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For the Love of Hersh

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When I was growing up, we never had a dog. My mother told us we would be too sad when it died. She was not one for that "better to have loved and lost" business. Loss, to be spared at all cost, could at least be avoided on the pet front by not having one. Later, my brother got a cat, but when he and my mother moved into an apartment, the cat went to the farm.

So although I have buried my mother and father and lost close, close friends, I had never lost a dog, until we lost Hershey Kaplan on Sunday. In loving Hershey, and in losing him, I understood one more time how wrong my mother was, and how much poorer her life, and ours, was because of it. When Hershey died, I cried for all of us.

Heaven, more than one person has said, is the place where you get to see all the dogs you've loved.

I wasn't there when my father died. I'd left the hospital a few hours before -- I don't know why, probably to "get some sleep," because that's what I did every night for the 10 days after my father had his heart attack. Some days he was better than others. Some days I had hope. The last day I didn't, but I went to get some sleep anyway.

Many years later, many years older, I flew to my mother's bedside, where she lay dying. I arrived before dawn, sat with her as the sun came up, held her hand and sang familiar blessings as she took her last breath. My mother's death was calm, peaceful; it was not scary. Thinking about it, as I had my father's death for so many years, was much scarier.

My mother prepared me to lose my first dog. Her death prepared me for his. How ironic and sad.

Hershey was a much-loved dog, and he loved us in the way only a dog can, despite everything, forgiving everything. He did not have it easy. Our neighbor hit him with his car one Halloween night, his leg broken. He suffered from a cocker's bad ears, one infection after another, ending up deaf in both. For years, he had bad kidneys and yearned for an old-fashioned biscuit or bone. But through it all, through the cyst on his head and the careless grooming that cut his leg, through separation and divorce and kids going back and forth, through sickness and health, we all loved him, and he loved us.

When I cry for Hershey, I also cry for my children, watching them grieve for their dog, understanding that someday, as it should be, they will grieve for me and for their father. I hope they will remember, someday, that the painful price of love is a small one to pay for its gifts. It is a dog's last lesson to those he loved to teach them this, to show them that they can let go, and still hold on, that true love really does never die.

Rest in peace, Hershey Kaplan. A handsome chocolate cocker, he would have been 13 in April. May God bless you and keep you and grant you peace, my very good man.

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