Regarding Tucker

The hole stands at four feet long, three across, three feet deep. It’s not done yet. Today I sawed apart the wind-tipped apple tree, pulled the stump, and got started. Tomorrow, I’ll shovel more dirt out of the hole.

I’m well into the clay layer now, and the sides are holding up proudly. As for me, I’m not holding up worth a damn. My back is cricked, maybe permanently; my knees won’t bend without an involved warm-up regimen, and my shoulders make a sound like wet cardboard tearing.

That’s okay. When you dig a grave for a family member, it’s supposed to hurt. I wonder how much we shortchange ourselves by our insistent determination to outsource all our grief to professionals. We give away our grief to counselors and morticians – even paying them to take it – but it’s not the only part of life we “offshore” to keep it from getting in the way of our constant whirl of efficiency, supercharged by web access, pocket phones, and 187 channels that not only have something on, they have on precisely what our tastes demand.


When I was a kid and we had three and a half channels, we used to put on puppet shows. We serenaded the neighbors; I knew two guitar chords and my sister could produce a clean note (only one) out of Dad’s old bugle from aviation cadets. We made stuff up, built forts against our terrifying imaginations, and, trembling, hid in them from the creatures we’d invented. We waited for telephone calls and saved money for long distance, but mostly sent cards and hand-penciled letters onto blue-lined, three hole-punched paper.

These days we move determinedly toward a place where nothing unpleasant can ruffle our virtuality. Our meat comes shrink-wrapped and bloodless, our girlfriends writhe onscreen and never bother us when the game’s on, and the game itself ends with whichever victory we programmed.

This game won’t. I’m down on points and getting further in the hole by the day. A big dog with a big heart requires a big damned hole. In return, he’ll leave us with an even bigger one, precisely where it belongs: in the hearts of his family.

Tomorrow, we’ll get a paw impression in something that lasts, so he can punch me with it every time I walk past the place where the apple tree once stood.

When the doc visits Tucker for the last time, I’ll have mud under my nails, bulging disks in my back, a Milk Bone in my pocket, and a cheerful smile to reassure my dog that we’ll all be fine, really. Just fine.

That will mark the first time I’ve lied to my dog, and the first time I’ve had to watch him to go off on his own and not come skipping back when I call. I can’t call him back this time. Tucker’s done everything he can for me; either I internalized my lessons or I didn’t. Either way, his duty is done.

The vet comes Monday, and then it’s game over.

I never liked those apples, anyway.

Beach sunset

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  1. (the other) Jack says

    God speed Tucker.
    You are a *GOOD* dog.

    He will leave a large hole.

    Peace to his people.
    They have benefited greatly from his presence.
    Tucker has benefited greatly from their love.

    Good dog.
    Good dog.

  2. It’s wrong to do this in a comment.

    That said, there is not a lot that strikes me as right.

    And so, small things:

    Love is more for the lover.
    Knives cut.
    Steel rots.
    Hearts bend.

    I’ve dug a grave or two. I used to feel a coward for having the vet do my dirty work. I carry regrets.

    Peace upon you.
    Peace upon us.
    Peace find us all.

  3. Lyle D. Gunderson says

    I am certain that Tucker considers himself to be a lucky dog, to have been adopted by you. He has no doubt told you so every day he has spent in your hearts.

  4. Pol Milburn says

    I never got to meet you Tucker, but thru your people I loved you. Safe and peaceful journey to Rainbow Bridge xxxx

    Jack – my heart is crying for you. *hugs*

  5. Monte Miller says

    I am unable to craft words as you do, Jack, so nothing I might attempt would be, as Cactus Jack said about the Vice-Presidency, “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Please know that I am truly sorry for your loss.

  6. Keith the verbose(and more than slightly annoying) says

    dang, my eyes are going….but what I could see was well said.

  7. I too have dug graves for some of my best friends under the old Maple tree in the back yard. Thank you for writing this, for reminding us that the only thing that makes the pain of losing a friend worth it, is the wealth received from having them in our lives.

  8. Tina Gyokeres says

    I’ve never understood how people can call a dog or a cat or even a gerbil “just” a pet. How can something that wiggles into your heart on four dancing paws and a waiving flag of a tail be “just” anything? Maybe we do confer human emotions onto our pets that science says they aren’t capable of having. But what other being can love as unconditionally or listen so intently to all of our troubles and fears without telling us we’re being silly or stupid.These are not pets, they are family. They can be beaten and starved and left to die simply because they outgrew their cute puppy stage, yet still trust another human and want to show them the same abundance of love and sloppy kisses.

    It’s been about five years now since we had to say goodbye to our German Shepherd Zeus. The day he couldn’t stand up and tried to drag himself across the floor was the day we had dreaded for so long. He was our boy. The one who comforted me and protected me through 11 years of Parker’s deployments. He was the one to brighten Parker’s day after a tough day at work. It was Parker who took him to the vet and held him in those final moments. I wasn’t strong enough. I’m still not. We miss him so much. Pictures remind us of our big, non-stop shedding goofball that once made a military cop run out of our house exclaiming “House is secure! House is secure! There’s a horse behind a baby gate!” Park and I chose to have him cremated because neither of us could bear to bury him somewhere we would never live again because of the transitory life of the military. It didn’t seem right to do that to him. I think it’s one of life’s cruel jokes that so much furry joy and love and comfort is only able to be a part of our lives for such a short time.

    Park sent me this link after reading it this morning. He knew it would break my heart just as it did his, but he wanted to share your story of Tucker. Though you never say it, it’s easy to see Tucker was loved with all your heart and then some. I hope that sometime soon you’ll open your home and heart to another dog that will be lucky enough to experience the same kind of wonderful life you were able to give to Tucker. Our fur kids will get a lot of extra lovin’ today, as that’s the best way I can think of to celebrate Tucker’s life. We’re so sorry.

  9. kevin mannis says


    I love you, and my thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Thanks, old friend,


  10. “Oh, my gosh,” said Pretty Wife. She looked closely at me for a moment. “Is he your puppy?” (22-May-2010)

    May the memories bring a smile to your faces.
    May time dull the pain.

    Please accept our heartfelt condolences.

  11. Godspeed, Tucker. My deepest condolences, Jack.

  12. Your BrotherBill says

    The Love we have for our Special Friends and Tucker is one. We will never forget them , We may bury them in the ground But we never will bury them in our minds and Hearts. Tuck tuck will always be with us. As all my old and lost Frients are with me Heart and soul.

  13. Jack, I too have had to put down loving, warm, furry friends/family members. It is always a sad time, but the love always remains. I hope time has helped heal the hurt, but I know the memories still fill your heart. God Bless and God Speed.



  1. […] Tucker Dog’s picture is in the cabinet, too, rearing up joyfully on two strong hind legs the year before his amputation, while some younger guy about my size grins down at him. That picture frame is draped with his favorite collar and a rabies tag. Last year I pulled that collar out and put it up to my face, checking for his smell the way he taught me. It smells only of boiled linseed oil. Our cabinet only saves memories, after all. It doesn’t stop time. […]

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