Grief laced with gratitude
I’ve never really been much of an animal lover.
Until six Octobers ago, when I met my 6-week-old little chocolate bundle of furry love, that is. Now, I’m not sure how people live without them.
But I’ll have a chance to figure that out, because life has provided my family two lessons in grief this month.
First, a neighbor’s toddler was struck by a car and killed in front of our house. Less than two weeks later, our Lucy Baby met the same fate.
While that little pup grew into a 70-pound tornado sometimes called Lucifer, she was my first baby. When I didn’t think I could have children of my own, and then even when I did, she was the one who taught me I could love something more than myself.
I learned that when I stood in the rain so she could go to the bathroom, or lost sleep worrying about her injuries, or freaked out as she nearly got struck by a horse, at which point I decided I would wait to have children until bubble wrap was cool to wear.
Obviously, my boys were born in a time when fluorescent fashion came back instead of the more forward-thinking protective daily wear. And now, I find myself wishing for a way to bubble wrap their little hearts as they process and suffer through the grief of losing a beloved pet.
Crazy as she was, we did love her. And she loved us right back.
She also loved butter right off the counter, bathtubs as long as there was no water in them, sticks of any kind, swims anywhere but the bathtub and car trips riding shotgun.
She hated being alone, coming when called, high-pitched sounds and my cooking. The latter is because in our early days together, I was learning to cook, and that smoke alarm is terribly piercing.
As my family mourns together, we all have our own ways of going about it.
Sam, 5, says he hears her barking — in heaven. Jake, nearly 3, keeps wanting to go look for her.
I keep explaining to Jake, once again, what happened. And before long, it all slips past him to the point where he wants to know, “Where my Lucy is?”
I tell them we have lots of pictures and memories. Sam said that doesn’t help, and he’s right, at least at first.
But as the initial shock and immediate grief recede into more of a numbing sense of loss, they do help. Actually, I think they help a lot.
We talk about Lucy every night at bedtime, and on the way to daycare. Crazy things she did, cute things she did. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes there are tears and sometimes it’s a mixture of both, invoking Dolly Parton’s “Steel Magnolias” line: “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
What the pictures don’t show, though, is how soft Lucy’s ears were, or how deep her green eyes saw into me. I suppose that’s what memories are for, though. But I worry that in time I will forget the details of living with her.
For now, I keep remembering she’s gone, and it feels like it’s happened all over again. For instance, the boys leave the door open and I panic thinking she got out. Or, I forget to put the butter away and it’s still there when I return. And following meals, crumbs remain on the floor, a job Lucy handled for me.
I opened the trunk to load groceries and found her leash and food dish. I remembered it was there from the last, and final, time I had to coax her into the van after she pulled another in a series of Houndini shenanigans. I sobbed in the parking lot of Fred Meyer.
We have other things to remember her by, the shredded carpet, torn door jamb and missing siding. She wasn’t the easiest dog, it’s true.
So there are flashes of relief mixed with the grief, because I don’t have to worry about her getting out and hurt, or hurting someone else, anymore. But with that comes guilt, and then more grief.
While it is crushing to find her bone hidden in the corner, or to vacuum up the last of her hair and find a new home for her belongings, I know that a few houses away from mine, a mother is having to do that with her baby’s things. And the perspective shocks me into lacing my grief with gratitude for what I’ve had and for what remains.
Nathalie Hardy invites your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or at her website, www.nathaliesnotes.com.