Jack of all trades, especially love
This month has been especially heavy in the must love dogs till it hurts category of my life. I have loved and lost a lot of dog friends over the course of my life and career and it seems to come in waves. This month has been heavy with loss of some wonderful canine companions and I feel very lucky to have gotten to witness the connections they shared.
Losing a dog is one of the most difficult forms of loss and grief that exists. It is so damn complicated especially because of the inability to communicate on a verbal level. Anyone who has said goodbye to an old dog might understand the strange emotional range you are forced to experience. As your dog ages and experiences health issues, you feel this sense of duty and obligation to know “when the time is right”, but how the hell is anyone equipped to know this?! When you chose to add a dog to your life no one give you a pamphlet and says, “read this so you will be prepared, you know, when the time comes”. Unfortunately you have to figure this out on your own. Old dogs will put you through the ringer daily. If they don’t have some ever-growing degenerative health condition or costly medication to keep you up at night, they just slowly seem to be less of their former self every day. You look at them one day and say, “that’s it, I know the time has come” and as soon as you prepared yourself for the difficult task, they bounce back and have a strange (but short lived) return to their former energetic, vibrant self.
For my old dog who we lost a few years ago, I found myself lining our home with yoga mats every night because she couldn’t stand up on the slippery floors. Trying new food additives daily to incentivize eating, supporting her weight over small steps and curbs, lifting her in and out of vehicles and stairways, finding her stuck behind and under furniture in our home, then came the poop, oh yes the poop. Daily life with her was for lack of a better word, it was shitty, whether I wanted to admit it or not caring for her felt like a difficult chore. She always seemed uncomfortable and annoyed, sleep was the only place she seemed peaceful and she slept all day then was awake all night. I bought all the meds, herbal supplements, sprays, harnesses, potions and lotions to try to ease her discomfort for senior dog life. One evening she took a sharp turn and I knew, even without the pamphlet that was it. But this isn’t her story,(feel free to read her story here).
Today I have to say goodbye to another of my canine friends. On of the sweetest dogs I have ever known. My eyes are welling up with tears just thinking about the loss to his family. He has lived on this earth for 15 glorious years and has been lucky to have two of the kindest human companions looking out for him. He’s one of those priceless dogs. No really, between the allergy testing, medications, hematomas and later in life orthopedic surgery he has cost a fortune to keep healthy, but here he is. Jack to me has been a constant source of light-hearted happiness. He has touched a lot of lives and shared a great deal of joy. Today my sister and brother in law say goodbye to their beloved Jack. And our greater family is feeling their pain.
Sometimes losing a companion animal feels lonely, like it was your pet and your grief should be private. Or worse at times it feels almost silly when you break down crying in the grocery store when you try to purchase some joint supplement for yourself and you have to blubber your way to an explanation of your emotional disturbance to the clerk. But something I learned from a inebriated stranger mourning the loss of her dog over several margaritas at a taco bar one sunny afternoon a few years back is that the world loves your dog, even if they never met your dog. They love your dog through you. They see the true connection you got to share. This connection is so deep because it is free of language, judgment, social pressures and stigma. Anyone who has shared their life with another species can recognize this meaningful bond and the difficult loss you experience.
I think now about grief like walking into the ocean. I prepare myself and face it, walk toward it and think how strong I will be when the first wave of grief hits me. But I am knocked off balance and as quickly as it came, it is gone. I recover, regroups and just as I begin to feel settled, another wave comes. Then another, I lose it, tears, so many tears. Then another, guilt, so much guilt. Then another. This one I handle like a pro, I dive under it and surface again as it gently rolls over me. I get into the rhythm, thanking those who acknowledge our loss and being aware of the changes in daily life. Then this relief comes, the one that feels like I have done the right thing, I am comfortable and almost happy for the end. Then a big freaking wave comes and tosses me into the sea floor and pounds on me, I come up gasping for air, drowning in my own tears and snot. This one is guilt again, did I do enough? Did I kill my dog? This wave also passes. Eventually I make my way to where the waves stop breaking and it is calm. I am grateful for the experience and happy it is over. I become calm like the ocean and remember this animal fondly with all my heart. I paddle back to the break and ride the next one in, I own the loss and the grief but find a sense of enjoyment in the ride itself. I’m back on the beach, exhausted and admiring the experience but not ready to be back in it… for now.
Saying goodbye is difficult. Not only do you lose your companion but it feels like you lose a piece of yourself. Fifteen years is a big chunk of life and your dog becomes such a significant part of who you are, what your home feels like. There is great pain and struggle in losing a beloved companion but there is also great love and beauty. I have learned so much about myself, people and the world from choosing to live a life close to animals.
So to anyone who has loved and lost, I say to you that you are not alone, your grief is not insignificant and your loss is greatly appreciated. Lean into your grief and connect with all who show you a kindness and strength. Also if you need to shed some tears into a margarita and celebrate life and loss then I’m buying.
Goodbye Jack, I see you boy.