On Grieving The Loss of a Dog

I’m not sure what led us there, but Birdie and I finally stopped by the park we’ve been avoiding.

The park where Har spent his last days, the last spot he was able to walk to on his own before his legs could no longer keep up with his spirit. We hadn’t stopped by since June, when summer was just beginning and the trees were in full bloom. The grass had that new summer smell about it- a mix of morning dew with freshly cut trimmings lingering nearby, the perfect kind of grass Har liked to roll in.

Today I watched as Birdie played with crunchy leaves that littered the now trampled grass. I could tell by the bare spots that the park had had a good summer and fall, it was probably ready for a few months off to catch a much-needed break.

In the time since Har died, I receive several messages every week from people who have just lost their own dogs, or they’re about to, and they’re searching for answers in how to cope. They ask me for advice on how to get through it, how do they get over the heartache, how long does it last? It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Because I was that person once, too. I messaged everyone I knew (and some I didn’t know) desperately hoping they’d tell me something I hadn’t yet discovered on my own.

“I know you’ll understand how I feel,” they all seem to start. And then my heart drops and my throat tightens because I do understand, as much as I can anyway, and I don’t know what to say next. Should I be honest? Should I say that here I am five months later and I’m just now able to revisit the park where Har once sat? That any song I hear seems to remind me of Har and I still can’t smile when they come on, but I sneak away to cry? That sometimes it’s the weirdest things that make me sad- like the fact the neighbor dog, the busybody of the block as we call him, who used to jump off his stoop the second he saw Har and run up and down the fenceline jumping and barking as we walked passed, that he no longer does this and I hate it. He lets Birdie and I pass now without a word to be spoken and he remains on his stoop.

On Sundays, Chris used to scrape the remaining eggs from breakfast into Har’s bowl (“makes his coat shiny,” Chris would say as he’d then yell, “okay Har, come get your breaky”) and Har would bolt from the couch to his bowls to get his share.

Do I tell the people looking for answers that leftover eggs still make me sad? Leftover toy baskets. The leash still hanging by the door.

I don’t… I don’t think I do because I know they’ll find out, anyway. And I also know that when I was that person I wasn’t ready to hear this, nor did I want to. I still wanted to believe that grief had an expiration date. I truly thought someone might tell me I’d be sad for X amount of weeks at which point the clouds would clear, I’d take a deep breath, and move forward thankful for the time I had with him, but no longer still feel that aching emptiness every time I got into bed and Har wasn’t there.

And maybe some people do. I don’t know. I can only speak to my own experience, which if you know me at all, or have followed along here, you know I spent a lot of time with Har, nearly all of my time. I actually used to pride myself on how great I was at being a loner. I always preferred staying in rather than going out, even when Chris was away. How did I not realize that I never felt alone because I always had Har? He was always always by my side.

I bet if you’re reading this right now you’re probably thinking oh shit, never send this woman a message when your dog dies… which is fair, I’m not great at sugar coating things, I never have been. But the good news is not everyone cries about their dog for five+ months after they’re gone, I’ve heard. I know my love for Har was a special one. It’s because of this, that I’ve learned to accept the grief that follows the love. You just don’t get one without the other.

So what do I say? Well… I guess my only advice to people who are walking through this right now or are about to, is to lean as hard into the grief as you did the love. Does it suck? Oh absolutely. But you’ll probably notice you really don’t get much of a choice in this matter. It’s the price we have to pay. And maybe this is terrible advice, I’m obviously not an expert. This is my first time losing a best friend so I’m truly just doing my best here. I just know that if my only options right now are missing him or not thinking of him at all, I choose to miss him. And I’m hoping someday these won’t be my only options, hopefully, the memories that make me smile and laugh will eventually work their way in more and more. They just haven’t yet.

After Birdie had eaten enough leaves at the park I dusted off her leggings and put her back in her stroller to head home. I took one last glance at the sky hoping Har sent a sign, maybe a formation of clouds that look like him? Or perhaps spell out C-A-R-L… is that asking for too much? Probably, because it hasn’t happened. But I’ll keep looking.

We took our normal route home, walking a little slower than normal to enjoy the last of the warm fall days. As we reached the home of the busybody dog he spotted us from his stoop, as he always does. But for the first time since June, he didn’t just let us pass. All of a sudden he lept from his spot, flew down the stairs and ran up and down the fenceline. Barking and jumping the entire way.

Carl you sonofabitch, I laughed and cried at the same time. Of course, he wasn’t in the clouds. He was with us.


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