wanting to bury him that evening, asking his boys to help him. Given what I saw of him and his family, I knew how hard that would be for them. I felt prompted by my heart and a small push by Óðinn to offer to help him bury his puppy.
He looks a mix of relieved and pained, and says he appreciates that and takes off. I rest with my partner for a while, and we get some dinner. A while later my neighbor gives me a call and it turns out he’s already made progress on his puppy’s grave in the backyard where he liked to be. He asks me for help in loading him into his truck bed. We only have one shovel, and I feel like I need to see this through. So, I grab my coats, gear up again, and help him put his puppy into the bed of his truck. Then, I get my shovel, and head over with him. The truck is warm, real warm, and he parks it with the high beams shining so we can see what we are doing. When we get out the cold kind of feels like it is trying to steal your breath.
We work together for about an hour to finish up the grave. We take turns with the older of his sons; the younger could not bear to be there. His partner watches but lets us work. He asks if I think the hole is deep enough. Considering I am around 5’7″ and having trouble getting into and out of it now, I say yes. So he, his son, and I bring his puppy to rest in our blanket and with his favorite blanket and a toy. Tears are stinging all of our eyes in the cold, but I blink them back, and breathe slow and deep. I get control. This is their time to grieve. I can process later. His Dad hops down into the grave, and asks to put him down into it himself.
I whisper some prayers into his puppy’s ear as I set him down into his Dad’s arms. The other two are openly crying. My neighbor is burying his face into his boy’s fur, speaking to him and finally, when he is ready, puts him down in the mound. I offer him my hand and he comes out of the grave. Then he says a prayer to his puppy, and offers space for the other two. When they say they’re good, we begin to bury him. It is quick work, between three guys shaping and digging with the cold spurring us on. We work it flat as we go, and finally, mound up the grave. When we are all finished he offers to drive me home.
He looks to me, and for another of the countless times that night, says thank you to me. I let him know that this what I was taught neighbors do for each other. This is what my parents taught me, and it is what my religion teaches me to do. When we get out of the car he shakes my hand and we embrace, and he tells me that if I ever need anything to let him know. I let him go and let him know if he ever needs anything I am here too.
This is what hospitality and mutual aid can look like. Sometimes it is sharing food. Sometimes it is defending your community from a common foe. Sometimes it is showing up to a protest or counterprotesting. Sometimes it is showing up when you are woken up from a deep sleep, dead on your feet from a flu, to help your neighbors on the worst day of their lives and bury a loved one. It may not be easy work but I can tell you, from the spirit of my neighbor’s dog to my neighbors themselves, it is good and sacred work. I didn’t show up in my peak condition. I showed up the best I was able. Really, in hospitality and mutual aid, that is all any of us can ask of ourselves or each other.
So, extend hospitality and mutual aid wherever you can however you are able. You may have no idea the impact just showing up can have for those who just need you to show up.
It is enough.
You are enough.