The death of my dog has been a learning experience, to say the least. I’ve learned that some people get sick of me talking about him, which is endlessly. I’ve learned that some people want to hear all about him, and they understand perfectly, because they’ve been there. I’ve learned that the kindness of strangers in support groups and internet sites is amazing and abundant. I’ve learned that I loved him even more than I thought possible, and that my love for him spans across all space and time. And most of all I’ve learned that my Milo is not coming back.
That sounds weird to say but for months now there has been this lingering, irrational feeling of, “maybe he’ll come back.” Like he’s just out for a walk, or in the yard, or sleeping in the sunshine on the deck, and if I turn a corner, maybe he’ll be there, and this will all have been a horrible mistake. I struggled to make sense out of that feeling- maybe it was my brain’s way of protecting me from the grief. Maybe the longing for him was so intense it just transformed into confusion. Or maybe my connection with him is so strong, that even after death I know he is not “gone,” that he’s still out there somewhere in the great beyond, and this is my soul’s way of reminding me. The trick is, I can’t listen to anyone who doesn’t understand. Doubters will tell me that’s just my way of dealing with the grief and not to search for some magical meaning in everything I feel. I can’t listen to what other people think about how I feel. That’s another thing I’m learning.
I realize now that I am a better person because of my dog. He was a tremendous part of everything I did, beyond being a physical companion. He was connected to my classroom, my students, my family, my friends. He made me a better teacher, a better writer and a better friend. Most of all, he taught me what unconditional love was, way before the birth of my son. And once my son was born, he taught him patience, understanding, and acceptance.
The agonizing decision to end my sweet dog’s life due to a chronic lung issue still haunts me. At times I feel like I gave up on him, like he deserved more of a chance, and I replay those last awful moments over and over again in my head like a horrible broken record. Then there are days when I am so grateful to have been there for his last, peaceful breath, to have whispered into his ear how much I loved him. It is a comfort to know that my voice was the last thing he heard, telling him to let go, telling him I would find him again someday.
I would do it all again, in a heartbeat, this life with him. Losing him is worth the agony of it all, having had him for almost fifteen amazing years. Because I knew what I was in for when I signed up for the job–it’s like God said, ‘Here, I will let you borrow this incredible little angel of mine. You can keep him for a little while but then you have to give him back, okay?’ That was the deal. I knew the deal all this time, and still I took it. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.