When is the time to let go of grief?

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.

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No matter how I feel now, it is worth it to have loved this ragamuffin.

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.

 

 

A Letter to My Dearly Departed Dog

Dearest Mac,

I miss you. It’s only been two months since you disappeared over Rainbow Bridge, a journey I sent you out on alone because you were no longer able to enjoy this life as you once had done. It was a difficult decision, but living with the consequences of such a choice has been much harder.

I miss having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and your sleepy little face waking up so pleased to see me; the sound of your paws on the laminate flooring, scraping and tapping away when you got up before I did. I miss the soft depth of your fur as I scratched behind your ears, watching the grin spread across your face and your head tilt further toward me, entranced by the bliss of my fingers massaging your head. I miss your smell; that musty, deep aroma that I used to breathe in whenever I came home after work: to me it meant that the wait was over, that it was time to play, that we were united again.

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I remember moaning whenever I was tired and I had to take you out in the rain, except, once we were out braving the weather together – you in your coat and me in mine – it was peaceful and energising. I always came back home feeling better than when we left. I recall your little trot instead of a walk and how you would bound about instead of run; your happy, swaying movements portrayed genuine joy and that could only ever make me smile. I remember coming home from work angry, when things hadn’t gone to plan or someone had let me down, and there you were, waiting to cheer me up, to make me forget the worries of the outside world because when we were together nothing else mattered to you, or to me.

There is a space beneath my desk now, where you used to rest beside my feet as I wrote. The corner where your bed used to be is clear and I don’t believe anything will ever fill that space again, not like you. The hook where your leads and collars and coats used to hang are empty now, the novelty dog tail still – there will be no more wags from you. The house is quiet without your footsteps, tapping along the hall, and no gentle snoring accompanies my daily chores although the silence echoes just as loud.

The largest void remains in my heart when I think of how essential you were to my life. At home you were my shadow and now no companion waits for me outside the bathroom door, as excited to see me after my two minute break than if I had been gone for hours. You were the reason I stopped to talk to people as we walked, and grew to know my neighbours. And when I struggled with my health you expected nothing but my love, and judged me not for the things I could not do but for the simplest gestures of attention that were all I could manage on a bad day. You helped me push through my boundaries and commit to the things I loved to do. In this way you were my inspiration, my muse and my champion; each day marked by those three walks we took that structured each one.

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I’ve stopped writing now. It isn’t the same without you here. There will always be something missing whenever I sit down at my desk and prepare to write. There is no impetus to roll out of bed, no thoughtful morning walk or happy playful times. My feet remain cold as I sit here and the room is quiet, and I have no encouraging eyes to look upon when I come to a blank moment. There is no end to the torture of that blank page that I am now to face alone; no hopeful face looking up at me to remind me that it’s time to stop and take a break. And there are no silly celebrations when I do finally find the words; no squeaky toys to watch you chase or treats for you to find. My writing world is ‘blah’ without you in it and I find myself at a loss to continue with it now you’re gone.

Instead I write to you, my faithful rescue dog, who knew how to make me smile when I was down and calm me when I despaired. You gave your whole self to me and I had to let you go. And the pain is still so raw, my home too empty and quiet, and my heart broken.

Yours Forever and More,
Cat x