On Alaska and the Things We Carry

A few years back the kids went out to play and came back with a cast-away puppy. We were living on thirty acres in southern Chile, which gave them quite a bit of room to run around. Breakfast was cleaned up, and I scooted them out of the house to roam.

A neighbor called the kids over and handed them a little girl pup he had found on the side of the road and asked if they wanted her.

Emma and Lucas arrived, excited and hopeful, and handed her over to me. “Can we keep her, Mom?”

“No, we can’t keep her.”

“But someone just threw to the side of the road. Look how tiny she is?”

“Fine. We’ll keep her for a few days and then find a home for her.”

They fed her leftover scrambled eggs from the morning’s meal, and played with her, found her a little box to sleep in, and pretty soon a few days turned into a few weeks, and eventually, I shrugged and agreed they could have her.

We named her Alaska. I think it was Rodrigo’s idea. And it ended up being the perfect name. Something about the tundra and wildness of Alaska seemed to fit this tiny pup, who was the perfect combination of protective and savage.

Before she was a full year, she got pregnant and had puppies. We gave them to lovely friends in Chile.

* * *

Then when John and I got married Alaska came to the Lake Joy house with us.

Alaska went on walks with me every day. She took the kids to the bus stop each morning, and she fought off all the deer who were viciously trying to attack the yard, not to mention the raccoons and cats and any other living creature that might be a threat. She was fierce.

Thursday night I found her on the side of the house, sick.

Friday morning I took her to the vet because she wasn’t getting better and she was very lethargic.

Early  Saturday morning, when it was still the middle of the night, Alaska died in my arms.

We cleaned things up, and eventually went to sleep and managed to rest for a few hours.

I woke Saturday morning with an insatiable need to clean my house. I mopped every nook and cranny, shook out rugs, washed them, dried them. I vacuumed, dusted. I even washed walls. I changed the tablecloth on the kitchen table, I threw out old flowers, and bought a new candle to light, hoping for a fresh aroma.

It happened so fast, it was so sudden, and her death so traumatic that the only thing we can do is sit in it. And clean.

When everything goes chaotic, we seek order, and find it in the most mundane of tasks.

I cleaned for hours on Saturday. Emma watched television and ate Oreo cookies. John went to urgent care to get antibiotics. (Alaska bit both of his hands when he was trying to pull out her tongue during one of her seizures.)

Lucas was a way with a friend, so we waited to bury her.

Our renter, Will, dug the hole for her little coffin. He spent his Saturday evening digging out dirt. “She was a good dog,” he said.

Sunday afternoon, when the sun was high, Rodrigo came over and the five of us had a brief ceremony for Alaska. Emma wrote her a tender letter, John read some verses about God’s creatures in Psalm 104, and I read a poem. Then we prayed. Lucas and Rodrigo and John lowered her little box into the earth and we put flowers on her coffin.

As I write this it seems almost melodramatic.

It wasn’t.

It was fitting. She was a good dog and we loved her.

* * *

Toward the end, what struck me anew is how powerless we are against so much in this life.

Megan Devine wisely says, “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

So this morning, we carry what we need to carry.

All of us. 


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Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.


  1. I feel so bad for all of you, your loss of a friend and great dog. And, I think it’s so tender, the end of her life, along with her pain. I am brought to tears.
    I honor her life.

    1. Thank you so much. It was actually very terrible. We are sad. xox

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