I have been unbelievably lucky, that in 28 years on this fair planet I’ve never had to experience the death of someone close to me. I had not even been to a funeral until I was 24. All three of my sisters have lost close friends and classmates, some to car accidents, one to a freak medical condition that made itself an issue literally overnight. My parents, my friends, all the people I know have lost friends and family over the years. I never have. People around me have passed away, and I’ve been sad, but I’ve never been very close to them. I was sad because I’m an emotional person in general, because my friends and family were sad, because I sort of knew the person, for lots of other reasons. But I myself wasn’t really grieving.
The week Belle died was absolutely awful, one of the worst of my life. I had gone home on the 1st for a belated birthday celebration, and because it was the anniversary of Ginny’s accident and my family tries to be together on that day. Though I knew Belle was old and her health was failing, I didn’t know how very very sick she was until I walked through the door at Family HQ. It’s no secret that our family has trouble communicating, and in yet another case of gross miscommunication, everyone thought someone else told me about the dog. No one did.
She was lying by the back door, and I sat down on the floor next to her and saw and felt how thin she’d become and how listless she was and I knew there was no way she was making it through another health scare. This would be the last. So then the question became, when and how will this happen?
My family could not come to a consensus on whether to have her put to sleep right away or to wait for a few days to see if she got better. I went back to Lynchburg and let the unresolved state of things whip me into fits of worry and sadness and frustration and sometimes, quietly, hope. And then they went ahead and scheduled her final appointment with the vet. It would be at 5:30 on Friday afternoon, and though I’d insisted loudly and often that I would go with her on that last trip, when it came time to make the decision I just couldn’t do it. I had said my goodbyes already.
Because we do not afford people the same mercy we give to our pets, I guess it’s quite rare to know the exact future date and time when a person will die. The only exception I can think of is executions, and I don’t happen to be acquainted with any death row inmates so I don’t know how that feels. But I knew that Belle would die shortly after 5:30 on Friday, March 7th.
And I went to work that day, thinking it would be better to stay busy and around lots of people than to curl up in a ball in my bed at home and spend the day crying. Problem was, I didn’t get a damn thing done at work, I still spent the day crying, and I had the added bonus of having pretty much everyone I work with walk into my office while I was in the middle of trying not to just break down and cry my damn face off.
I know there are lots of people, people reading and people I know in real life and people who are my friends, who roll their eyes a bit at the depth of grief I’ve been feeling for a dog. You know, she was just a dog. She slobbered and she smelled bad and she got ticks in the summer and I wouldn’t touch her, and she shat on the floor a couple of times in her life, and she was stubborn as hell, and she was a dog. She was just a dog. But she was just a dog for nearly fifteen years, a living creature who depended on us, and I never for one minute of those years doubted her love for us. I never worried that she was avoiding me because I’d done something to piss her off. I never thought she would grow bored with me and find someone else to love. My weaknesses and insecurities and flaws and failures never had an impact on how happy she was to see me when I walked through the door. It was the purest love I have ever known.
I have a friend, one of the most patient people I know, who let me sit nearby and cry my eyes out and not talk as 5:30 approached. I asked at one point, “If I’m this much of a mess over a dog, what on earth is it going to be like when I lose a person I love?” My answer was, “It won’t be worse than this. It will be like this.”
And that makes sense to me. Yes, she was just a dog. And I don’t believe that dogs should be treated exactly like humans. But I think I learned that the place in my heart that loved a dog is the exact same size and shape as the places occupied by my family and friends. I’m lucky that, so far, those love places appear to be limitless.