Cookie was the pack leader of a group that included Socks, Bingo, Pongo, Purdy, Baxter, and Wrigley. Cookie was an old hand at this by now. Socks had joined her first then the others arrived one by one. Her pack wasn’t as big as Donnie’s but it held its own.
There used to be an old wives’ tale that chihuahuas cured asthma. Kevin’s older sister Karen suffered from severe asthma when she was a little girl, so Cookie joined her and her family, who hoped she could help Karen. There was hardly an old family picture or home movie that didn’t show Karen with Cookie. They loved each other very much – she was Karen’s first special pet.
The pack grew smaller by one when they said goodbye to Socks. He loved a grown-up Karen with more heart than a ten-pound body should hold. As Karen’s family grew, and their grandmother was alone, she looked after Socks when there was a lot going on at Karen’s house. After a while, it was understood that he had found the love of his life with their grandmother, and he never left her again. When her best friend died, she cried on the bed until his persistent licking of her face cheered her up. She fed him all sorts of wonderful table scraps until that little dog ballooned into a sausage. But never mind. They were both happy and loved each other.
So, when their grandmother arrived here, Socks ran towards her, and they walked together up the familiar path, towards the blue-orange sky in the distance.
Anyway, Hugo had grown quite fond of Cookie in his time here. Cookie peppered him with questions about what Karen was like now. Although she didn’t know Kevin because he had not yet been born when she was around, she was a curious dog and liked knowing more about Kevin’s older siblings, Sherry and Donnie. She and her pack knew Donnie and Sherry’s packs of course, because they shared the love of a family who love each other. They were all waiting on one family member or another.
She loved asking questions about what they were like now. What was their mother like? What did they do when they got together? She heard a lot of this from the others but she was always up to hear it again, and Hugo provided a new perspective.
On a crystal-blue sunny afternoon, all was still. Hugo liked that sometimes because it meant he didn’t have to squint against the breeze. He and Cookie were lazing in the sun, chatting in between snoozes in the deep green grass.
While Hugo had known Cookie’s pack for the here equivalent of a while now, he still didn’t know how all of them made it from there.
“Cookie?” Hugo asked softly, not wanting to wake her if she was sleeping.
“Yes, what is it Hugo?” She had a half-dozy sound to her voice but was awake enough that Hugo decided to continue.
“Most everyone I’ve met here has told me how they crossed over. Different stories on how but all were either helped or crossed on their own. Some of the ones in your pack don’t know. They talk about memories of their person and happy times, then it sort of ends there. How come?”
Cookie liked Hugo as much as he liked her because he was also curious and asked lots of questions. And she’d been here longer than anyone else he knew, including Zippy, so she had answers to all sorts of questions.
“Most of us remember how we died because it was our last memory – old, tired and falling asleep one last time, or a tiny bit of pain with our humans holding us before we gently drifted over here. It didn’t happen that way for everyone.”
This made no sense to Hugo. He knew how he had made it here, and heard stories of so many others. What other way could there be?
“For some, it wasn’t very nice right before they crossed. They were hit by a car, or were let outside for a short while and disappeared in the night, never coming back. Whatever the reason, it was sad. Sad for them, and sad for their people. Sad in a different way for them than the way we made it here. Unexpected grief, grief out of the blue, is more powerful than the kind that follows expectation.
“When a pet arrives whose end back there wasn’t nice, their memory ends with their last wonderful moment. Playing chase with kids in the yard, digging under a fence until at last, victory and they made it to the other side. It doesn’t do them any good to remember further. It’s another mystery of this place but I’m glad it’s the way it is.”
“But if they don’t know what happened, how do you know it was something bad?” Hugo was puzzled.
“It’s not always the case but often enough, they weren’t the only dog back there. They had a house friend or two, just like you and Kaydon were. And when their friend arrives, they tell us what happened. No one would ever think to tell the poor souls how they died, so we listen to their stories about their last happy moment. It makes the rest of us happy to hear them, and to know that they don’t remember anything besides joy back there.
“And in the end, it doesn’t matter. As you’ve found out, the reunion is the start of forever. That’s all that ultimately matters to any of us.”
Hugo was quiet. The way he died just sort of happened. It didn’t occur to him until now that he could be grateful for the way he crossed. And now that he knew, he was indeed grateful. And sad and yet not sad. Sad that some lives ended badly and relieved that they didn’t remember it.
“Thank you, Cookie. Do you know how those in your pack crossed over, the ones who don’t remember?”
“You know, I don’t, and I’m glad. If they’re happy and imagine their best moments back there, and can relive them as often as they want here, then they never have to imagine how they crossed over.”
Cookie’s voice started to dim. When Hugo looked over at her, she had faded away, back to the little house on Armstrong, snuggling with Karen a time long ago.
Hugo thought about the wonderful moments he had recreated here, time and time again, whatever time means here. He was grateful that he had them to recreate, grateful that he remembered his last moments with his people. As the sun warmed and the grass wrapped gently around him, he dozed off, happy for all those who only remember their happy times.