It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m just getting up. And with Dave away on business, my first thought is the same first thought I’ve had for the last twelve years whenever he’s gone, the dog needs to go out. So, I sit up, swing my legs over the edge of the bed, and peek over at the dog’s spot under the window. Only she’s not there, and the reality that she’s been gone for over three weeks settles back into my groggy brain.
In a split second, it all comes rushing back to me and I swallow down the lump in my throat. I remember that the reason why the bedroom is dead silent is because Lilly isn’t there. And neither is her bed or her collar or her soft little snore that cues me not to step on her when I walk across the room. And it brings the feelings of loss and sadness right back to the very tip of my mind. And it sucks.
The reality is, I’m grieving. My whole family is grieving. Because our family has lost a loved one. Someone who was as close to another sibling or child as you could get. And damn, it hurts.
Why, then, would I write about something so sad and painful and personal? Good question. See, long before I wrote a single word professionally, I wrote just for myself, as a way of expressing joy or sadness or fear or love or anything that truly moved my heart. It’s what I’ve always turned to when I’ve felt something deep inside my soul that I needed to express.
And right now, as I struggle with how different our world feels without Lilly, I’m turning to writing, yet again, to help me express how I feel. And the reason I’m doing it here is because I know that I’m not alone; so many of us have had and will have this kind of loss and there’s a kinship there that somehow makes it a little easier to bear when we lean on each other.
It’s ironic, I think, that we feel such unconditional love for an animal that can never speak a single word to us in all the years we’re together. Yet somehow, by virtue of their absolute love, our dogs manage to project more emotion and loyalty and genuine true love than most of us will ever feel from any other being. Ever.
When we’re afraid, they’re there. When we’re joyful, they’re there. When we’re having a good day, a bad day, a sick day, a desperate day, a triumphant day…they’re there. Everything about them is unconditional and raw and real and good. They’re never not thrilled to see us. They’re never too tired to play. They’re never too busy to listen or snuggle or give us every fiber of their being. Every minute of every day. They’re the true spirit of love. And if you have one, you know. And if you’ve lost one, you know.
Because at the heart of our relationship with our dog is pure, unfiltered, organic love. The kind that never waivers, never judges, and never, ever ends.
To a family, dogs unite you. To the lost, they save souls. To the sick, they heal when doctors and medicine can’t. To the lonely, they’re a companion and a comfort and a friend. To everyone who’s ever had one, they’re pure joy.
That’s because, the relationship we have with our dog transcends any other relationship we may have with a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a friend, strange as that may seem to say. Because, for most of us, that bond we have with our dog is the most wholehearted, unending, natural connection we’ll ever have with another living thing. They give their whole essence to us and they expect nothing in return. With them, there are no grudges or lies or judgements, just companionship and an endless river of love, affection, and trust flowing between us.
The upshot here is that the grief most of us feel when we lose our dog is very real. Very, gut-wrenchingly real. And it’s as powerful as any grief we feel for anyone we’ve ever loved and lost.
But even in spite of the tears and the sadness, I think most of us would take that emotional leap of bringing a dog into our lives all over again. And again. And again. Because to have a dog is to know and be surrounded by true love. It’s a guarantee that something warm and snuggly and fluffy will always have your back and be overjoyed to share even the smallest amount of time and space with you every day of their life.
It’s a true gift, having a dog. A gift that I’m truly grateful I’ve had and that I wish more people could know first-hand. Because even though our pups’ lives are far shorter than ours, they somehow magically pack enough love and devotion into their little lives to last us a lifetime.
So as hard as it is to say goodbye, It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. And what could possibly be better than to be loved so unconditionally by something that asks for nothing more than just to be loved back?