I miss my dog.
That should be my whole essay. Those four words should be enough.
It is late and I need to go to sleep. My client is not happy. I need to finish her project. There’s been a lot happening with Covid, and finances, and seeing doctors (finally) and a graduating senior who was cheated out of her last year of the college experience. I’m trying to figure out my long-awaited graduate school and in the middle of it all, I keep crying because I miss my dog.
And I am not a crier.
Losing my dog set me off.
I dealt with a pandemic, our company that shut down, being locked in, caring for a stubborn, elderly father, adjusting to masks and gloves and the loss of independently picking up the things we needed without planning, cooking every meal at home ,not being able to help one daughter move and seeing our other daughter being depressed about all of her college plans. But losing my dog set me off.
I can only compare the grief to losing my mother a few years ago. I keep looking for my sweet puppy, my youngest baby, and she isn’t here. I keep wanting to call my mom to see how she’s feeling, to hear her voice and she isn’t there. She developed dementia as soon as we moved back in town and it took time to fully realize what was wrong with her. I feel cheated too. I finally lived nearby enough to meet for lunch and the kids were in school full time, but I got cheated out of mom dates and a weekend girls’ trip here and there.
Loss is loss and love is love. My love for my dog was total and resolute, pure and unconditional. Dogs don’t come with emotional baggage. That’s why our grief for their passing can be profound. And she was our child. She was totally dependent on us. I feel like we let her down in the end albeit I know that’s not true. But it still feels that way.
We had a lot of long conversations, my dog and me. She listened while I thanked her for being so cuddly and soft. She looked at me with wise, beautiful eyes while I told her how much we all loved her. More than a few times, I’d wake from a bad dream, and hug her. She often slept on our bed and just touching her soft fur and feeling her precious little heart beating would calm me down. And when my husband was on a business trip, she was very attentive and slept with me all night because she knew I needed her company.
I was not really her favorite person though. She was madly in love with my husband, and she’d run up his chest to wake him up by barking some unknown language to him. She made her needs known. One bark meant open the doggy door to let her outside. Two or more sharp barks close together meant we were being stupid humans that she tolerated, but clearly, we forgot something important to her. And several barks meant open the dang door! You locked me in the bedroom!
In some ways, she was like a cat. When she was done being petted or snuggled, she got up and moved to her own bed. She allowed us the privilege of hugging her and I was okay with that. I swore there was a person inside that dog suit, but I only honestly realized that she was indeed a dog, when she pushed open the bathroom door once and scared the bunny, who was spending time outside his cage, behind the toilet. I screamed and scooped her up and put her in the bathtub because she was closest to me and she was too small to get out of the tub without assistance. I scolded her and explained how the bunny was in fact, her sister’s (my oldest daughter’s) son, her nephew. And we don’t eat our bunny nephews I explained.
Clearly when we adopt a pet, they are truly members of the family. And I am missing mine; terribly. Presently our youngest daughter moved home because school was remote anyway and our small company was suffering greatly from Covid. She brought her own four-legged son and admittedly his presence has made it a little more bearable. But when he goes on to my daughter’s next home with her, we won’t be replacing our own dog. You can’t really do that. You can’t replace dogs any more than you can replace people. And we can’t go through it again. Our dog would have been 16 a week from today. We are thankful for the time we had with her, but I never really believed she would leave us one day.
She was a constant. We worried that this new house didn’t have a yard for her. The dog park sadly didn’t work out, but we still played fetch and ran around with her through the hallway and up and down the stairs. In the old house the neighbors came in many times if we were still out at dusk, to bring her in at the first hint of darkness to avoid coyotes. We fretted about her food and sent her to be groomed monthly. Then we oohed and aahed and told her how pretty she looked. We constantly photographed and videoed her. She had daily walks and pet sitters who stayed overnight in our home when we travelled. She was too good for kennels. She had birthday parties and steaks. She had the people food that was vet approved. We bought her a cute pink cape for cold days and fussed over her. We always made sure she had fresh food and water and nice toys and a ton of love. Everyone who came to our house hugged and kissed her too. Neighbors knew her name, sometimes before they knew ours, and everyone was friendly to her. She was beloved by all who met her.
It happened so suddenly. She was sprightly and puppyish and always up for a good game of tug-of-war and then suddenly she wasn’t. She stopped hopping up on our bed and then she couldn’t walk. I had to carry her outside to pee. Her last few days were a nightmare. She’d been back and forth to the vet and a specialist. We had insurance because we never wanted to be in a horrible position where we couldn’t offer her medical treatment because of an outlandish cost.
It didn’t matter. She just got worse so quickly. I kept holding her and rocking her and pleading with her not to leave. And in the end, we realized too late, that we had waited too long. We should have taken her to the vet to put her down before she had convulsions. It is a horrible thing to witness; to see someone you love go through so much.
My mother was in hospice during her last few months. We lost her in little pieces. Her sanity slipped quietly and then quicker. She had a few lucid moments here and there and said the most profound things and then suddenly she didn’t know who she was or who I was, and she lost one dignity after another.
And in my mind, my sorrow and grief for both has become conflated. One was my child and to one I was her child.
I haven’t been mothered in a very long time. I almost forget what that feels like, although I had her for 56 years. In the end I remember most vividly what it was like to try to mother her. I didn’t do a good job at that either.
They are both gone now, and that grief is the most intense feeling I have ever had. I lost grandparents, friends and aunts and uncles. But nothing compares to losing your mother and in such a long, drawn out way where there is nothing you can do but to make her comfortable.
There is a picture of my mother and me on my dresser. It is at my wedding before we came downstairs for the ceremony. She is smiling broadly, not something she usually did. She is uncomfortable being dressed up, wearing jewelry, and a little makeup. That wasn’t her thing. But she is nevertheless happy because I was happy. And I can see in the picture that I wasn’t nervous. She was nervous for me. But I was calm. Every day I kiss my fingers, then lovingly touch the picture.
And on the glass desk in the living room, there is a small polished wooden box with a name engraved and a small pink collar next to it. Every day I kiss my fingers, then touch that box.
I like to think of them together in a beautiful field someplace running around and cuddling with each other. The field runs on forever and the sky is blue. The air is warm. There is a slight breeze.
I don’t really believe in that sort of thing, but the image helps me get through the day. I probably asked for a sign in my initial grief, but I don’t buy into that either. Still, yellow roses were my mother’s favorite flower. And the day after my dog succumbed, the vet delivered a large, beautiful plant. And in the middle of it there was one, singular yellow rose.
I miss my mother. I miss my dog. I knew I loved them both when they were here. I hope they knew that too. I think they did. I wish I wasn’t kissing picture frames and boxes with ashes. I will not neglect my husband, and my children, my father, my family, and my friends. I tell them I love them often. But perhaps I need to step that up. Perhaps I need to buy myself some flowers, some yellow roses, as a reminder to keep imagining that field and to hope that we will all run around in it one day…together.