It feels like a year. It feels like yesterday.
The best friend I have ever had has been gone for one month. I still can’t process it, honestly, even a little. My brain knows that she is not here. My heart certainly knows that she is not here. But I still expect her at every moment, and I am still crushed at the very razor’s edge of the first split-second that I realize she is not going to get out of her bed or come around the corner or be waiting at the door. I go to bed looking for her. I roll over in the night looking for her. I wake up looking for her. I want desperately to put my arms around her. My heart’s mantra, which wells up out of me in wrenching sobs, is “I want my dog.”
I made a very personal decision. I rent my home, which means that I won’t live here forever. I couldn’t bear to not have her with me forever, and so I made the decision to have her body cremated and her ashes returned to us. In frankness, I don’t think I could have buried her. I don’t think there’s any way in the world that I could have stopped myself from going out there the very next day and digging my way back to her just to touch her soft fur. I’m positive that sounds insane to some people, but those who spent any time with her understand the softness I’m talking about — maybe not my insanity, but the softness. I think I would have driven myself mad knowing that there very quickly would come a time that I couldn’t do that. I also thinking I would have been out there constantly just lying on top of the dirt to be close to her. Probably not the very best mental health impression to give as a mother.
So, I brought her ashes home. She has a shrine of sorts in our living room. Our media center has a hutch over top of the television. On the very top is a large photo of her, framed in a natural wood just slightly darker than her own brown. Just below that, in one of the large divided sections running the width of the hutch, her ashes rest in a wooden beautiful box with a classic stamped floral design on leather wrapping and a swinging clasp on the front that was the same style as on the leather purses my mother had in the ’70s. A small, patterned S stands next to the box, for her name. Behind the box, and out of sight, is a ziplock bag with some of her fur in it that I brushed from her that morning. Below, on the main level of the media center, on the corner that is nearest her bed, is an elegant and sweet statue of a dog, finished in brushed metal hues, on which I was able to wrap her collar, from which her ID tag hangs. This shrine came together easily and perfectly, and having her home took away an anxiety portion of my grief. If life, parenting, divorce, and therapy have taught me anything, one of the most important lessons has been that everything comes in layers. There is no single switch or treatment or process that will work it all out. It is always layers, pieces, stages. This stage was soothed by returning her to us and giving her a specific permanence that I could never have given her in life.
The difficulty of stages is not knowing what the next one is. Right now, I function. I keep going. And I can do that now because at least she is home to ground me. But I still end most of my nights with tears because she is not there when I get up to go to bed at night. We don’t get to go outside in the beautiful night air for her to smell where the neighbor’s cat walked across our front porch, investigate the worms that have come up onto the grass, or listen to the train whistle as it crosses the road at the bottom of the hill. She doesn’t follow me to my room to crawl into her bed and get her nightly head and shoulder massage before I get in bed too and fall asleep to her sweet snoring. My room is so empty of her sounds at night, and that is so very painful.
When my son was little, he had a favorite blanket. That blanket smelled so unbelievably wonderful, like my freshly bathed, sleepy little boy. It wasn’t just the laundry detergent or his special bath soap. It was this intricate mix of everything that was my son, and it smelled like heaven and love and perfection. As he got older, he would part with both that particular scent and that particular blanket, and I wrapped that blanket as tightly as I possibly could and put it away in my nightstand. Periodically, I would pull it out and unwrap it only as far as I needed to in order to get just a whiff of that memory. It worked for many years, believe it or not. His dad would sniff it with me sometimes, and we would smile together and remember our little boy. I remember being just horrified that I knew the day was someday going to come that I would go to it, and that smell would no longer be there. Yet, I can still pull it out, probably ten years after I put it away, and there’s enough “something” woven into the barest threads of the fabric that I can find a hint of it and conjure up the rest with my heart.
Now, I get down on my knees, put my nose to the curve of my dog’s bed where she would lay her head and neck, and close my eyes that I can breathe in her scent and imagine that she is still with me. I have found a few spots that are perfectly her, and I am so careful not to touch them or even breathe on them as I draw them in because I am so fearful. I cannot wrap them up and save them. They will not last ten years. And I am so deeply afraid of losing that connection to her.
Spring is officially here, and the weather is warming. I am making plans to work in the flowerbeds this week, and my faithful companion will not be there alongside me. I said in Part 1 that I do not know who I am without her. That isn’t just grief talking; I really do feel that every day — that I am fundamentally changed and will continue to change because she is not beside me. I want my dog.