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March 22, 2022

“I Want my Dog & he is Gone”—when Death Steals a Furry Friend.

My back aches as if my heart alone cannot hold this pain.

It can’t.

Neither can I abide with stories about the rainbow bridge—that place where beloved deceased pets go. 

I don’t want a comforting fantasy. 

I want my dog and he is gone. 

I need to ground myself in the reality that I must face in hopes that I can begin to feel what I need to in order to heal. 

“If you can’t write about the room, write about the elephant.” That was what Waylon Lewis told us in regard to writer’s block. It is, as they say, the elephant in the room. It can’t be ignored. It must be tended.

The elephant in the room’s name is guilt. 

It’s on my chest. It’s in my head. My fingers feel sluggish. 

I’m second guessing almost everything. I’m not sure I should even be here right now. Here being in my best friend’s spare bedroom, in his newly purchased home, in Albuquerque.

As for the room, well its name is grief

Grief is the absence of the sound of my 14-year-old pug’s snores. It is his missing weight (which used to quite annoy me) on my legs at night. It is us walking up the hill, earbuds jammed into my ears, swinging my hips, encouraging him to keep up. 

“Come on, Grom!” 

Grief is knowing that I will never again speak those words to his living body. 

Grief is a storm-swollen lake, and I am a deep diver. I’m not equipped for this. Maybe no one is. Water slaps me in the face, the undertow drags at my legs. I lose my words to the wind. I take a breath and plunge under only to come up again for air, for a glimpse of sunlight, before being compelled to surrender to the pull of the lakebed.

This f*cking sucks. 

Tears fall as my fingers strike the keys. I’ve been physically repelled by the act of writing. Some part of me feels that once I sit down to put this experience into words it will become more real. 

My dog, Grom, died on a Friday. 

I had a vet come to my house to ease his transition. I held him as the light left his clouded eyes. He’s been slowly going blind for years. His frail form felt half the weight that it once had as his soul slipped from his shriveled flesh.

He was robust in his youth. His barreled chest and powerful back legs earned him the nickname Frat Boy when he was younger. When I first got him, he needed to walk about three miles a day to burn off enough energy to sleep through the night. He would swim, too! A big deal for a pug. 

Grom was by my side nearly every waking moment for the last 12 years. He was my comfort, my adventure buddy, and my best friend.

We road tripped over 5,000 miles together over the course of three months, meandering eastward from Montana. He won the hearts of the community that revolves around the Louisville Spiritualist Center in Kentucky, where we stayed for a week as I taught a workshop. His grinning pug mug obviously became our mascot. 

After several more days, hundreds of miles, and lots of treats we found our way to a rendezvous with my bestie (whose house I’m staying in now) for a long weekend in New Orleans. Yes, I tottled my pug through the French Quarter; the Southerners and tourists alike utterly loved him. I even sneaked him onto what was once a plantation.

His good-natured grin was a frequent sight at the Saturday market. His size and temperament made him irresistible to kids. We frequented tea houses and breweries. He sat on many bar stools, as well as strangers’ laps, over the years.

He rode on planes, ferries, and even ventured in a semi!

I dressed him in sweaters and other costumes, none of which he truly needed until we moved from Seattle to Bozeman where, as they say, it gets colder than a witch’s titty, which this kitchen witch can rightly confirm. 

Grief is a strange beast, far more fickle than a dog. Once they love you, a dog’s devotion is a reliable blessing. Grief is maybe more like a cat. It might play with you then turn and sink in its claws just as you are getting comfortable. 

They say there are phases to grief, but that makes it sound like we are climbing a ladder in a predictable direction. It’s not at all like that. 

Grief is like walking through the rain, then it changes suddenly to sleet, then the sun comes out, then you gleefully splash into what looks like a sparkling sun-dappled puddle only to be sucked into the gaping maws of another dimension where anger, confusion, and sadness reign.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Still, I feel like I am doing it wrong. Why, I wonder? Grief is disorienting. It also brings up our wounds and insecurities. 

In our society, grief as well as death have been sanitized and wrapped in plastic. We put on stuffy clothes and stand around coffins. Some people can’t even stay in the room when their beloved pets are being euthanized. I can’t help but feel that’s cowardly. For all our furry friends offer us, the least they deserve when they leave this world is a witness.

The morning I said goodbye to Grom, we laid in bed together. I had been frozen, unable to cry, and then a text arrived from my honey assuring me that though it was hard, I was doing the right thing. In those few lines he conveyed so much support, so much permission. 

In my case, knowing it was time was a grace made obvious by Grom having a stroke two days before. His life-force had slipped from his body since. He couldn’t stand, eat, or drink. 

I shuddered, trembling. Then the tears fell as I held his body close to mine.

I donned my favorite tattered jeans nearly as old as my dog, himself, and tossed on a tank top without a bra. When the vet arrived, Grom and I took up our accustomed spot in my leather chair where we had spent countless hours together. He lay limply as she administered first the sedative then the drug which would stop his heart. 

Fourteen years, 12 of them spent together, unraveled before my eyes as his thread to this world was severed. 

Amidst a flood of tears, I laid Grom’s body in a small wicker basket. My cat, Odin, paid his respects in the form of one final attempted tussle, only to discover the life, not the love, that had animated those bones had come to an end. 

~

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Justice Bartlett  |  Contribution: 215,180

author: Justice Bartlett

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