Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My Heart Has Joined The Thousand, For My Friend Stopped Running Today

Inlehain died today. He was four years old.

He was Inlehain, which in Lapine means "Song of the Night".

He was Inlehain-Rah; the Chief Rabbit of his little warren. He had a regal air, carrying his posture carefully in what Katherine called "Bunny Yoga", confident of his status.

He was a loyal and loving companion to his mate and sister Hyzenthlay. The two have never been more than three feet apart for more than two hours. They loved each other, as bonded rabbits do; snuggling closely even when there is plenty of room in the cage, gently licking each other's ears, face, and eyes. Now Hyzenthlay is alone in the world.

He was my friend.

This morning, I was about to head out to the gym. There was a strange sound, but I assumed that it was crickets outside chirping. Then I realized that it was coming from the direction of the rabbit cage.

I stuck my head inside to listen closely. It was Inlehain. He was breathing laboriously, as though it took tremendous effort.

I woke up Katherine. A few minutes later, I was on my way to the emergency vet. He died on the way.

We were within perhaps a mile of the clinic when Inlehain, wrapped in a towel in the laundry basket in the passenger seat, went into convulsions.

Rabbits are silent creatures. They lack vocal cords and so do not bark or shout. But I have heard it said that a rabbit makes one sound in its life: the deathscream. I figured that this was folkwisdom; a mere legend.

It's not.

Inlehain's deathscream was a horrible, horrible sound. He coughed up his last breath in it, and died.

One of my colleagues here at Asbury is a respiratory therapist; a kind of nursing field that trains people with respiratory illnesses how to strengthen their breathing.

She says that the very first time that a baby breathes, it takes in a volume of air which is never exhaled. Lungs are never truly empty; they always have this first breath within them. They carry this same air for the full duration of life, only to be emptied in death.

It is, in the Hebrew, the bara -- the breath of life. God breathed it into Inlehain at his birth. And I saw it -- with my own eyes -- leave his body. He visibly shrunk as the deathscream ended.

I am grateful to Inlehain for the way that he died. I mourn that he died in agony. But he did two things for me. When I decided to get him to the emergency vet, I opened up the cage. Hyzenthlay hopped out immediately and went for their favorite hiding spot. Then, suddenly, Inlehain struggled to get out of the cage. He barely made it out, tripping over himself. I hadn't expected that in his condition, he would try to get out of the cage.

His gait was a bit irregular, but he galloped around the living room in a circle and headed back to the cage. This told me something important. Every rabbit owner had a deep dread in his mind: that he will accidentally break one of his own rabbit's bones. Rabbits are very fragile creatures. But Inlehain's lap around the room informed me that he did not have any broken bones. There would be no need to torture myself with questions of what I did wrong that could have caused this calamity.

The second thing that Inlehain did for me is that he did not die quietly in his cage. I did not have to reach into the cage in the morning to get them food and water and then find, inexplicably, a dead friend. Inlehain let me be present in the moment of his death.

He died well, as the Klingons might say. Or perhaps, to use a better metaphor, as the Efrafans might say. He did not slide into unconsciousness and thence into the forever sleep. He was conscious, fighting for his life, right up until the moment that that horrible sound came out of his shaking body.

That unearthly scream is reverberating in my head. It will likely be there for a long time. But Inlehain died well, and he let me be present when he died.

One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way -- something about rain and elder bloom -- when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him -- no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?"

"Yes, that's what I've come for," replied the other. "You know me, don't you?"

"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light. "Yes, my Lord," he said. "Yes, I know you."

"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now."

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right -- and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean."

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.

Come, O El-ahrairah, and carry away my beloved Inlehain to where the sun is warm, the grass is sweet, and the elil are slow.


Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry, John.

This is a lovely remembrance.

Anonymous said...

John, I'm so sorry! :(

TN Rambler said...

Deepest sympathy on the loss of your friend.

wickiwallie said...

John, I am so sorry for the loss of your dear furry friend. This was a lovely epitaph. I wish for you peace.

Vicki said...

Whoa. I don't know what's up with Blogger or where that name came from. That fourth post was from me...I apologize for the superfluous commenting.

Quotidian Grace said...

I'm so sorry, John.

bob said...

John, I'm sorry for your lose, there is a poem that is meant to console when a pet passes called the rainbow bridge I can't find it right now but I'm sure it's on the web.

Marie N. said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I lost a cat in a very similar way.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss and pray that you are comforted by the expressions of sympathy here.

Anonymous said...

John, so sorry for your loss. Praying for you in your grief; giving thanks that his presence in your life held such value. Thanks for sharing your beautiful tribut to him.

Anonymous said...

John, so sorry for your loss. Praying for you in your grief; giving thanks that his presence in your life held such value. Thanks for sharing your beautiful tribut to him.

Anonymous said...

John, so sorry for your loss. Praying for you in your grief; giving thanks that his presence in your life held such value. Thanks for sharing your beautiful tribut to him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story, and I am sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

God bless you, brother. Losing a pet is so, so hard. Your remembrance reminded me of Dylan Thomas's sage advice...

"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry John. Losing a pet is tough. And losing one so young... I hope the rest of your family adapts well to this change in their lives.

Jon Acheson said...


Losing a pet is so hard. :(

May the grace of God accompany you through your present sorrow.

If it's any consolation, I've learned that grief doesn't last, but love endures.

the reverend mommy said...

I'm asking God to hold you and your wife in the palm of his hand and grant you comfort today.

Anonymous said...

John - isn't God awesome that He created us in such a way that we can feel such love for a pet? I think it says alot about God's own character, love, that we who are created in His image have the ability to love a pet in such a way.
Jan and I have have 2 gerbils, Laverne and Shirley, that bring us great joy. My heart goes out for you and your family.

Anonymous said...


I brought up your site out of curiosity because you commented on my posting about "academic" art. Little did I expect that I would immediately be reading a beautiful and moving elegy.

I will do my best to hold you and your pet in the Light, and I wish that there were some way I could offer more comfort.

If you are planning on a career serving God and man (not that those are really separate), it looks like you are well qualified.

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


Know that you are in my prayers today. What a moving post.

BruceA said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your loss, John.

Anonymous said...

Peace be with you and your family during this time.

Jay said...

Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrow of your servants, for whom we pray. Amidst things they cannot understand, help them to trust in your care. Bless them and keep them. Make your face to shine upon them, and give them peace. Amen.

--From the Committal service in the United Methodist Book of Worship

John said...

Thank you all for your loving responses.

I ask that you pray for Hyzenthlay, who is now a solitary rabbit. As far as she knows, she is the last rabbit on earth, and the remainder of her days may become very lonely.

It is common for the survivor of a bonded pair to die within week of the other, from depression alone. My concern and prayers now are that Hyzenthlay live a rich and satisfied life.

Anonymous said...


I don't know if you read my post on my defunct blog last month, but we had to put one of our dogs down because he was biting the children. Still, I loved that dog and know the deep pain of losing a pet. Just the other morning, I dreamed that Checkers was on my chest, sleeping happily away. I truly believe that animals play a vital role in the eschatological scheme of things. As Anthony DeStefano writes in "A Travel Guide to Heaven," God will not lose his creation, but enhance it.

I am truly sorry for your loss and mourn with you.

Anonymous said...

Lord, embrace the spirit of Hyzenthlay, a mere animal in Your magnificent creation, that she may be an individual, one who faces life every day independently. Comfort her in her confusion, and give her the grace to live a long and healthy life. Not just for her, but for your servant, John, and his wife, this prayer is lifted up. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Your reflection about the breath of life was beautiful and I hope you can rest in the assurace that Inlehain is beloved of our God, who looked upon his creation and called it beautiful.

And bless you for showing such grace.

gavoweb said...

Dude!! my heart really breaks for you & family (two and four legged), brother! loss of words after that

Mark Winter said...

Hm, I didn't mean to log myself in as Anonymous. The post with the DeStefano quote was mine.

Sorry 'bout that.

Andrew C. Thompson said...


From one animal lover to another, I am sorry for your loss. I have lost beloved cats on two different occasions in ways not dissimilar to that which you describe. It is a painful, painful experience.

I once had a friend tell me that the reason we admire the love of animals so much is not because they love unconditionally (which they don't). It is rather because they love purely, undefiled by original sin. Their love is surely not perfect, but it is honest. And because of that, the dogs, cats, and rabbits in our lives have something to teach us.

Mike said...

John, I am so sorry.

Jonathan said...

I'm sorry John. And thanks for sharing your story. John Wesley believed that animals will share in the great resurrection, when all of creation is renewed. Who knows?

Melissa and said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of your little friend. My prayers are with you and the remainder of your family (especially for Hyzenthlay).

Michele said...

Beautiful, beautiful post John. It left me in tears. You, your wife and especially Hyzenthlay are in my prayers.

In case anyone is interested the rainbow bridge poem can be found here.

Sally said...

so sorry you have lost a friend John- our pets bring so much to our lives-
peace and blessings

DannyG said...

John, I've been meaning to leave a post sooner, but you know...good intentionns. We've lost two 18 yr old cats in the last couple of years, and have a 17yr old hound who could go at any minute (or, she could live another 5 years, she's that stubborn). The loss is hard, and I still tear up when I run accross a pix. of one of our cats who have passed. God be with you and yours in your grief.

Wendy said...

I came by to visit after reading Jockeystreet's blog ... and now feel blessed. I am going to read this aloud in my private devotions with my husband tomorrow morning, and at the Wednesday night vigil. Thank you for sharing your grief and your love.

John said...

Wendy, that is such a sweet and caring thing to do. Thank you.