The Gift of Barclay

Monday, August 22, 2022

This morning is filled with emptiness. 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 grief and sadness.

Barclay as a puppy

Yesterday morning it became clear that Barclay, our nine year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was laboring and less able to enjoy life. He 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

The feeling now is emptiness, and, of course, 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 and gasps about to break through the dam. The absence of daily routines — the morning kiss and gentle nibble on my left ear, wiping his eyes, taking him out to do his business (he NEVER had an accident in the house; never, ever), watching him chasing light and shadow, moths and butterflies at the cabin next to the wetland where the Trumpeter Swans live, barking at the deer, the sound of lapping from his water dish, telling us when he needed or wanted something —usually his ball and a playful game of soccer (he was a goalie! You couldn’t get the ball by him), his presence one step behind me going down the stairs (never beside or in front) like an on-site paramedic ready for an accident, sitting patiently to lick peanut butter from our fingers or from the table knife, rolling over on his back for a tummy rub, his complete stillness when Kay groomed him, herding us downstairs when it was time to watch Ari, have a cocktail, play ball, and replenish his prescription dog food, licking the dishes as they were placed in the dishwasher, running and leaping, unencumbered by a leash (“run, run, run!”) at the cabin, his sheer delight with Elijah, following the commands he liked from training — sit, down, heel, leave it — while regarding the rest as suggestions to consider.

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

Six days later

It’s been six days since Barclay died. I haven’t been able to shake the sorrow. The tears remain locked up behind the dam in the reservoir of tears kept over a lifetime. The 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. The 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 which only the heart knows.

If my DNA follows my parents’ lifespan, I have six or eight years left to release the tears of sorrow, guilt, and shame, and to re-fill the reservoir with the tears of joy and thanksgiving for the gift of Barclay and of life itself.

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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.

5 thoughts on “The Gift of Barclay

  1. Sobbing, my friend, thinking of all my lost children-my only children (and I am sure that is part of my grief). These days, once the tears start they are hard to stop-there seems so much reason to grieve. We must try to remember the joy and there was loads of that on my life., and I am sure, in yours. Now all that is left is the live- and we MUST pass that on at every opportunity-even to the unloveable. It’s our only hope.


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


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