The Gift of Barclay

Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel)

Those who have had to say good-bye to the dog in the family understand. Others may wonder how a pet’s death can cause such deep sadness.

August 22, 2020

Yesterday morning it became clear that Barclay, our nine year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was laboring and less able to enjoy life. We knew he has the heart condition many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels develop and have seen signs Barclay is slowing down. He isn’t his playful self.

Barclay took his last ride in the car, wagged his tail going into the veterinary clinic, and sat on my lap while Kay and I faced the decision we did not want to make. As he did the first time I held him — he was (3.5 lbs.), he licked my face and nibbled my left ear, expressing that same love and trust with Kay before they gave him the first shot that tranquillized him.

Five days later, August 27

The feeling now is emptiness and the irrational sense of guilt for “putting him down,” as they say. Kay and I are teary and sad. I have a flood of tears behind the dam of denial. I miss his presence: the morning kiss and nibble on my ear; walking one step behind me going down the stairs, like a paramedic ready for a rescue; his delight chasing light and shadows, moths and butterflies; throwing his ball at our feet for a game of soccer (he was a goalie; you couldn’t get the ball past him); alerting us when it was time to watch Ari, have a cocktail, and play two or three minutes of soccer; his gentleness with grandson Elijah; practicing the training commands he liked — sit, down, heel, leave it — while regarding the rest as suggestions to consider; sitting patiently to lick the peanut butter from our fingers.

To call Barclay “precious” understates his sweetness and goodness.

Six days later, August 28

It’s been six days since Barclay died. I haven’t been able to shake the sorrow. The tears remain locked behind the dam in the reservoir of sorrow filled by the tears a lifetime. These feelings are particular to this moment in time, but the reservoir feels deeper and darker than the loss of Barclay. The picture of his last moment —lying on the veterinarian’s table with his paws hanging over the edge, trusting us with his life — still haunts me.

These feelings are what they always are: neither rational nor irrational. Reason can measure the width and depth of things, but it has no access to the depths of the non-rational, known only to the heart.

Twelve Days Later, September 3

It’s time for the evening news. Barclay is missing; Donald Trump is not. I’m struck by the contrast. Barclay never lied. There was no pretense in him. Lying and pretense were as far from Barclay’s character as honesty and humility are from the former president. During Barclay’s nine years with us, he never had an accident. Not once. Donald Trump made a mess of the White House, and continues to smear the media with his excreta every day. There is no good reason one would confuse the stench from a pigsty with the aroma wafting from a bakery. When everything is shaking, reason does not stop the quivering. Shaking and calmness are matters of the heart.

At my age, the reservoir has its share of grief and sadness. Much of the sorrow is of my own making, things I have done and left undone that hurt others and myself. Mixed with those tears are the gasps of a global lament: the mess we are leaving to our grandchildren; the horror of January 6 and the relentless disinformation that erodes the public trust on which the survival of democratic republic depends; the Big Lie swallowed and promoted by those who know it’s not true; the return of the hangman’s noose and the hanging tree, weapons of mass destruction, war, and guns concealed and carried freely in public; the insanity of the Strong Man pummeling Ukraine into submission, and the former American president who, like Putin, knows no other words than MINE; the fundamentalist churches’ exchange of the gospel of the crucified Jesus, the Loser, for the prosperity gospel for winners.

How much the reservoir is personal and how much is public is hard to tell, but I also know there are tears of joy and love in my deepest self. All that’s left at the end is love. If my DNA follows my parents’ lifespans, I have six or eight years left to release the sorrow, guilt, and shame, and re-fill the reservoir with tears of joyful thanksgiving for the gift of Barclay and of life itself. Love never ends.

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, September 7, 2022
This entry was posted in Dogs, Life, Love, Memoir and tagged , by Gordon C. Stewart. Bookmark the permalink.

About Gordon C. Stewart

I've always liked quiet. And, like most people, I've experienced the world's madness. "Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness" (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Jan. 2017) distills 47 years of experiencing stillness and madness as a campus minister and Presbyterian pastor (IL, WI, NY, OH, and MN), poverty criminal law firm executive director, and social commentator. Our dog Barclay reminds me to calm down and be much more still than I would be without him.

9 thoughts on “The Gift of Barclay

  1. I am so sorry Gordon, I can tell you loved Barclay so very well. To Barclay, thank you for being such joy to Gordon and his family and being such a good boy and living a wonderful life. Sending you and your family all kinds of love, Nancy ❤


  2. Gordon and Kay, Thank you for sharing Barclay with me. I have played in my mind my feelings with Jesse’s end. I fear falling on him now that I have become even less graceful. Anticipatory loss brings me up painfuly short. Cavaliers are remarkable creatures to have in my life as I know Barclay was in yours. I don’t have adequate words that would capture your loss. Blessed Memories. Hold them close.



    James B Haugh


  3. Gordon, you know that Barbie and I understand exactly how you feel. It hurts so much. But eventually the same memories that ache now will help to heal, I think. We still miss our wonderful “pet angels”, but the good memories give us smiles now.
    And I believe that your decision to part with Barclay rather than let him go on hurting validated his trust in you.
    Thinking of you, my old friend!


  4. Morning blessings Gordon, Sharing your loss of Barkley with your family and friends here opens our own losses as well. Loss of precious life, innocence, trust and vulnerability are common to us, yet we tend to not want to talk about it. Memory in my experience dims of details, but the void of knowing a special relationship remains. Yes, gift, these relationships are. You have experienced the aroma and touch of the divine in a creature! Imagine if we were aware of all life being that intimate! How different we would treat each other and the earth! Sometime we get it! Some people more than others. Poets and artists, musicians and dancers express human need for the essence of being….valued, savored, protected, shared. I treasure the void, for I knew love. Holding your heart, Chris



  5. Ahhh Gordon, I am so very sorry for your loss. As you know, I, too, have been blessed with a precious Cavalier. My Lola is 14 now and also struggles with the heart condition that plagues this breed, but blessedly has been helped dramatically by the medical regimen the vet prescribed. She has slowed considerably, but remains my shadow. I know we are rounding third and I dread the day that I must say goodbye with every fiber of my being. So I simply try to enjoy every moment and cement it in my memory.

    Like you, I am sickened to death by what is transpiring in our world. May I humbly suggest that you consider allowing another Cavi into your heart and home? They are such precious, pure hearts and such a fabulous antidote to the ugliness. I know the unconditional love and joie de vivre of my little girl has been my salvation on many a dark day. Holding you in my heart….


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