I don’t much like human beings these days.  If you have to ask why, you haven’t been paying attention to the news, and you certainly don’t have a social media account.  There has been an overload of meanness, casual cruelty and a tone deafness to the feelings of other people, and as a human being myself, I fully admit to exhibiting some of the worst qualities of our species.  I’m sure you won’t try and disabuse me of that notion.

That’s probably why I’ve spent some time over the last few columns reminiscing about human beings who exhibited a higher character and quality than most of the ones I traffic with these days.  My father and grandfather were exceptional people, and I miss them profoundly.  Someone else I miss in a way that makes the word “miss” seem painfully trite is my mother Lucy.  On Aug. 8, it will be six years since she left me.  She didn’t just leave me, of course, because I have family who loved her more than even the most gifted poet, the most heralded artist could express.  But death is always personal, when the lost one is the one who gave you life.

In those days and months after she died, I operated on automatic pilot.  God and biology are generous and immensely kind in that, when our hearts and minds are in deep mourning, our bodies take over in the most accommodating way.  We eat, we sleep, we walk and work and even write thank you notes to those who sent flowers and came to the funeral, and it is the disconnected body that allows us to function.  If it were left up to the mind and the heart, the places where your mother is a constant fixture and eternal resident, you would crawl into a tight, hard ball, and wait until you also died.

But you can’t, so you don’t.  Still, living is very hard after such a harsh closure.

And that is where the dogs come in.  In Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoir “Good Boy, My Life in Seven Dogs,” she writes “When we talk about dogs, it is not uncommon for people to say things like ‘They love us unconditionally!  Their hearts are so pure!’ But to be honest, I have rarely found this to be the case….if you ask me, the magic of dogs is not that their love for us is unconditional. What’s unconditional is the love we have for them.”  I am not sure about the first part of her thesis, namely, that dogs are not perfectly devoted to their humans.  But from personal experience, I can vouch for the second part.  Our love for them is an exceptionally precious thing.

In the couple of months after my mother’s death, while all of us were going through the biological motions, someone (my brother, I think) had the great idea of getting a dog. Our family had had dogs in the past, including my long-ago white German Shepherd Max, whose name used to be my password for pretty much everything until I changed it after someone hacked into my accounts.  We are a dog family, with some vague but not really heartfelt apologies to the cat-loving readers out there.

I just don’t get cats.

But we had gone a very long stretch without a dog, because my mother who was perfect in most things was imperfect in this:  She wasn’t a dog person.  When Max died, she allowed us one other, another white German Shepherd named Holly who had a really bad personality and ate all of her rose bushes, so that was the end of that.

Until we met Chance.  He came to us as a tiny 6-week old puppy in October of 2014, the blackest Black Lab I had ever seen.  In the dark, you cannot distinguish him from the shadows.  He was shy, and almost seemed hesitant at the beginning because he must have sense that This Was A House Where the Recently Deceased Owner Did Not Like Dogs.  So he was on his best behavior, hitting the mark when he tinkled, not barking even when hungry, curling up beside you when you were slumped over crying.  He just knew how to be there.

He still does.  I sometimes look at him and think that he should charge fees like a therapist, because that is what he was for me.  My mother’s favorite season was the autumn, and it’s mine too.  I am glad that she died in August, because losing her when the leaves were crimson and the air crisp would have made me hate that time of year, would have stripped it of the joy it still carries.  But that fall was tough, because she would have been decorating our house in rust and orange and brown, would have put bittersweet in vases, would have dressed the porch in Halloween mischief.  We tried to replicate some of what she would have done, but of course we couldn’t.

And that’s where Chance came in.  He distracted us with his boundless energy, so we could still enjoy the autumn beauty by taking him for walks in places my Mom loved to visit on Sunday drives.  He was the puppiest of puppies, awkward and needy and slobbering and sweet, and constantly demanding attention.  That was what we all needed, to focus our attention on a living creature that was not grieving.

And pretty soon, although it never will be as it was before, life normalized a little bit.  And then, a little bit more.  To the point that now, six years later, I will be spending Aug. 8 not mourning, but remembering my great love with joy.

Oh yeah, and I’ll be celebrating someone’s birthday.  I forgot to tell you that Chance was born on Aug. 8, 2014.  So the circle of life really does continue.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and a resident of Delaware County. Her column usually appears Sunday. Email her at [email protected]