I let the day go by without comment. January 13th — the first anniversary of the day our Big Dog left us. I couldn’t bear to note it or comment. I’d been sick (Christmas flu leftover cough) and various levels of grief were simply too much to tolerate. His picture showed up in my social media feed several times that week. I reposted some of them.
The fourth anniversary of my father’s death was January 12th. The fifth anniversary of my mother’s death is January 29th. June’s anniversary of my sister’s* death will leap out on a Texas summer day and throw its cloud over everything.
Dominoes falling in my heart.
My heart was beaten and bruised with the losses of my parents. My heart was absolutely shattered when Big Dog died. I have never recovered. I keep waiting. We have adopted a new dog and I love the furry monster, but I feel the loss of Big Dog daily.
I have struggled with this constantly; why this sticks in my heart like some sort of parasite chewing away until I have so little to give anymore. I have tried to pull it out by loving Sammy the Mutt as much as I can. I spend a great deal of time with him. I hug and kiss him (he loves it, he’s weird that way), let him sleep on the bed with me when I’m writing, and take him for long walks. When I’m well, I run him alongside my bicycle. Love and spoil him as I do, my heart aches every time I see the large box of ashes on my dresser. Some days, a moment of complete silence in the house without BD snoring next to me is a moment gone dead.
Articles on the internet about grief are, by and large, about the loss of our human loved ones. I can’t, for even a moment, imagine the loss of a devoted spouse or a child, nor do I want to. I know that, in the long run, the loss of a pet is not the same. But bear with me, for this loss is still no small loss.
I have avoided this blog entry. It is difficult. It is self-centered. It is self-pitying and self-indulgent.
It is time.
The few articles I’ve seen about the loss of a pet focus on the idea that we miss our pets because of the love they devote to us and how innocent and good they are. The words “unconditional love” are thrown around.
I don’t, honestly, believe in anything called “unconditional love.” My dogs have all, to varying degrees, had conditions: food, water, medical care, attention.
And this is where I think a lot of these articles fail to really understand or address at least one major reason why this loss of a pet is so profound: This little creature we have spent every blooming day feeding, watering, giving treats, loving, walking, seeing to their toilet habits, bathing, doctoring, training, playing with, sleeping with, framing our day around, has died.
This constant presence in our lives, like one of our limbs, is just gone.
Suddenly we are at loose ends.
My days** with Big Dog were completely structured around his needs. I got up at a certain time to give him his meds. I took him up and down in a lift at all hours of the day (we live in a beach house) because his hips were failing. If the lift failed or he simply insisted, we took the stairs and I held onto his harness to take the weight off his hind end. He always handled his blindness well, but in his last months he lost his hearing and suddenly he was getting lost in his own house. Now I was having to help him find his way around the house. Of course, I took him to the vet regularly to monitor his failing heart. Come nighttime, there was the last round of medication for the day, diapering (one of the drugs was a diuretic), and finally settling in. At least, until a 4 a.m. wake-up because he didn’t like using his diaper. Down we’d go in the lift in freezing January or rainy March or mosquito July. He’d shuffle into the grass while I kept my eyes open for coyotes and back up we’d go. We went nowhere without first considering the impact on Big Dog.
The point of all this is not to tell you what a great dog mom I was. I had many failings: missing medication doses, losing my temper at silly stuff and scaring him, forgetting to fill his feeder. The point is, every day was Big Dog day. Every day revolved around this furry little being that had the mind and utter dependence of a toddler. He could not have survived without us.
By extension, I became completely dependent on him. He became my reason for living. My husband can live without me. My child is grown and can survive without me. (technically, I’m not talking emotions, here). There was no one in my life that couldn’t keep moving on without me. Sammy, this big, Shepherd-mix goof sleeping next to me at this moment, is self-sufficient and could survive without me and has done so before.
Big Dog needed me absolutely. My husband had all the tools to care for him but not the time and BD would not allow a stranger to care for him.
And he’s gone.
Being needed may be the most basic human requirement for existence. Many suicidal people can often justify leaving this world by saying the words I implied above: the people I love will be okay without me. I can go.
When Big Dog died, I felt I’d lost purpose. I still do.
I spend a lot of days at loose ends.
This January 13th my head was filled with the stress of upcoming doctor appointments for both my husband and me, but I’m thankful for those things because I’d probably have simply dangled off those loose ends until I couldn’t breathe. Now I just have to breathe and look toward the next domino on January 29th.
*Elise was my sister-in-law but she was my sister in my heart.
**My husband did this many times as well. As I said, this is a self-indulgent post because I was the primary caretaker.