Ten years ago I wandered into my mid-20’s, a person equal parts broken and healing from a series of bad choices and even worse luck. I had the beginnings of a career, a divey watering hole where bartenders knew my name, a book club, a duplex replete with an absurdly long and utterly pointless hallway good for sliding around on in only socks, and the companionship of an English Bulldog named Floyd. Floyd was a living relic of my disastrous first marriage and had the kind of face only a mother could love.
Exactly why I decided that the thing I most needed in life at that time was another dog will forever perplex me. But what chance did I stand against kismet? Sherman and I were meant to meet. And so we did.
Floyd died several months after I adopted Sherman. He succumbed to several of the common ailments and the short lifespan of the breed, living less than 5 years. I was devastated when I lost Floyd. I still miss him from time to time, and I think much of that grief was tangled like a leash around my traumatic marriage and subsequent divorce. Floyd was special, but Sherman is my souldog.
It has been just over a week since Sherman made his journey to the Rainbow Bridge, and just over two weeks since the news of his cancer diagnosis caught us by complete surprise. It all happened so fast. Too fast. There wasn’t enough time for me to tell him how much he meant to me, how our adventures together soothed, healed and sustained me, or how his steadfast love and continuous presence guided me safely into a stable adulthood.
I can’t imagine what life will be like without him; he was the tapestry that wove together all of my iterations and evolutions. Like The Dude’s rug, he tied together the most important pieces of my adult life. Through all the breakups, heart surgeries, friendship woes, rejections, career moves, bad dates and mountain peaks, he was there. He was the best man at my wedding, and my constant companion through a difficult pregnancy. After his human brother was born ten months ago, he didn’t fault me for not giving him the same amount of time, attention, or energy. Instead, he curled at my feet on the nursey rug, at end of the bed, or on the bottom of the couch and let me rub his tail between my toes as I cried my way through breastfeeding sessions and postpartum blues.
To my sweet Sherman, dog of my life. I don’t know how to thank you. I don’t know how to say goodbye to you. I used to feel sad that someone abandoned you when you were such a little guy; I used to feel good about having saved you from whatever your fate might have been if I hadn’t scooped you up for a meager rehoming fee from that stranger in the park. But the truth is that you saved me from a version of myself that I needed to let go of and would not have without your help. You were a damn good dog.
I worked hard to deserve your love, but I’ll always think I fell a little short. I know that doesn’t matter to you; your love for me was free and always without condition or expectation. Your sense of adventure was unparalleled and your energy boundless, even as your snout and jowels greyed. When you met the man that became your dad, you accepted him into our pack. You even showed deference by accepting his “no dog on the bed at my apartment” rule. Sure, he cracked after 3 weeks, but it was nice of you to play along until he did. When we adopted that diva of a cat without even talking to you about it first, you accepted her and taught her your ways. And when the soundtrack of your nights went from quiet house to screaming infant, you were patient and calm. Our pack grew again.
Right now, I am so grief-stricken that I am almost sad I’ll never have to try to pry a dead or near dead animal from your cemented jaw again. Though, I can’t say I feel the same about inspecting your feces to make sure the [insert paper product of your choosing here] made it out.
I know your arthritis bothered you for some years, but you were stoic and good at hiding your pain to spare my feelings. You did that until you couldn’t anymore, until the cancer had festered too long to ignore. You did that because you knew I needed you in this new phase of my life. You knew that my journey into motherhood was going to be an emotional and unrelenting one. Among the countless gifts you gave me in your life was a blunting of the isolation and loneliness of those first few months postpartum.
I planned our goodbye for the night before we, your pack, left for vacation—to visit the boat you loved to ride on, the one that blew your goofy ear inside out. I did this because I couldn’t stand to be in our home, in my routine, without you here. Ten years is a long time to have had you by my side. Your absence is a silent scream. No more click-clacking as you walk down the hallway to jump into bed. No more slurp-slupring as you gulp water. No more drops of a tennis ball. No more late-night sighs, or doggie dream yelps. No more fur to vacuum. No more howls alongside the trumpet. No more treats to hide. No more walks to take.
No more you.
You had a peaceful and comfortable transition at home, surrounded by love from your few favorite people, a Culver’s Double Deluxe, Cheetos and Twinkies. The affirmations you offered as you transitioned let me know I made the right choice for you. You were cremated with your favorite potato chip.
Now we are back from the trip, you are gone forever, and I have pneumonia. So here I sit—sicker than I ever remember being—forced by symptoms into a stillness that I have never allowed myself to enter willingly—because there’s always something to do, somewhere to go….
In the stillness, I see that there is nothing to be done. I can only accept that you are gone, and hurt. And I think this was your final gift to me—a reminder that hurt is what happens when love inevitably gets turned inside out, and to always keep loving anyway.
Rest easy, goodest boy.