Success is often accomplished in a team. At The Morning News, one long-running and successful team is that of Robert Birnbaum and Rosie, his faithful canine companion and co-interviewer, who passed away on July 22, 2008.
All text and images © Robert Birnbaum, all rights reserved
Five years ago I discovered the work of Percival Everett and among others of his books I read God’s Country, his hilarious send-up of the American West. As the novel begins Curt Marder, one of the protagonists, loses his farm, his wife and his dog to marauders. As the narrative continues, Marder relates his tale of woe to various listeners—and each person responds, “That’s too bad about your dog.”
This past week one of the bad dreams of family life became real and I had to put down my lovely, nearly 12-year-old yellow Labrador, Rosie. The previous Friday, she became symptomatic and on Tuesday X-rays showed two large masses strangling her intestines. The attending veterinarian gave me the terrible news, which left no reasonable alternative but to end Rosie’s suffering.
My son Cuba and his mother Robin and I went to the hospital, Angell Medical Center in Boston, to say good-bye to our splendid and steadfast friend. The doctor, Alayson Phelps, who was so helpfully clear and incredibly compassionate, told us that all the nurses had fallen in love with Rosie and were distressed that nothing could be done for her. We spent some time with Rosie, who was on pain medication and somewhat disoriented, and then Cuba and I left the room and Dr. Phelps went in and (as Robin tells it) kissed Rosie on the head a few times and then put her gently to sleep.
Rosie was my constant companion during her short life. (I think there is a song that says, “When you are in love, life is not long enough.”) She made the acquaintance of and a good impression upon many of the writers I spoke with over the years—George Saunders, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Lethem, Richard Ford, Ann Packer, Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane, and Andrea Barrett to name a few. Her presence during those conversations occasionally opened a window of discourse and always provided a pleasant hum of tranquility.
Walking down the street or sitting outside with Rosie, I was frequently approached by strangers asking if they could pet her—it was a nourishing feeling to see contact with Rosie providing something good to other people. When my dear friend Michael was in and out and back in the hospital with fatal brain tumors, Rosie’s visits buoyed him, the nursing staff and everyone she came across. She and I were present when it was time to let him go—I don’t know that I could have dealt with that without her help.
The past few days have been dreadfully sad. You never truly know how big a space someone occupies in your life until they are not there. My 10-year-old son Cuba, grew up with Rosie and, as you would expect from a sweet loving child, has been deflated by Rosie’s passing. Robin and I are doing marginally better—cherishing our memories of what a beautiful spirit and calm steady presence our great good girl was.