Requiem for a Friend

Jan. 21, 2010

Shadow in the living roomIt’s hard to see it when the changes are so gradual, and over the past few weeks, the changes in our lives to accommodate an aging pet started taking on a weird normalcy. It’s not until it’s over that you start to realize that maybe waking up every hour or two to let him out, or that the fact that he can’t do the stairs any more, or the reality that his collar is suddenly two or three notches too big were signs all along that his age had finally caught up with him.

We adopted Shadow in August 1996. He was already a year old (figuring his birthday around the 4th of July, 1995), had never been leash-trained, and fell in love with our other dog, Chelsea, and us as soon as he got here. He immediately lodged himself in my heart, and he connected with pretty much everyone he ever met, from friends he saw regularly to the guy who came over to fix the phone line. (Shadow cried when the guy left.)

The people a few houses down called him the Neighborhood Dog because he attached himself to everyone along all the streets we walked every day, greeting everyone he met like long-lost friends, even if he’d never seen them before. He helped more than one person not only get over an absolute fear (or dislike) of dogs but to form a long-lasting bond as well. I’ve never known a dog to have a heart as big or open as Shadow’s was, throughout his entire long and well-lived life.

Shadow on HalloweenThis picture was taken a few years ago on Halloween, when Shadow appropriated part of a display Jerry had put together out on the front porch. It’s one of my favorites.

I’m not going to do his whole life here, but I’m still processing the grief from saying goodbye two days ago and seem to take some comfort in remembering some of the things I’m missing right now.

Shadow loved food and maintained a fairly prodigious appetite to the end. Although he had slowed down, he still loved walking. Even in these last weeks, he often wanted to go much farther, much higher into the hills, and on much longer walks than I’d have imagined possible.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that last trip to the vet, as gentle and humane as it was. And it’s funny to me how all the intellectual rationalizing so thoroughly fails to shut out (or even compensate for) how quiet and empty the house—and my heart—feels right now.

Yes, he was old. Fourteen and a half is beyond unusual for large-breed dogs (and three to four years older than any other dog we’ve ever had).

Yes, it was time— and he would have suffered had we waited even another couple of days. Trying to keep him around for our sake would have been selfish and cruel.

Yes, he had a fabulous life. He was well fed, well walked (below in one of our daily daybreak treks in open space in July 2007), safe, contented, and well loved.

Shadow on our walk in open space

There was almost always someone here with him: Jerry, when I was out of town, a dogsitter he liked when we left for vacation. If banished to the yard, it was only until the floor was dry. This dog spent very little time alone.

Yet none of this seems to be able to soften the emotional reality of just missing him, of putting my shoes on and remembering I don’t have to let him out, of Jerry jumping up at 3:00 and realizing he doesn’t need to go prepare Shadow’s dinner, and maybe worst of all, of coming home and not seeing Shadow’s face in the window.

I trust time to heal, to allow my focus to shift away from those last few moments to the thirteen and a half wonderful years during which our lives intersected—the walks, the goofy play, the hours he spent curled up next to me while I wrote or watched TV or slept. To coming home from all those trips to that face in the window.

Shadow at the windowI’m not there yet. Grief is a sneaky thing, and I’m too emotionally and physically exhausted to fight it off or ramp up my activity level to try to keep it at bay. Plus, he’s entitled to the sadness and loss I feel. So I’ll let this grief have its way with me until it backs off. Or forgets to drop in (much less tackles me when I’m not looking).

And in the meantime, I’m jotting down a few thoughts, in part to memorialize an amazing friend and in part because I simply don’t know what else to do with my thoughts, my time, my energy, or my heart.

He didn’t do much that last week but sleep, but he was still very much here. With me. It’s just not the same with him gone.

Update: May 14, 2010

I want to thank everyone who has responded to this page—one as recent as yesterday morning. I can’t begin to tell you how much the support and compassion, in some cases from total strangers, has meant to me, how much it has helped.

I haven’t been in town much since the last entry and yes, it’s still really strange coming home to a dog-less house. As the seasons change, I notice new things, different things. The light at certain times of the day that we would go for walks. Sitting out on the deck, where he would come out to go down to the yard or hang out with me while I wrote.

I’m still haunted by those last few days, the last hour in particular. I wonder if that ever gets easier to remember. I doubt it.

I’m also seeing a somewhat different rhythm emerge in our lives and, for the moment at least, I’m satisfied getting my “fur fix” from friends’ and neighbors’ pets. If and when this changes, you’ll see it here.

Thanks again for visiting this page. I’m sure Shadow would have loved the company he’s gotten here.

Click here to visit Shadow’s Web page.
Click here to visit Chelsea’s Web page.

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