How do you know when it’s time to open your heart up once it’s been broken?
We’ve been talking about getting another dog. I keep checking the Dogs Trust rehoming pages to see if a suitable rescue dog might need my love and attention. Sometimes I see a West Highland Terrier and I look more closely to see if it might be Mac, which is ridiculous because he’s gone. But I still look. I couldn’t rescue another Westie though; it wouldn’t be right. They wouldn’t live up to the enormous expectation I have for them to be Mac.
But another dog, maybe. At least that’s what I want to believe. We talk about it, I make all the right noises, say all the right things; but I’m not sure I can do it. Not yet. We keep mentioning Christmas, as if it’s a marker that by then my grief might be gone. We both know this is not true, but we pretend it could be. There’s discussion of a puppy. The boisterous energy and time, dedication, and the patience needed for this rules it out. We love our furniture too much. Sharp, gnawing teeth would not be welcome here.
I look back on my photographs of Mac – a poor substitution for the warmth of his stale-smelling fur that I miss more than anything – and think: “Not again. I couldn’t allow another companion to settle here only for it to be taken away again.” In short, I have the fear. The emptiness that consumes my insides and settles there, like a great, black stone anchored at the bottom of the sea, is beneath everything and even in the darkness it is inescapably present. I can’t deny its existence just because I can’t see it in the light of day, or because I want to pretend it’s not there. I still feel it pulling me down on occasion, not as often as before, but sometimes.Will it ever truly go away? Probably not.
This is the burden of pet owners: we outlive our best friends more often than not. Put simply, I am afraid of loving another dog because of the inevitable grief that would eventually follow thereafter. And, in order to welcome a new companion, I need to forget the anguish that is still so fresh in my heart that I can’t yet let go of, not yet, not so soon. But I must release it someday, otherwise I may be engulfed by the fear. And, therein lies the rub: I must let go of it. It will never release me unless I offer it release. I must want to give up feeling the grief before it can be let go. Am I ready to let it go?
And still, every dog I look at – wondering if this is the one that I could love next – is always tested by two criteria: could I love it enough to abandon the fear and; will it fill the hole in my heart where Mac used to be still is?
Until I stop asking that second question, another dog is unlikely to be the answer.