I had a really good day today. Just feeling very even keeled and okay. I posted on Facebook that I was babysitting for my son’s dog this weekend and looking forward to it.

Then I started thinking that I was always a dog person but haven’t had a dog since Christmas 2006. We were going to get a rescue dog, or a dog in need of rescuing, right before Michael had a seizure but then, of course, there was no question about getting a dog. I’m moving back to the city after Gina graduates so it’s not really on the table.

Then I thought about our dog….he was Michael’s dog when we met….a half white Shepherd, half Samoyed big white fluffy dog named Bear. Michael was single and had gotten two dogs, brothers. He was driving truck so he named them BJ and the Bear (I think it was a TV show about trucking or something). Because they were so big and fluffy everyone thought Bear was named as such because he, um, looked like a Bear.

But as puppies BJ was a very aggressive dog and would beat up on Bear. Michael said when he got home there would be fur all over the house. So he had to give one of them away. Michael was such a tough guy I thought he would have kept BJ, the tough one, but he didn’t. He kept Bear. The sweet one.

Gina called him Puppy. When Gina was 2, Bear would put his head in her lap and she would say it was her puppy’s head. So she and I started calling him PuppyHead. Michael refused, for about 7 years, to call his masculine dog Puppy Head. Eventually he would slip and say it without thinking…like “I have to stop at the store to get PuppyHead food.” and I would say, “PuppyHead?” and he would say “I didn’t say PuppyHead.” and I would just give him a knowing smile. Sure you didn’t.

Puppy Head was a great dog. Just sweet and nice and well-behaved and peaceful.

And I loved him when I met him and thought Michael was not touchy-feely enough with him. Never talked baby talk to him, never gave him treats, didn’t really take him for walks (just let him in the yard). I needed to remedy that.

So I spoiled him when I met him. I took him to the groomers. I took him for walks. I fed him lots of stuff he’d never had before. I bought him soup bones and rawhide and lots of things he never really had because Michael really didn’t know that much about those kinds of things. I think Puppy was his first dog and he just didn’t think about treats and walks. So I did. And for most of Puppys life I walked him a lot and gave him lots of treats. And he loved it all.

Michael would tell me to stop spoiling him. And of course I didn’t. And of course Michael didn’t mean it. Puppy had never been to a groomer before but his fur was out of control. Michael didn’t mind (much) when I took him to the groomers but did mind when I brought Puppy home with big bows on his head. So I had to start getting bandanas. But Gina loved the bows so now and again I would tell the groomer to put both and I’d take the bow off before Michael got home. Just long enough to make Gina laugh at Puppy’s bows.

We were together about 3 years when we got our 3 cats And he got along well with the oldest two but the youngest and littlest cat, Boo, would smack him all the time, for no reason whatsoever. I don’t know if she was intimidated by his size or she is just a jerk. I suspect both.

He could have eaten her like a Rice Krispie. Snap, crackle, pop. But he would just flinch. And look at her like she was out of her mind. Like why are you hitting me? I haven’t done anything to you, you lunatic. He had this way of looking at her like she was totally bonkers.

When we moved cross country we took all the pets in an RV because it was August and apparently animals routinely perish on cross country flights in August. So we rented an RV to take the 3 cats and Puppy Head cross country. Goobies and Lils were freaked out completely and hid under one of the seats.

Boo, the littlest all grey cat, walked around the RV even when we were driving, like she owned it. I remember her walking on the dashboard while Michael was driving and she was walking in front of him and he was trying to look around her. I said, “Honey, move her, don’t try to see around her.” He would say “Boosie has character.” I don’t know why that was always the answer where she was concerned. He was the one who found her and brought her home, and I think he didn’t want to admit she was a bit of a jerk. So he said she had character. I said being a character and having a character was two different things.

So Boo was queen of the RV while the other two cats shook for 3000 miles Puppy Head was pretty quiet, but sometimes he would start pacing. And Boo would station herself at one end of the RV and when he would start pacing she would run out and smack him every time he came within a foot of her. And he would turn around and pace the other way and then come back and she would run out and smack him. This went on for 5 days. And she did it at least once a day in the house. In all the years we had them together (about 7) only once he raised the side of his mouth and gave her a low growl. And it was late in the game. I think he was just fed up by that time.

He was a sweet dog and very undemanding. So when he started to whine just about every night, we were concerned. We were in Texas and he was about 12 or 13 and he was having trouble getting up from a laying down position and whining all the time. We took him to the vet and the vet said he had arthritis and to give him an aspirin every night. We did that. I moved up to New York and Michael said PuppyHead lay by the bed at night whining. He increased the aspirin and it seemed to be better. The vet said there wasn’t much else to do for him.

When Michael came up to New York, as he often did, we had a dog sitter who came to the house and she was wonderful. She gave Puppy his aspirin and she was well aware of his condition and very very good and patient with him. We were always comfortable leaving him with her.

I was in Texas in November 2006 for about a week and I didn’t think that Puppy looked too bad but he was definitely low-key and whined now and again. But for the most part, I thought the aspirin was keeping his arthritis pain in check. If I thought it had gotten worse I would have called the vet. Michael trusted my judgment and I didn’t think he was worse.

Michael came up about 3 days before Christmas and planned to spend the week. He said Puppy seemed very lethargic when he left. The dog sitter said she would take extra time with him. I was going back to Texas in 2 weeks so I would see how he was when I got back there and we’d decide what to do.

On Christmas Eve all the kids arrived and we all walked all over Manhattan. Went to see the tree and went out to dinner and just had a really nice time. We laughed a lot.

We got home and just as we walked in the door, all happy from our day and night, there was a frantic messages from the dog sitter. She said Puppy was breathing very heavy and she was concerned. We said to get him to the vet and she did. Michael tried to book a flight back to Texas. There were lots of tests and lots of conversations with the vet and Michael trying desperately to get back to Texas.

The vet said she could make him comfortable and keep him comfortable until we got there. We worked like maniacs trying to get a flight from New York to Dallas. We weren’t even thinking about not spending Christmas together. We just wanted to get one of us there to be with him. We were both on the phone at the same time with different airlines. We tried first class and several types of stop overs and nothing worked. While we were still frantically calling airlines, PuppyHead died down in Texas.

While I was on the phone with an airline, the vet beeped in to tell me. I quietly let Michael know. I can still see him standing by the dresser in the bedroom, cell phone in hand, just staring at it. Like he didn’t know what to do at that point.

He bowed his head. He blinked back tears. He said, quietly, “He was a good dog. He didn’t deserve to die alone.” And then he got very quiet for a long time.

For some reason I expected him to blame me for being in New York, but that blame never came. I expected him to be down and self-absorbed during Christmas. He never did that. The only thing he did was, when the days’ activities were over, he lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling and held my hand very tight. For that night and every night until he left. It was not his usual way of going to sleep (as I wrote about this week). I held his hand back. I didn’t say much. There wasn’t a lot to say and I knew he didn’t want me to. He just wanted me to understand. And I did.

After that week, whenever the subject of PuppyHead came up, he would say softly, “He was a good dog.” He never added, he didn’t deserve to die alone. I just felt that he felt it deeply. As if he had abandoned his dog who had been good and loyal and true all those years. And there was no reassuring him otherwise. He didn’t argue when I tried, but you could tell he wasn’t buying it. So I stopped and let him have his feelings about it. I like to think that eventually he resolved it in his own Michael way.

Tonight, after the really good day that I had–including looking at and smiling at my honeymoon pictures—that sad Christmas Eve, for some reason, flooded into my head.

I felt as if someone had hit me with a large mallet. At first I was angry…like WHAT? I can’t get a break for a little while?

I just was sitting there thinking about when I had a dog and…the next thing you know….SMACK.

Michael was so good. Puppy was so good. I miss them both so much. I was so lucky when so much goodness flooded into my life at the same time. And I know that and have always known that.

Grief is so strange. Review and relinquishment. The weirdest things pop in at the weirdest times. What is the index in my brain and who dropped it all over the floor. My head hurts. My heart hurts.

It feels like there’s an endless stream of things to miss. I know it’s all necessary to remember it all….review and relinquishment…..to get to the place where Michael lives in my heart in a warm and happy way..and I am willing to go through it to get to that place..but it just gets to be so odd at times. I expect the buckling of my knees when I think of certain things. But all of a sudden something I haven’t thought about in a long time pops in there.

In a way it’s like dreaming…no control over it….all mixed up and jumbled. But dreams have a purpose and these terrible, horrible flashes of memory do too. It’s just all so strange sometimes.

I’m a grief counselor, I’ve researched it extensively….I can quote the pioneers of grief recovery chapter and verse….I write on grief…I’ve written, academically, on grief for almost 15 years. And yet, in the process, it’s always like “Whoa. what is THAT?”

I appreciate the time today when I was thinking that I might just get through this after all….and I still believe that…but then the mallet strikes.

I’m sort of getting used to it.

Or not.

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