Pre-Grieving Our Dogs
Updated: Jan 22, 2021
This is a difficult blog to write, and one I hesitated to write or share. I’m not one to post my every emotion on social media or share my private life publicly. But there is a topic relating to our dogs that I have never seen addressed, and it’s something I believe a lot of us experience.
As our dogs age, especially if they’re ill or infirm, it’s difficult not to think about their eventual passing. When my dog Mojo–a 120-pound malamute/shepherd/wolf mix I’ve always referred to as my “soul dog”—became a senior, I began to watch him as he slept. He’d lie there peacefully on his side, blissfully ignorant of his owner’s anxieties. I’d watch for that beautiful rising and falling of his furry chest that told me he was still alive. Once seen, only then would my own breath return. Although it might sound strange, it became almost an obsession to watch for those breaths, to make sure my precious boy was still with us.
When Mojo passed in 2008, it was the end of a very rough year. Not only had he been ill, but I had lost my two remaining wolves (yes, wolves—go read Hit by a Flying Wolf if you really want to know about the insanity of my life with wolves and dogs), lost a close friend to cancer, and lived through a fire and other assorted traumatic experiences, all in one year. And then Mojo died. Nothing, not even the death of my brother years ago, could prepare me for the crushing grief. I barely got up off the floor for the first few weeks. I literally spent a month and a half crying from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, to the point that I almost lost my voice. My hair began to fall out in clumps. Needless to say, it was one of the darkest times of my life. That it came on top of all the other tragedies didn’t help, but it really was due to how very much I loved Mojo, who was like a child to my husband and me.
Now, years later, we have Bodhi and Sierra. While I love Bodhi, of course, Sierra is my heart. As much as Mojo had been special and always will be, I have never been so close—so attached—to a dog in my life. It’s not just that I both love and like Sierra, or that’s she’s a wonderful, amazing dog, which she is. While I’ve always had an empathy and sort of sixth sense with animals, it’s incredibly strong with Sierra. We share some vibrational frequency; it’s a strange and beautiful connection. If I’m standing in my office, I know without a doubt when she’s standing by the bowl in the next room waiting for water. When I rub her tummy and give her cuddles, I can actually feel the love coming from her, and I know she can feel it from me, too. It’s our own little sacred circle of love. When we take our morning walks, I can feel her joy at running free and being out in nature. And she senses my moods as well. But it’s really more than just having an empathetic, psychic link with each other. To say we are connected would be an understatement.
In 2015 I had another tough year in which I lost both of my parents and a very close friend, along with experiencing other assorted tragedies and traumas. Weirdly, the same day my mother went into hospice, Sierra almost died. I came home to find Sierra standing there looking somehow not right. Although there was no vomiting or other outward signs of illness, I knew in my gut beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was very wrong. I rushed her to the emergency vet, where they ended up doing surgery to save her from a burst liver abscess. My mother and my dog had gone septic on the same day—what’s the chances? I’m pretty sure all of that loss and almost-loss has since heightened my fear and apprehension at the thought of even more loss.
We don’t know Sierra’s exact age, as she was a shelter rescue, but we estimate her to be around 10 or possibly even 11 years old. The day I did the math and realized that was a jarring one. I’m not yet quite at the point of watching for her chest to rise and fall, but I admit that I think way too much about what it will be like when she finally passes on, how the world could possibly exist without her in it. That’s a terrible thing to ponder, but I know I’m not alone. It’s very difficult, especially once your dog becomes a senior, not to think about that sort of thing. Some of us worry about it now and then, while others become obsessively worried about it. The only thing that really helps is, as with pretty much everything in life, to try to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. After all, we all have limited time here. What’s the point of tainting the joy of these moments with worry and fear? I try to spend as much time with Sierra as I can, and to make the most of our time together. There are times when I’m working at my computer and she gives me that look that says, “Isn’t it time for a cuddle?” Although I sometimes simply need to finish what I’m doing, there are many more times I look at her and think she’s right, that I don’t want to miss this moment, and that work will wait.
In the meantime, I take lots of photos of both Sierra and Bodhi, as photos are often the only things we have to hold on to after our loved ones are gone. I try to stay positive. But each time Facebook brings up a “memory” from a year or two ago, I wonder about the dagger I’m going to feel once my dogs are gone and Facebook brings up those photos. Speaking of Facebook, maintaining a live-in-the-moment attitude isn’t made any easier by the fact that my news feed is constantly full of posts along the lines of, “It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to…” My heart goes out to every one of those posters who have lost their beloved dogs. It hurts my heart, not just for them, but for what was and what will inevitably be again with my own dogs. I see tributes written about the lives of these dogs, about how wonderful they were. And that’s a beautiful thing. But we all need to put that much focus and energy into appreciating and enjoying life with our dogs while they’re still with us. We must accept that, as the saying goes, grief is the price of love. So for now, let’s take the time, and make the time to spend with our dogs, to make sure they’re safe, healthy and happy, and most of all, to let them know how very much they are loved. Because in the end, that’s all any of us can really ask for.
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