It's December 9, a date that for a year now has lived in infamy, in my heart at least. For months I've dealt with the Seven Stages of Grief, or is it Twelve? I've added a few more, including Anger—a hot potent rage that scares me sometimes. And Guilt. I wake up at night still, stifling sobs, as I think of that day, 12 months ago, when I dropped my dog off at the vet and never said goodbye.
That's the one that gets me. Not that she would have understood what it meant, but when she woke up, hours later, in pain and alone, wondering where her soulmate was—and yes, I was her soulmate just as she was mine—that's what makes me feel like the most worthless human that ever walked on the other end of a leash.
Our leash was mostly invisible. It was a bond that kept her coming back to me, when the open woods called, when a pasture of sheep lay ahead. It was there when I left her, her purple leash handed over to the receptionist, while I ducked away so no one would see the tears in my eyes. Tears that taste more bitter as guilt than they did as grief.
Unexpected loss is perhaps the hardest to deal with. Include a big dose of guilt, and you've got a year's worth of unresolved grief.
I know this sounds like wallowing. And I hate wallowing. So what have I done in this last year to resolve the grief of losing a pet, the guilt from losing one so badly?
I found an online support group. That, admittedly, didn't do much good. My friends were much better at supporting me through this, especially friends with pets. It's a unique kind of loss, for those whose presence is so constant in our lives, and whose need for us grows greater as they age.
I read the book The Loss of a Pet by Wallace Sife, PhD. It says in black and white exactly what I was feeling, and told me it was normal. What a relief to hear that.
I've made donations to pet organizations, including one that was today recommended by my friend Christie Keith in her column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Helping pets does help to get through these horrible holidays, to paraphrase her title.
The number one way to overcome the loss of a pet is to get another one, everyone says, but in our case that has been complicated by an imminent move—or what we thought, during the summer, was an imminent move. So I went with option B, fostering a rescue dog, instead. As I told someone the other day, he fills the hole in my life labeled "Dog". He doesn't fill the hole in my heart labeled "Bailey."
But then nothing ever will. And that's okay. It's not meant to be filled. I've got similar spots reserved for Fifi, and for Bonnie.
I'll share a dream I had several weeks ago. I tend to put a lot of stock in dreams, and the meaning of this one was clear.
I was in a living room, and I felt the presence of a dog nearby. She wouldn't leave my side. I looked down and it was Bonnie, who died several years ago at age 16. I knew it was her, because she was always a Velcro dog, never far from me. I picked her up and helped her onto the sofa, where I noticed another dog, a white poodle. Could it be Fifi? She turned to me, letting me see the skin lesion on her side, so I'd know it was her—she suffered from skin cysts.
At this point, I turned to my dream husband, to ask him if he saw these dogs, and recognized them as well. He ignored me, as husbands do in dreams, and I wondered, Where's Bailey? I looked out the window of my dream house, and there she was, walking down the street. Walking, of course, because that's how I'd know her. My beautiful girl, prancing along without a leash, our invisible bond as strong as ever.
My three dogs were all eager for me to recognize them, to know they were still with me. In my heart, where they'll always be.
Enough wallowing. Today the sun is shining, unlike that date a year ago, and I've got a dog who needs me to take him for a walk.