The thing about love.
It was heart-wrenching. There’s really no other way to describe it. Somewhere between heartbreaking and gut-wrenching….with features of both. You’re never quite ready, even though you know those tough moments are coming. Even as the decision loomed. Even though we knew it was time.
Watching my family come to terms with letting-go of Oliver, our loyal friend of 13 years, our nanny-dog when the kids were growing up who never let them too far out of sight or close to harm’s way, my companion on countless hikes and active-adventures, the super squirrel/deer chaser (but perhaps the least successful hunter) yellow-dog we rescued as a puppy all those years ago has left me pretty sad. My heart is heavy and it’s like I can feel it in my bones.
But I think that’s the thing about love isn’t it? Caring so much about something that it becomes a part of you….an extension of who you are; it means that when loss comes it’s like losing some of ourselves.
Objectively I know this was just a pet….and not always one who was perfect. I didn’t love the day he decided to chase a horse and learn not to do that with a hoof in the jaw. I didn’t love the day I discovered he had some type of parasite as a puppy…the smell of that morning still haunts me….and honestly, I can say that I didn’t love cleaning up after my 91 year old friend (if dog years truly are a 7 multiple) these last few weeks as he struggled to hold food down or absorb nutrition with a growing mass near his belly…..and I really didn’t love watching his weight and energy plummet…..but subjectively, he was a member of our family….and I loved him for that.
Oliver was the epitome of loyalty and friendship…..he kept an eye on us….and I loved him for it. I loved how he’d sit in the yard or in the driveway and watch me mow the lawn…..always within eyesight….as if to stay connected and remind me he was there. I loved how secure my family felt with him in the house when I had to travel. I loved how just the other day I watched him out the window laying in the grass keeping an eye on my 9-year-old who was playing with friends across the street….not barking or frantic….just watching-over, loyally. It’s true that I never really loved the fact that some poor soul was shaking in their boots on days when he had to assert the line between “delivery man space” and “our space” but quietly I did love the very clear and consistent message and the assurance it gave.
I’m not sure how long the memory of saying goodbye to our first family dog will replay in my head but I hope not very long. Watching my 14 year-old thank him for making her feel safe and my 9 year-old telling me he was sure that Oliver would be in heaven waiting to play; watching my 12 year old trying not to care so much but then laying by his side like old friends do and the look he gave Lindsay and I as if to say goodbye…..it was heart-wrenching….and I’m very sad today…..but I guess that’s the hardest thing about love…it doesn’t go away….but when you stretch it far enough, it really really hurts.
A dog’s bond with his family is one of those things that probably isn’t logical….it’s not tangible and maybe it shouldn’t make sense; but in a world where there is so much to question and doubt, there’s no mistaking it when you see it….it’s a thing…a very real thing….maybe more real than many things we experience…..a thing about love.
If dogs do indeed go to heaven, I’m absolutely sure my 9 year old is right…..Oliver will be there…waiting to play.