Hugo the Chihuahua

May 5, 2010

Hugo, my sister’s family dog, died this past Sunday, on my birthday.  In this post, I would like to honor Hugo and address the grief that comes with losing a beloved family pet.

The first thing I would like to say is that, while I am and always have been a passionate lover of animals, I am not equating the sorrow associated with the passing of a pet with the life-changing power of encountering the death of a human being.  I have been profoundly affected by both, and they are different experiences.

Yet love is love.  And when you love another being, something in you dies when they die.  The death of anyone you love is often the occasion for all the other losses you have ever experienced to rise to the surface of your heart and wash over you like a hot wave.  Suddenly you are immersed in grief and longing, in love and tenderness, in the bittersweet suchness of the human condition.  Everything is up, and you ride the tide of love until you can breathe again.

Hugo was not just any chihuahua.  He was an intense character.  He was hilarious, and seemed to be in complete control of his ability to crack us all up, to bring us unmitigated delight with his quirky personality and humungous heart.  He was mischevious and affectionate, smart and willful, and unconditionally loving.  He appeared at Amy’s doorstep in the wake of a difficult divorce, and he became a healing force for her two little boys as they learned to build a new life together as a family.

Last week I spent a day with my sister and mother shopping in Santa Fe for my upcoming trip to New York.  Hugo was with us.  They picked me up from the university, so I was in what I call my “teaching costume,” which in this case happened to include black pants and a black blazer.  The minute I climbed into the back seat, Hugo leapt into my arms and stayed there all day, nestled against my chest.  I was covered in white and gold dog hair.  When Amy apologized, I said, “It’s worth it to have this guy in my arms.”  And it was.

This past Sunday, after my ecstatic weekend in Crestone, back home on my own couch eating gourmet pizza with my beloved, the phone rang.  It was my mom, who intimately knows my intimacy with death, and so got right to the point.  “Mirabai, I don’t know how to tell you this except to just say it: Hugo was killed today.”

At first I was calm and philosophical.  I gathered information (he was attacked by a couple of large dogs in the neighborhood).  I inquired about Amy and Ian, her younger son, still living at home (devastated).  I set my intention to be of support to them in their loss.  And then I burst into tears.  I could not stop crying.

I wept for Hugo, imagining his terror in being ravaged by those ferocious beasts.  I wept for my sister and nephews, whose daily lives were interwoven with his.  I wept for the way I would miss that adorable creature every time I visited Amy’s and he was not there to dance in circles at my feet until I swept him up and cuddled him.  And I wept for the loss of every dog and cat I have ever loved, who came into my life and healed me of some brokenness, and then left this world.

People who mourn for the loss of a pet often feel disenfranchised, as if they have no right to be so sad when other people are grieving the deaths of their parents or children, their partners or siblings.  I admit that have found myself frustrated when well-meaning acquaintances claimed to know what I was going through after my daughter was killed in a car wreck, because their family hamster had died of old age when they were in sixth grade.  But even if the loss of an animal inhabits a different region of our heart than the loss of a human being, it still has the power to transform us with the utter mystery and holiness of love.

Rest in peace, sweet Hugo.  You made our lives more beautiful.  We will miss you.

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7 Responses to “Hugo the Chihuahua”

  1. doug said

    I’m sorry to hear about Hugo and your families loss. As you said an animal friends death is perhaps a different part of the heart’s grief process, but in ways is no less profound.

  2. Carol-la said

    Today I was to travel to Lhasa, Tibet. Instead I catch up on my e-mails. I was thinking that Hugo was travelling somewhere on the road and his plans were changed by an act of power and unkindness, as were mine due to not being granted a permit into Lhasa. Grief visits us when we least expect it doesn’t it?
    I will say a prayer for Hugo and for you and your family in this loss. All types of grief, I feel, demands our tears and as Ted says “SUCKS”. I agree.

    • I cannot believe that, after all you’ve been through, you do not get to go back to Tibet and complete the journey you began with your beloved. I am holding you in my loving thoughts, Carol-la.

  3. Babs said

    I could feel tears sting my eyes as I read about Hugo. I lost my sweet Bandit(boston terrier) ten days after my father died. The grief I felt for each was different but I have to admit my suffering over Bandit was more profound, not because I did not love my father dearly and miss him, but because I felt responsible for Bandit’s health and well being and also probably because I so needed her to be there to help me through my grief. Our pets play a more significant role in our lives than we often realize. I say this as I wash the rug off that Autumn( my precious jack russel-pitbull mix)chose to “barf” on this morning.

  4. Doug said

    Yes we can expand our consciousnesses while traveling on beams of light communicating with beings of all sorts and in all dimensions. We might even begin to think we’re a little too omnipotent for our own good. But in the end doesn’t it always come back to the daily chores of living that keep us grounded? Like chopping wood, hauling water, or cleaning up dog barf!

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