Two days ago, we said goodbye to our first dog. He’s not my first pet to lose but he is the first one I ever felt like I could talk about right after his death; it took some time with our old cat.
I feel like I’ve been staring mortality in the face for a couple of years now. It’s superimposed over the faces of my family, some friends, my dog, myself; with an ever changing expression: frailty, self-doubt, aging, dementia, disorder, spiritual decay, fear… but it’s been ever- present. I think I’m used to seeing it now, and so I am able to talk about him, my symbol for “hanging on.” He was truly a good dog from the very beginning. He was meant to be in a family and loved nothing more than just lying near us wherever we were. Well, nothing more except dragging us down the street on his leash.
He was patient, protective, fun- loving… every adjective you’d expect from a lab. But he was also low- key, adored my husband, and gave me confidence to stay at home alone in the bad part of town. In fact, when men hanging out in neighborhood yards, over the years, saw him, I felt a little comforted that people knew we had a monster living with us. They didn’t have to know that he was afraid of that old cat I mentioned
He was not ready to settle down and sleep at night until my husband was home and everyone accounted for. Even today, the only response we could draw from him was a lifted head when my husband came home from work to help me carry him into the car.
He has been having trouble walking for some time. Ramps didn’t work (that was horrible looking) and eventually the modified step my husband made for him was too much for his hind legs. We started lifting his back end with a towel to get him outside and back in, but by Christmas day, he could use neither front nor back legs and didn’t want to move or eat or anything. I know I did the right thing. But, he was posing for our Christmas card just days ago, so it seemed sudden.
I think I will talk about my grief for a pet, here, where I want to grieve for more. I will talk about his faithfulness, how certain I am that he was meant to be in my life, how irreplaceable he is (and this is true), where I want to cry and ache for people I am losing, slowly. But I won’t actually feel it yet, not really, it’s still the holidays. It will be later when everyone is back to school or work and the usual business of life resumes for me, for my sweet ones who struggle with life as they near the end of it. I’m not afraid, though I feel the weight of things. I can feel my God with me. And it is both incredibly powerful and humbling at once. His presence is more constant and calming than I ever let it be before. I can go through this and come out on the other side. We all will.