Losing Our Dog Made Me Grieve for So Many Other Things

Penny wasn’t the first dog I loved and lost, so it shouldn’t have surprised me how deeply I grieved when she passed away just after Christmas this year. When our friends and family heard the sad news, they brought flowers and thoughtful gifts and sent lovely notes.

I heard from people I hadn’t heard from in years. There is something about this loss that everyone who has ever had a pet understands. We knew when we got Penny that our time with her would be relatively short, but at the time it felt like we had a lifetime ahead. We didn’t know how fast the time would go. I wasn’t prepared to face the sadness of losing her. What surprised me though, was discovering what else I was grieving for.

When the kids were little, Penny was part of the chaos. (Photo credit: Meghan Walsh)

Our family instantly fell in love with our new puppy Penny

Penny joined our family as a 3-month-old puppy, a surprise Christmas present to our children, who at the time were 10, 8 and 5 years old. We all instantly fell in love with her. She was by far the cutest puppy any of us had ever seen.

She was also loud, messy and chaotic. She destroyed socks, underwear, mail, pencils and perfectly toasted buttered bagels left unattended on the counter. She jumped on our guests when they walked into the house and scratched our windows warding off the mail carrier. She barked at everything and nothing at all.

We all fell instantly in love. (Photo credit: Meghan Walsh)

When the kids were home Penny was just part of the chaos

With young kids at home, our house was also loud, messy and chaotic. There were kids coming in and out of every door. There were dirty socks left on the floor and half eaten snacks left on low surfaces. She fed off of the chaos and created more of her own.

When the kids left for school in the morning, she circled their feet, barking, blocking them from the door, untying their shoelaces. She didn’t want any of us to leave the house without her. She waited all day for us to return home.

As the kids left home, I was left with just Penny more often

With two kids in college and one in high school, our house became increasingly less loud, messy and chaotic. Penny and I spent most days alone together, her laying at my feet while I worked, both of us waiting for my daughter to walk in the door after soccer practice.

Both of us wanted a little more time before she left to head back out the door. Both of us anxiously awaited the cars pulling into the driveway, signaling the arrival of the older two home for winter break.

Just after Christmas, with my kids all home together, we discovered that Penny had lung cancer. She was moving slower and sleeping more, but was for the most part, still herself. She still barked when the mail carrier passed and snuck food off the counter when no one was paying attention. She was ten years old but we all still thought of her as a puppy. We thought we had more time.

Two days later, we sat together on the kitchen floor surrounding her. She couldn’t walk and was having trouble breathing. Penny’s last hours were spent with all five of us around her. We were all focused entirely on her. It was what she always wanted – for all of us to be together. There were no friends, no homework, no games to rush to, no phones. Just us. How often were the five of us together like that?

In pictures I realized how much Penny’s life spanned my kids’ childhoods

Later that night we each pulled up our favorite pictures of her and added them to a shared album. Viewing the pictures of Penny through the years I watched my kids grow up with her before my eyes. Penny’s life spanned our kids’ childhood. I stared at pictures of Penny curled up in my daughter’s bed at night.

Pictures of her playing in the snow with my son and his friends. The birthday party my daughter threw her one year, complete with decorations and dog treats and guests. The pictures were memories of walks and movie nights snuggled together.

They were tutus on both my daughter and my dog, dancing around the house to Taylor Swift. Maybe my grief wasn’t just for Penny. Maybe I was grieving so much more.

All five of us sat with Penny crying uninhibited, ugly tears on that last night with her. My kids cried to lose the puppy who had become everything from dress up partner to confidant, their beloved friend.

I cried for the loss of those loud, chaotic child-rearing years

I cried for the ten years that she had shared with us. I cried for the loss of our sweet and mischievous dog, but also for the loud, messy, chaotic years that I was not yet ready to say goodbye to.

We are moving into a new stage without her, and it will take a while to get used to. I sometimes still wander down the pet food aisle out of habit, much like the way I occasionally stick a box of juice pouches in my shopping cart absentmindedly.

It will take time, but it will be okay. On our last night with Penny, I saw the maturity of my kids and the way we were all able to cry and laugh and reminisce while we grieved together. Penny will forever be a reminder of childhood and the loud, messy, chaotic years that she shared with us.

While it may have snuck up on me, I am ready for this next stage of my children’s lives and the joyful moments and new experiences we will share together.

More Great Reading:

Goodbye to the Family Dog

About Meghan Walsh

Meghan Walsh lives in Cranford, NJ with her husband and three kids, ages 20, 18 and 15. She is a graduate of Villanova University with a degree in English and a graduate of Drexel University with a master degree in Higher Education. She works in admissions at the University of New Hampshire.

Read more posts by Meghan

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