Goodbye: A letter to my dog – by Nat Lauzon
Dec 28th, 2014. One year ago.
It’s the day your journey as a dog ended, and your next chapter began as something else. As everything else, I guess.
If you had any idea how many times I’ve tried to write this over the months, you’d wonder why I wasted so many mournful moments and didn’t spend that time doing something more productive – like napping in a sunbeam or going for walks or hoovering a radius around the kitchen floor. After all, that’s what you’d have done.
But my girl, as a dufus human, I have this need to put my thoughts to paper and my words to the universe. I guess this is what some might call a form of “closure”. Even though I know the wound of your loss will never be closed. Grief isn’t airtight. Nor should it be. Nor, do I want it to be.
Remember those first months after we met, Flea? When you came to me from a puppy mill – almost 2 years old, dull-eyed, sickly and paralyzed with fear. You knew nothing of the world except life in a cage. Your sole comfort – the puppies you produced – were ripped away from you time and time again. You’d find the furthest corner of my apartment and tremble with fear and hide your head, trying to be smaller than you already were.
Committed to helping you, I educated myself. I taught you about your new world in small doses. I put your feet on grass for the first time, showed you toys, introduced you to all the wonderful places we could go with a leash and harness. In return, you taught me how to use patience and understanding and calm. You showed me that despite your past, you were willing to forgive human beings. You learned that some of us (especially ones with food) really aren’t all that bad. You inspired me to do more. So I created Montreal Dog Blog – and thus began a legacy of helping rescue animals like you.
Slowly I watched you blossom into the dog you were meant to be – taking just a few more steps outside your comfort zone, becoming more confident and curious, tail just a little higher, chest a little prouder. Just when I’d think I wasn’t doing enough, I’d see you make progress and reassure me we were on the right track. I got to see your first (of countless) moments of true happiness (chasing squirrels in a park)! Even the physical changes amazed me. A good diet and some TLC, and you grew a thicker, longer coat – and to my surprise, long plumes of fur eventually sprouted from your ears and tail! Of course, some remnants of your past would always remain – like fearfulness of loud sounds and an initial hesitation of most people. But these served as reminders of your past and a measure of how far you’d come.
You were forever kind. You were forever gentle. When 4 month old Arty came into the picture, you mothered him and played with him and even though he’s got a strong personality, you were never mean to him (though to my amusement, you discovered in recent years that you could terrify Arty with the way you guarded the bed if you got in it first. I guess it made you feel kinda tough, if only for a few moments).
To you, joy was a full-body expression! Your entire body would spin like a top when you were happy – which was every day! I miss the way you’d bow every time I put my head near yours, the way you figured out if you ran ahead of me and rolled over on your back, I’d have to pet your belly, your good-natured interactions with other dogs, your familiar jagged little sigh in the darkness at bedtime, your deep appreciation of sunbeams, your obsession with food (What is this, steak? Awesome! What is this, kale? AWESOME! What is this, a leaf? AMAZING!).
As you got older, and the brown on your face faded to grey, you owned your golden years! You really luxuriated in creature comforts and naps and stretching out, belly-up, to relax. Oh, and of course – that ridiculous tongue! Which was often obliviously decorated with something off of the floor from your crumb patrols. And how I was the only one you ever trusted to hold you. When I picked you up, you melted right into me like it’s where you belonged. Because, of course, you did.
Flea, my heart squeezes when I think of you. But to trade the tears for never having experienced these things at all? Not a chance. We had some good adventures, didn’t we?
I’m happy you got to meet Chad. Despite your wariness of people, you loved him right away. And THAT was pretty awesome. Like the saying goes, “I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs. But I fully trust a dog who doesn’t like a person”. He quite literally picked me up off the floor during some bad moments after you were gone. He still lets me talk about you until I’m blue in the face, by the way. He’s patient and kind and he loved you too.
A product of a puppy mill environment, your body was never truly healthy, though you didn’t let it stop you. I lovingly called you my “spare parts dog”. You were plagued by urinary problems, toddled along on genetically malformed, arthritic legs and suffered epileptic seizures. And though I’m sure you felt the pain of your body at times, especially in later years, you never cried or whimpered. You handled physical pain with strength and stoicism. In fact, the only time you really ever cried was when I was leaving you for vacation. And again when I returned.
I always returned. In the end, we always were reunited. I knew there was no question I would be there for you when that dreaded time came. Though, we’d had 10 years together, I still hadn’t expected it to come to an end so soon. I guess no one ever does. Your goodbye was everything I didn’t want it to be. And not how I would have constructed things, had we had more time. It’s really a silly notion of humans to think we always have more time. I’m working on remembering this too.
When you got sick last Christmas – it was sudden and it was devastatingly fast and cruel. You were given an unforgiving diagnosis of IMHA (Immune-mediated Hemolytic Anemia) and fought hard through a blood transfusion. You were tough to survive that. Then again, you were always resilient, given how you began.
In the wee hours of December 28th, I received a call that I should come and say goodbye.
Seeing you, ravaged by this fast-acting disease was a heartbreak I still actively force out of my mind. Within 48 hours, you had gone from healthy to something unrecognizable. The last time I saw you, your body was in spasms, wheezing and trembling, hooked up to oxygen. Mercifully, you were unconscious. They told me you were not aware of anything and I was grateful for at least that.
But my girl, I hope you know you were not alone. I was there like I promised. I was there until your very last breath. I pulled your blanket over you. I held you and nuzzled your neck and thanked you. I told you I loved you and what a good friend you’d been and that it was okay if you needed to go. I tried to desperately snapshot the feeling of your fur beneath my hands, knowing it would be the last time but wishing it wasn’t, all in the same moment. Chad was there, too – one hand on you, the other on me – trying hard to send you peace through the torture your body was inflicting on you.
Seeing you this way was tough. So, when you slipped away, and the struggle for breath ceased, I felt relief.
And then the twisting and turning journey of grief began.
I miss you every single day. If it’s true that we mourn in proportion to the significance of our relationships then, this is going to take longer than I thought. Once, in the days after you were gone, Arty started barking and I was sure I heard you join the chorus. It only ever happened that once. He misses you. He looked for you a lot in those early days and slept in your spots and has even taken on a few of your characteristics. I wish he had been able to say goodbye. It broke my heart, his seeking you out, his confusion. It’s not what I wanted for him.
You should know that I’m in a much better place. Arty and Chad and the understanding of so many kind friends and strangers has helped me heal. I don’t squeeze the heartbreak out into a million tears, anymore. Where I used to scoop you into my arms, I now hold fast to memories of you. I collect them happily. They are warm and make me smile. And just like you were, they are never, ever far from my side.
Someday, I will honour the lessons you taught me about patience and kindness and rescue another animal in need. But it’s going to have to be someone special (you know how finicky Arty is about the company he keeps). Somewhere there is a dog being passed up because they are old or sick or so fearful that they’ve never had the chance to be who they really are. And I know I can help because you’re the one who gave me that gift. You gave me a decade-long lesson in compassion. How many of us are so lucky?
In the meantime, my girl – we’re turning the page on a new year. I wish you were here. And yet, I know that you are. You’re in every sunbeam and gentle breeze and every good feeling. You’re in all the small joys in every day.
Writing this letter to you has been 365 days in the making. 365 days experiencing a journey of grief that is as individual as every soul. Some will understand the grief of pet loss – and some will not. In writing this, I’m not seeking the understanding of others. I had a personal need to acknowledge the depth and richness and individuality of your life as something more. Your life had meaning. How can I say it didn’t when it literally changed mine? Words will never do proper justice, but at least I know I’ve tried. My tiny spare parts dog, you were the most whole creature I have ever known.
Thank you, my Flea, for teaching me about forgiveness and joy and living in the moment – all the beautiful and pure things that are so exquisitely dog.
Dec 28th, 2014. One year ago. It’s the day your journey as a dog ended and your next chapter began as something else. As everything else. As part of me, too.
Until we meet again, my sweet little girl.