I talk to a succulent now.
A succulent that has Har’s collar around the pot and some of his ashes in the soil. The spot where we spent his last day near a mountain stream was covered in them. I say, “Hi Har,” when I water it and “I miss you, buddy,” when I set it in the sunshine. And sometimes it feels okay that I have this little ritual, a reason to say his name out loud. And sometimes I want to smash the plant against the wall because I’m talking to a plant instead of my Har.
It’s been exactly one year since I held Har’s face in my mine for the last time, rubbed his velvet ears, smelled his Harlow scent, and whispered, “I’ll be right back, buddy, I’ll be right back,” for the final time as he closed his eyes and didn’t reopen them. And you know what? I don’t think I’ve done too well managing the loss of him.
“No shit,” said the succulent.
I do know that I can sometimes talk about him without crying now, that’s good, right? Two socially acceptable grieving points for me! But I also know that I’ve spent more nights crying than I haven’t, because the space he left behind feels so empty and cold, even one year later. And not just at home, places like my parent’s house or my in-laws almost make me miss Har even more when I stay there and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because Har always felt like home to me, even when I wasn’t there. He brought me a certain feeling of comfort wherever I was and that’s something I can’t seem to get back yet.
Minus five points. Actually make it ten, because it’s just a dog. Don’t I know people have lost so much more?
I do. But belittling my own grief by stacking someone else’s on top, doesn’t help. I’ve tried.
I suppose I’m kind of lucky that I managed to make it this far in life without experiencing a loss that hit me so hard. And maybe that’s why it caught me so off guard, even though I did my best to “prepare myself,” while he was alive.
“If anything ever happens to Har, I won’t do well,” I’d tell Chris, or myself, or anyone who’d listen. “We spend too much time together, he has to live forever.”
I don’t know why I said things like that, I’m crazy but I’m not that crazy, I knew I wouldn’t get him forever. But I still hoped.
Because we all hope for more time. And when that time is up we hope there’s a magic way to make the pain go away- a secret book we can read, or a formula we can follow. I know I did at first. And I know I get messages every single day from people who have just lost their dog looking for the same answers. But I think they know I don’t really have a secret solution to ease the grief, but they reach out for the same reason I reached out when Har died. Because they’ve just lost their walking buddy and this is a walk they don’t want to do alone, no one does. And I can only speak for myself, but it’s a long one.
One of the hardest things for me now is that sometimes I’ll catch myself glancing at a photo of Har and for a moment I only see him, I don’t feel him. I see his sweet face and his soft brown eyes but the connection we had, the secret language that we shared, the overall understanding of each other, it isn’t there for a second and that’s what scares me. Am I forgetting him? Am I letting him slip away?
I’m not. Of course, I’m not. But some of the little nuisances that made him Har, and that made us us, seem to be fading. And then I get mad at myself for allowing this to happen, for allowing myself to go a full year without him. How could I do this?! How has it been a full year? I obviously don’t have a choice in the matter, but sometimes (often times) my grief likes to parade its way in with frustration on one arm and delusion on the other, and make me think that I do. That’s been a big problem for me with this whole grief thing- the fact I have absolutely no control over it.
When I’m done being frustrated and angry, I sometimes wonder if that’s how this whole thing is supposed to work. That the moments and feelings I’ve been holding onto so tightly are the exact things I should loosen my grip on, just to see what happened if I extended the leash a bit and gave them some room to wander.
What would happen then?
What would happen if I let the decade Har and I shared together live in the space I have reserved for it, but didn’t force myself to constantly pull it back and try to relive it. Would Har still be Har? Carl still be Carl? Would I feel a little less crazy and sad? I really don’t know.
I guess I’ll have to talk to my succulent and get back to you.
I miss you, Har. You and your park sandwiches.