Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wendell Dean Zellar: February 15, 2007-April 27, 2017


This is a devastation beyond words, and I am utterly shattered, but words are the only way I know how to try to make sense of this senseless world, and to sing hosannas to the increasingly few precious people and things that make my life worth living at all.

I have lost Wendell, we have lost Wendell --my lifeline and lamp through some of the darkest and brightest days of my life-- and I am contending with a loud, polyphonic chorus of howling pain and anger.

We were awakened by Wen at 5:30 this morning, just as he was slipping into a seizure. He has been epileptic since he came into my life, and we'd grown accustomed to these terrifying episodes, and also thought that we'd become more adept at managing them. This time, though, there was no bringing him back, and he suffered a series of cluster seizures that were unrelenting. Just as one would abate, another, more violent one would come rolling in. After a nearly two-hour ordeal I held him in my arms, talked him through a desperate and improvised series of Last Rites, and told him he had my permission to let go. At which point his eyes finally swam back into focus, and we looked into each other's brown eyes for the last time in this world, he let out a long sigh, relaxed in my arms, and left us alone with this terrible desolation.

Wendell did not die easily or peacefully, and I know I will be replaying that trauma in my head for weeks, and months, and years to come, trying to convince myself that in those last moments he knew that Kate and I were there, he was home, and that he had been granted in that last instant some measure of recognition and peace.

I have never in my life had a more purely symbiotic relationship with another being, never felt such a visceral two-way current of connection, trust, and adoration. Wendell was a special-needs dog --epileptic, surrendered twice in seven months, with a rap as loud, destructive, an escape artist; he had parasites and a mouth full of broken teeth. He was, though, my dog from the first time I met him. I was a special-needs man, and we were on the same wavelength right from the beginning. Nothing in his rap sheet ended up having even a shred of validity, and for the first six years of our life together he was, quite literally, my everything. He got me up, dressed, and out of the house. He listened with not just patience but seemingly genuine interest --or at least curiosity-- to my long, lonely, and often incomprehensible monologues.

He loved almost everyone who came into my life. If he wasn't wild about someone I quickly learned that his criteria for withholding were rock solid, and his instincts were to be trusted. Since I was a boy I have always regarded dogs as my most trusted and loyal companions and confidantes, and as the years have gone by I have chosen my friends almost exclusively based on those qualities, even as trust and loyalty have become harder and harder to come by in human relationships. I have, I know, often failed at being a good friend and a good human being, but I believe I am a good dog. If you are my friend I am fiercely loyal in a strictly dog way: You can take me for granted; I will not forsake you; I will always be tail-wagging happy to see you even if our paths in the real world seldom cross, and there is nothing I would not do for you. I adore and admire my friends, and I am perpetually grateful to have found a reasonably reliable pack of kindred people --dog humans-- in this world of so many broken solitaries.

Wendell --and his beloved predecessor, Willis-- made being a dog seem effortless, an easy privilege touched by unlimited grace and a boundless capacity for joy. It is not, alas, easy for a man to be a dog, but I have learned from the best, and my failures are entirely of my own doing, and they are many. Perhaps the only thing I can say with unqualified confidence is that I have been a devoted and unfailing father of dogs. I never had children --a blunt sadness in my middle years-- but I have a fierce and devoted love for the children who have come into my life --my nieces, nephews, stepchildren, and the children of friends-- and I have also always treated my dogs as full members of my family. I have belonged to them, and have tried to raise them to be good citizens and gentle and joyful souls.

Time and again they have shepherded me, and goaded me to be a better man, and a better dog, to measure up to their impossibly high standards. Wendell's joy was fierce, and it was contagious, but it was also gentle. And his capacity for serenity and affection were exemplary. Right now, I would give everything I have to watch him sleeping beside my wife.

I believe I gave Wendell a good life. In our early years together we traveled all over the U.S. and across Canada. He traveled like a Zen master, uncomplaining, clear-eyed, and always eager for the next experience. We visited 35 States and four Canadian provinces, survived a roll-over in Ontario, and he seemed to enjoy every minute he spent with me in cars, tents, cabins, and motels. In the past few years he has settled into our home in St. Paul with a contentment that blew my heart wide open and also --and finally-- allowed me to learn to feel at home. He loved being part of a family, thrived on the constant activity and attention, and was touchingly and zealously devoted to Kate, and loved as well the kids and Boris (the cat), toward whom he maintained a deferential and almost courtly respect.

And still he was my boy, and every morning I sang the same song to him to greet the day, and every night before bed we shared our sacred ritual of The Sweet Dreamers, an elaborate and rambling inventory of all of our shared blessings, and everyone --dogs, cats, humans, many no longer with us-- who was such a special part of our lives together. We talked about all the lost, lonely, sick, and neglected animals, and prayed to the God of Sweet Dreamers that they would find loving and happy homes. This ritual --equal parts prayer, poem, and batshit meditation-- could last anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour, and every single night Wendell listened patiently, without squirming, to every word.

I would begin and end every day with the same wish/prayer: That I would be worthy of and honor the tremendous blessing and responsible that was Wendell. I can say now, with a shattered heart and from a place of profound lostness shrouded in a fog so impenetrable that I am writing these words on auto-pilot and through waves of wrenching grief, that I have held up my end of that deal to the absolute best of my abilities, and to an extent that has often transcended my abilities. And I know that Wendell held up his end of the deal, and then some.

I know that every genuine dog-human relationship is a sacred and mysterious thing, but I have been blessed with a series of dogs who seemed divinely-tailored to where I was in my life and what I desperately needed at that time. They have all, I'm sure, shaped themselves to my personality and needs, yet the truly amazing thing about my relationship with Wendell was that our lives collided at a time of maximum crisis, when each of us was in urgent need of a lifesaving connection. We found each other, and that impossible convergence of need, timing, and good fortune is and always will be all the evidence I require to believe in the miraculous.

Wendell, I know these words are inadequate. I'm so exhausted and broken, but I want to keep going until I find the right words to sufficiently honor you and the dogman you have made of me. I love you with all my heart and soul. I feel certain that you knew that, and it is my only real consolation tonight. As I promised you every single day of our lives together: we'll be together for as long as I breathe. For so many years you kept me going, and I'm going to need to figure out how to keep going without you, even when I don't feel like going on at all.

You tenderized me, my beautiful boy. You showed me how to love, how to pay attention, how to minister to those who were hurting or lonely, how to be responsible to someone other than myself. You introduced me to people and places that I would not have experienced were it not for your consummate skills as an adventurer and an ambassador. You loved me --adored me-- when I'd become convinced that I was unlovable. You salvaged hundreds of shitty days. You had the brightest, most expressive and attentive eyes. You were a world-class observer, listener, and an intuitive, first-rate psychiatrist. You knew when I was off, and made compassionate and intelligent inquiries with those lovely eyes. Many, many times I was utterly convinced that you'd spoken to me, that we'd had an actual and substantive conversation.

You put my heart back together again and again, and now you've gone and broken it into a million pieces. I know that wasn't your intention, and I know you didn't want to leave us, and how hard you fought not to leave us. I also know how hard you had to fight just to find your way to me. I've spent a lot of time --too much time-- trying to imagine those first seven months of your life. How could you --the Genius of Love-- have been neglected, abused, or abandoned? How is it possible that twice people adopted you only to find you unsuitable or unworthy? These questions always trouble me, but I am grateful to those people --those idiots-- all the same, and grateful to you for persevering until we found each other at last. And I'm grateful --and full of wonder and admiration-- that you carried none of that baggage from those first seven months into our life together. You were, I choose to believe, patiently biding your time, waiting to become Wendell, to become my precious boy. And I know now that I was waiting for you.

I knew I would love you, and take care of you until the end of your days, but there was no way I could have imagined the extent to which our souls would become cross-wired --there's probably never been a man who so wholly entrusted a dog with the keys to his metaphorical car, and who, in doing so, was so spectacularly rewarded.

You've left a giant hole in my soul, Wennie, a giant hole in my life, at a time when all the holes in the world seem to be getting deeper and darker by the day. Wherever you've gone off to, I'm going to have to continue to count on you to keep feeding me a steady diet of light and life.

Love, always, my boy, and sweet dreams. The Garden of Sweet Dreamers exists everywhere, especially in dreams. And my old promise holds: We'll be together as long as I breathe.

(Here are a couple other Rapidan pieces about The Genius of Love)





7 comments:

  1. Now, that was a tribute. Sending love.

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  2. You don't know me, but I saw this because we have a common FB friend. This is beyond gorgeous and made me cry. You guys were so lucky to have each other. I am so sorry for your loss.

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  3. Mr Zellar. I experienced this just a few months back, and after reading this beautiful tribute, it brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Although words cannot express, you came pretty damn close.

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  4. I have no doubt after reading this that Wendell 100% knew (and knows) he was cherished. I totally get your grief - dogs can be better friends than humans and their loss just as much if not more painful. Sending you wishes of peace as the days go on without Wendell's kisses :)

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  5. You don't know me, but like another poster, I saw your tribute to Wendell via Facebook. I sit here at my desk with tears in my eyes! How lucky you and Wendell were to have found such sweet and tender love. I'm deeply moved. -Laura

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  6. Thank you to everybody who has read this, and commented or sent me messages. It means more than you can know.

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