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May 02, 2005

Discussion: Double Vision

Double Vision

In my thinking about Double Vision, I had finally got around to thinking that I would talk about grief. The book follows the stories of the wife and colleague of a photojournalist who died covering the war on terrorism, off in Afghanistan somewhere. There were a lot of different things that I thought it touched on -- including things like last year's Beyond Good and Evil, the interweaving of two stories that touched on similar themes and expanded our understanding of them, the ways in which people are damaged by emotional events beyond their control, and how they nonetheless end up dealing with it.

But I had decided on grief. Here was an emotion that games haven't really touched, and may never be able to touch. They aren't at fault -- it's difficult to experience true grief without a lasting and sustained connection. Usually, movies and books which deal with grief don't try to engender it. It's rare indeed that a book can make you feel grief. Grief is something you have to experience first-hand, and it's difficult to even properly recall later on.


Tonight my dog died. She was a beautiful tricolor Border Collie named Maggie. She had adjusted well to our recent move to Maryland, and was still extremely spry at nine years of age. I figured we had another five years together, and hoped for ten, even though I knew that to be a long shot. I never expected to lose her before she reached ten.

Maggie was really something special; everyone who ever met her would admit to that. I've never met, and will never meet, a smarter dog. When she was about six months old I learned that she had a vocabulary, that she had been learning from my references to her various toys around the house. I was a graduate student then, and often home during the day. I wandered around looking for one of her vinyl toys, with her looking at me expectantly. I looked down at her and said "Hey, just where is your Daily Growl?"

She looked at me, cocked her head just a tiny bit, and then raced off and found it under a table somewhere.

This was about the coolest encounter I had ever had with a dog up until then. I soon learned that she knew the names of all of her toys, eight or ten or so. I asked her where her "tennis ball" was, and she looked around the living room before I said, not believing it was even possible, "I think it's in the bathroom."

She raced up those stairs and into the bathroom like a tri-colored streak of lightning, before returning to the head of the stairs and looking at me quizzically.

"Have you tried the bedroom?"

Off she went, soon returning triumphantly with tennis ball crushed in her jaws.

The coming weeks brought more surprises. I learned that she knew to get her hedgehog when I was ready to grind the beans for coffee -- she also knew the words "coffee" and "grind the beans". I think I must have talked to her a lot while she was growing up, since I was around the house alone a lot, working on my computer remotely to the University. Having her jump up and down squeaking those vinyl toys in her mouth while I blasted some aromatic beans to smithereens was one of life's small, pure joys.

When some friends came over for a barbecue on the back porch and tossed her a hard frisbee, she put another toy on the frisbee and used it like a tray, carrying around both. This was a dog who could figure out how to use tools.

I felt like I might own the dog that nobody knew about on the Internet. On the Internet, nobody knows you're a Border Collie named Maggie.

Tonight I came home and gave out the whistle that said, "Maggie, I'm home." She usually races down the stairs at this, all excited to go out and play, to race about the yard after a frisbee or tennis ball. She slunk into the kitchen slowly, but I didn't think much of it -- in the last couple of weeks she had strained one of her hind legs and was still resting. Also, she's usually napping when I get home, and I wake her with my whistle.

I reached down to scratch her under the chin, since she was looking at me so expectantly. It was soaking wet with froth, and I knew something was pretty wrong. I pried open her mouth but I couldn't see anything -- but her tongue wasn't the pink I expected, but instead a pale blue grey. She had clearly eaten something around the house she shouldn't have, and her own retching wasn't producing anything. I packaged the boys off as quickly as I could to a neighbor, and got her on a blanket in the car. She was moaning.

I got about a mile before I finally hit a red light. I reached back to comfort her, to say, "Maggie, we're almost there, just hold on, girl."

But she was already gone.

I cried. No, really, I wept, long and unconsolably. I found a place to stow the car and I called my sister and cried out loud over the three hundred miles that separated us, even though I couldn't hear her over the keening of my own grief. I called my mother and cried some more, sobbing while she, too, sobbed. I finally got in touch with my wife, who had been unreachable at work, and had to break it to her, knowing that soon I would also have to break it to my sons, 6 and 4 years old.

This is grief. It is fortunate that we feel it relatively infrequently, and that we can forget just how it feels, how it really really feels, to be in the throes of it.

A few times on this blog I've lamented the inability of games to penetrate some of our deeper emotions. With grief, I'm glad no interactive entertainment will ever engender it. This grief is mine, something I can share with others who knew my wonderful dog, but something which remains uniquely mine, experienced deeply and in my own way.

Magellan "Maggie" Douville
February, 1996 - May, 2005
You were loved.

Posted by Brett Douville at May 2, 2005 10:38 PM


I am so sorry for your loss . . . Maggie sounds like she was one of those wonderful, once in a lifetime dogs.

Posted by: Anne at May 3, 2005 10:26 PM

She was, she really was. Thank you.

Posted by: Brett Douville at May 4, 2005 05:57 AM

I don't know how it is to lost a so wonderfull companion, but i can imagine it when i sit in the living-room and look at my fat cat, and can't remember how it was before she arrived at our home. sorry for your loss.

Posted by: Rui at May 4, 2005 01:26 PM

Thank you, Rui. I hope you have a lot of good times with your fat cat. Take good care of her.

Posted by: Brett Douville at May 4, 2005 06:44 PM

I'm a friend of your mom's and she gave me your website. I, too had a best friend of a border collie named Ranger. He was wonderful although not quite as smart as Maggie. But when he died, a little piece of me did, too. Try to remember all of the wonderful memories she gave to you.

Posted by: denise at May 6, 2005 03:45 PM

Thank you, Denise, for your kind words. I'm doing my best to keep to the good memories right now.

Posted by: Brett Douville at May 7, 2005 09:14 AM

Brett,Karen,Luc and Jordan,

I cried also for the loss of Maggie.
I have such empathy for all animals and I feel
terrible over her passing.
Remember that Maggie was truly loved and though
her life was cut short, she had what many animals
never had, a loving home!

Emma, my new Westie, who you have not met yet, has filled a void left when Fergie passed away
last year. Sean and I sat in the car at the vets
and cried for some time. I still see her running
down the hall, happy as can be.

I feel fortunate,that everyone in our family,
treat their pets as family members. They are
a integral part of our lives.

My deepest respect, to a wonderful family member,

Love to you all!

Posted by: Raymond at May 9, 2005 12:33 PM