I’ve been thinking about grief today. About how it is so strange and sometimes so unexpected. About how you think you are “over” something … or how the world around you thinks you should be “over” something … but how that something never truly seems to go away. Perhaps it will sink to the background for a while. It might even sink out of sight for a long while. But, eventually, it is going to jump up and take you by surprise. As I worked away today, these thoughts were in the back of my mind, humming away beneath the knowledge of all the things I needed to accomplish before my work day could be done.
And it all started with a dream that was so vivid and clear and unexpected. Have you ever had a dream like that? This was a dream of years and years ago, when I was younger and, in many ways, more free in my life and my choices. I wanted to stay in this dream so badly that waking up to my reality was a shock. I woke up in tears and feeling unsettled, and it took me a few moments to figure out why. And then, of course, I felt ashamed of my grief that should have passed long ago. I am left wondering why I can’t get over this. Why does this particular grief continue to creep up on me and steal my breath away even now, over a decade after I suffered this loss?
Because, you see, I have a hole in my heart. It is not a physical hole, but a spiritual one. And it is shaped like a dog. Not just any dog, but my soul-mate dog. I wonder if everyone has one of those. Honestly, I didn’t know they existed until my sweet Tex came into my life. He was my first Springer Spaniel. He was my first puppy that was all mine; my first dog that I was solely responsible for as an adult. He was my first dog to live inside, as my mother never allowed us to keep our pets indoors when I was growing up. And, for many, many hard years, Tex was Everything to me. That dog was my entire world. He went through law school with me, which was a horrible and miserable time in my life. He went through my first few jobs with me. These, by the way, were also horrible and miserable. He helped me survive a painfully long and difficult long-distance relationship. This, eventually, had a happy ending, but getting to “happily ever after” was a slog. He slept with me and comforted me when I was alone. He stayed by my side when I had pneumonia. He Velcroed himself to me in every aspect of my life. I took him everywhere with me. I know many people will roll their eyes as I type this, but you dog people out there will understand: He was my child before I had a human child. Tex was, and still is, THAT dog for me. If I could have had him for forever, even if it meant I would never have another dog, I would have been happy with that. It’s not that I don’t love my current dogs. I do. But I would have happily lived with Tex for the rest of forever.
And that brings me to my dream. It was such a simple dream: me, sitting under a tree reading a book … and I looked up to see Tex running toward me. I was overwhelmed with happiness, just seeing that silly dog grin on his face and his floppy ears flying. Just seeing him again. And then, of course, I woke up to the reality of a world without my beloved boy. Thoughts and memories of him have kept me unsettled all day today. It’s lucky for me I didn’t have to do any phone calls or video conferences for work.
And yet, I feel I must hide my grief. Tex has been gone for a LONG time. He left me when he was almost fifteen, and that was fourteen years ago. He’s been gone much longer than he could ever have lived. And yet, it feels like just yesterday when that bond was shattered. I feel … embarrassed … like there is something wrong with me. Why can’t I get over this? Why do I still cry when I dream about him? Why do I keep his baskets of toys packed away in my basement? None of my current dogs play with them. No dog will ever play with them. And yet, I keep them and move them from house to house. I just can’t let them go. I have to keep them hidden away. Just the sight of them is enough to break my heart and cause the tears to flow.
The world tells me he was “just a dog”. The world tells me my broken heart should heal. For that matter, the world tells me I shouldn’t even have a broken heart. And yet, I do. I think the world is wrong. Tex was never “just a dog”. No beloved pet is ever “just” a pet, like they are unimportant. They are our joy and our hope. When life is hard, they are our reason to keep going. They teach us to be better than we ever thought we could be. We love them. With great love comes great joy. Love creates a bond, and, when that bond is shattered, it HURTS. It hurts down to the very core of everything we are. I loved that dog. I loved him with all my heart, and I still do. So, maybe, I don’t need to be ashamed of my grief. Because it is honest and born of love, and because it fills the dog-shaped hole in my heart.