The question I have been asked the most over these three years of work for A Sea Change was not related to Ocean Acidification, to the film, Sven Huseby, or the places we went to, the question I was asked at almost every screening and when talking to friends was: “what does Niijii mean?”
Niijii is the name of Barbara Ettinger’s chocolate labrador dog, her 16 year companion that just passed away yesterday afternoon.
Our feelings determine who we feel close to, who we see as family, the ones we love. A sister, a cousin, sometimes even a father can be a mere stranger, while a dog on the other hand, a puppy that enters our lives can become a son, a brother, a best friend. I know to Barbara and Sven Niijii was a son and a life companion, the reason to return home earlier from their travels, a source of immense joy during morning walks and while sharing food in the kitchen or reading books at night, a family member. Around their house there are framed pictures of sons, of grandchildren, of Barbara, of Sven, of Barbara and Sven together and at least as many of Niijii, the friendly* dog.
Poor Niijii had not been doing well for quite some time now, he had actually made several miraculous comebacks over the last couple of years. His will to participate, his love for food, his bond with Barbara probably made him hang on way longer than any of us would have anticipated, but never long enough for Barbara, his mother. Last night we celebrated his life in a way Niijii would have approved of and is probably only too sorry to have missed. We ate, we toasted, we goofed around, talked about the eerie emptiness of death, indulged in extra snacking and sweets and watched a silly movie.
*Niijii means “friend” in Ojibwe