Monday night I said goodbye to my dog. I catch myself waiting for him to appear- to see his tan coat contrasted against the red sofa as I turn the corner. To grab him when I go outside in the morning to start the car. Over the last 24 months, I have mourned five dogs. My father’s three dogs and my two. They were all part of the same pack. They were a motley crew that brought so much joy, destruction, love, frustration, and chaos into our lives. And now our homes are too quiet.
Tommy was a rescue. Moose’s father and I got him when we were newly weds. He was in a rough way. He was being loved to death. He was terribly overweight and could barely walk. I made it my mission to bring him back to health. As the weight was coming off, we found out he had arthritis. Our other dog, Clio, showed him how to crawl under blankets to stay warm in the winter and ease his joint pain. She protected him. She taught him. She led him. He chose me. I was his person- even if I tortured him with mile long walks and portion control. He slept in my nook and followed me from room to room. Over the years his face became more white. He lost his eyesight. He had congestive heart failure. But he never lost his gentleness. He allowed Moose to learn tenderness toward animals. He endured ear tugs, his fur being pulled by the fist-full, and not so gentle petting as my son learned how to interact with him. He never growled, bit, or showed anything but his sweet composure. He began the love of animals for my son. He deepened mine.
Over the years Tommy gave me a reason to get out of bed on days that I wasn’t sure I could. He gave me companionship during some of the loneliest moments of my life. I cannot count on one hand how many times he allowed me to shed tears into his fur. He was there for me in a way only the best animals can be. And I did my damnedest to be there for him. To take care of him to the best of my ability. To love him like he deserved. But now that I have said goodbye- now that I have ushered him into the eternal rest- I feel like I failed him. As I gently moved him from my car that evening and walked him to the comfortable room we would say goodbye in, all I could do was apologize to him. I’m sorry if I didn’t love you enough once Moose came home. I’m sorry if I waited too long to say goodbye because I wasn’t ready to let go. I’m sorry if you were lonely after Clio left us last year. I’m sorry if you were ever scared. I’m sorry if I wasn’t enough. He was so pure, I’m not sure any human could match it.
As I made the appointment with the vet, I thought about my own loss, my own emotions and thoughts about losing him. I considered Moose’s father. Tommy was the last part of the life that we shared- other than our child. I thought about how Moose would respond. He is so young, yet he is perceptive. He can feel a shift in emotion. He knows when things are different. Changes in routine effect him.
How will I handle Moose’s first encounter with death?
I thought about finding a babysitter for the evening- to shield Moose from the event. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I will never be able to shield my son from heartbreak or loss. All I can hope to do is give him the tools to grieve. Though he is not old enough at 20 months to entirely know what was happening, I watched him as his demeanor changed. He sensed the sadness that blanketed the room that night. He may not have understood why mommy was crying, but he knew I was. A sight he doesn’t see often. The following morning, he ran through the house joyfully calling “doggie” and searching for Tommy room by room- something he does often. When he couldn’t locate his furry companion inside, he continued his search in the back yard. My heart broke into a million pieces. More guilt. I took away his friend. I used the opportunity to explain to him again that we had said goodbye to Tommy the night before. That Tommy was playing with the other puppies on the rainbow bridge. That Tommy could see and play again, a history that Moose didn’t experience. I reminded him that we won’t see Tommy again for a very long time. Moose is young, resilient, and a little oblivious. He is acclimating fine. He searches for the ‘doggie’ a little less each day. But I will always remember that this was the first lesson of death I will have to teach him. And unfortunately, this will not be the last. These are the parts about parenthood that I worry about the most. They are the parts you cannot plan for. Grief comes differently to each person. Honestly, it comes differently to each situation. So I cannot plan how I will respond to events that will eventually transpire in my lifetime and I definitely cannot anticipate how those events will effect my son. All I can do is pray that I can be what he needs. That I can explain things in ways that he understands. That I can allow the safe place for him to grieve. That I can allow myself to show him my grief and pain.
As parents we want to shield our children from everything that hurts. We flinch when they fall. We perch on the edge of chairs to ensure that we can spring into action to catch them before hitting their head on a coffee table. We contain our emotion until after they fall asleep or we cry alone in the bathroom before composing ourselves. But as I am walking this path of grief, I realize that I am doing him a disservice if I try to protect him from pain. Because I cannot. The pain will come; it always does. Sometimes in the most surprising of places. If he never sees the sadness in my eyes, he may believe that he cannot show his. He may grow to ridicule himself for the emotions that bubble within him- like I do. That is not the legacy I wish to pass down. It is a cycle I am working diligently to break within myself.
I don’t have all of the answers. I don’t pretend to even have a fraction. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow or the next day- or how I will handle it. But for today, I will hug my son and gently remind him that Tommy isn’t with us anymore and that I am sad about that. That being sad is ok. And more importantly, that the heartbreak is worth it. It was worth the joyful memories that Tommy brought us and that we brought Tommy, I hope.
With love comes joy, responsibility, and heartbreak. It is worth the risk to experience something pure and beautiful.
One day, we will get a new dog. We will love it with all of our hearts. We will experience the joy, frustration, and inevitable heartbreak again- but the end should never make us regret the journey or chose to avoid the path. As I type this, I realize that the lessons I learned from my sweet furry friend, I need to remember to apply to the other areas of my life.
Sweet dreams my sweet Tommy Tubbo. You are missed. You were always cherished. Thank you for your life lessons. We love you.