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linked by loss

Death.  Real death.  As in The End.  Never coming back in that body that I know and love so well.  

I really don’t want to write about how I had to put my beloved doggie to sleep last week.  In fact, I really don’t want to write anything at all.  I took some time off but I do think that grief and loss are worth mentioning.

I’m not crying often anymore but the tears are still stuck in my throat and I can hardly swallow my food - I keep choking on it.  I sleep with her little jacket beside me in the bed right where she used to lay, and sometimes it feels like she’ll be coming back any minute.  Or that she’s not really gone at all, just in the other room.  It’s nice to feel that she’s with me in spirit but sometimes it’s more literal than that and I can only assume I am in the denial stage of grief.

Annie and I found each other in Fall 2002.  My cat had recently died and my fiancĂ© at the time and I thought we might get another pet.  I went to the local shelter just to browse the cats but as I was doing so I glanced across the courtyard and immediately locked eyes with a black and tan ragamuffin dog.  I never had a dog before but I knew my fiancĂ© loved them so I went over to check her out and immediately fell in love.  All the other dogs were barking hysterically in their kennels but my doggie sat silently and stared deep into my eyes.  I know this sounds corny but it was like she stared into my soul.  She put a fluffy paw through the chainlink gate for me to hold and there was no going back.

She had curly scruffy hair and appeared to be some sort of poodle terrier mix.  The pound named her Peppermint Patty which she and I both thought was ridiculous.  As I sat cuddling her on the patch of grass designated for people to get to know the animals, I intuited that she wanted to be called Annie.  Her profile was quite regal and she definitely wanted a more noble name.  I didn’t think the name Annie was particularly unique, or even regal, but it was clear to me that was what she wanted to be called.  And so I took her home.

My ex-fiance, turned husband, turned ex-husband totally doted on her.  I loved her to pieces as well but he seemed particularly attached.  Thus when we got divorced three years after adopting her it seemed natural he would get custody of Annie.  I wanted to fight the decision but even though it was a mutually agreed upon split, I still felt guilty for causing him pain so out of guilt I let him take her.  Fast forward a few months and it turned out his new girlfriend and her cats did not get along with Annie.  To my great joy, he gave her back to me.  After that, over the years, she saw me through countless other men:  boyfriends, one night stands, and dates both good and bad, but it was always them that departed, never her.   She was my soulmate.  She was my one true, lasting love. 

Annie has also accompanied me through 8 jobs (3 careers), 6 apartments,and a road trip across the country including staring off the cliffs of the Grand Canyon and being smuggling into a casino in Vegas.  Life experiences come and go but up until now she has always remained.

Annie lived approximately seventeen years and always had a zest for life.  She slowed down a bit the last couple years, surviving a stroke, heart murmur, kidney disease, and age-related deafness, but she always maintained her moxie.  People describe her as sweet and gentle however it takes a certain type of determination to keep on going like she did.  In the end, it was the cancer that got her.  She had a large, swiftly-growing mass in her mouth so that she could no longer eat or drink on her own.  Even with IV fluids at home and syringe-feeding, it wasn’t enough to stave off her kidney disease.  I went back and forth over if or when to put her to sleep, and tortured myself to the point where I could think of nothing else.  My work and my health suffered until one day something just felt “off” with her energy and I knew that it was finally time to let her go.

I made an appointment to put her down last Friday and it was the worst day of my life bar none.  It seemed as if she knew it was her last day too.  She was eerily peaceful and calm, and extra cuddly.  I took her for one last (supposedly) wonderful walk around the neighborhood but even though her tail wagged a bit in anticipation, she turned around and headed home before we were halfway done.  It was as if she wanted to spend as much time as possible hanging and snuggling with me, my ex-boyfriend (her other daddy), and our second dog.  She was very still.  Very quiet.  And I can’t bear to tell you more of how the rest of the day went - the time at the vets - because it literally causes me a pain in my heart.  I am still processing it all*.

What I want to be sure to mention though is all the love and support that poured in from friends and family who heard about her passing.  She touched so many lives, all over the world, and what amazes me is the empathy people have for my pain.  People who didn’t even know Annie but may have suffered the enormous loss of a parent or child are still kind to me about my dog.  I am discovering that grief is unifying.  It binds us together as human beings with a common thread, a common experience.  A common language even.  It is the good that comes from the bad. I am discovering that from grief comes love.  And of course, without love, there would be no grief.  So I am grateful for my anguish because it proves that Annie and I share a huge huge love.

Up until now my only major losses are:  all my grandparents (when I was about 30), my cat sixteen years ago which for whatever reason wasn't as painful, and the dissolution of my family as I knew it when my parents divorced in 1990.  As a matter of fact, the other time my heart hurt this much was when my mom was downsizing our family home as a result of the divorce and was selling off items that had been a part our family forever.  Included in the sale were the family room oriental carpet, the giant Webster's Dictionary that I always used to pour over, and my dollhouse my dad built for me that I had painstakingly decorated.  The dollhouse one really killed me.  I have a big problem with things never being the same again.  Memories of the past are my crack.  I tend to obsess over them.  Now Annie will only be a series of memories and it is terrible.  And that's what I kept saying on the day she died (and the following few days too): "It's so horrible!  It's so terrible!"  I couldn't believe it.  I couldn't wrap my mind around it.  Maybe someday I will write you a joyful humorous piece about Annie and her endearing little quirks, but right now all I can manage is this blog post stilted and jagged with sorrow. 

I'm wondering what your experiences with loss and grief are.  What did you feel, and do, and say, and think?  How did others treat you?  I want to connect some more.  I want to be linked by loss...

* I look down at the pile of tissues I cried my way through and I have a little panic attack at the thought that she will never again shred and eat them as she always adored doing.


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