Worth every tear...
“It’s just a dog…”
I remember my Mother saying those words when she heard that my Aunt Cathie had lost her dog, Tammy. Aunt Cathie never had children and little Tammy, a Yorkshire Terrier, was her baby. They were bonded. I could see that.. everyone could. But my Mother just didn’t get it. She didn’t understand why Cathie was so deeply distraught when Tammy passed away.
“I can’t believe she’s acting like this. It’s just a dog….”
Again, the words of my Mother echoing in my head this morning as I sobbed once again over losing our dog, Charlie, earlier this week.
My Mom wasn’t an uncaring person, but she was a child of the depression who lived on a farm. Animals weren’t pets in their family. They were food. I remember her talking about how as a child, she and her siblings would argue over who got to go out and wring a chicken’s neck for their dinner. Ugh. Killing any animal for any reason makes my heart hurt. But Mom never bonded with an animal on a companionship level, so she was genuinely confused as to how someone would grieve a pet’s passing so deeply.
I only had one pet as a child, and he wasn’t with us for very long. I remember asking for a dog over and over until finally my parents gave in and got me a little rescue mutt. I named him Rusty. They wouldn’t let Rusty come in the house, so he lived in our fenced-in backyard with just a little dog house for shelter. I played with Rusty often at first, but as most children do, I got busier with school activities and friends and one day, I went outside and noticed Rusty was gone. I went inside and asked Mom, “Have you seen Rusty?” She looked away and calmly said, “Oh, he ran away a few days ago.” WH-AT?? He ran away and she didn’t tell me?? Hmmmmm….. Years later I learned that Mom had actually taken him to a shelter and dropped him off because she got tired of feeding him and me not showing him enough attention. That was the last pet I had until I grew up and got married.
I had a few dogs in my younger adult years, but honestly - for some reason I never connected with them on a deep level. I enjoyed their company while I had them, but I usually ended up giving them away to someone else who could provide a more stable environment for them. One I lost in my first divorce. A beautiful English sheepdog named Nick. Nick was HUGE and I couldn’t take him to live with me in my tiny apartment, so I had to leave him behind with my ex. Nick eventually ended up on a farm, where he could run around free. A much better place for him. I guess that’s part of being a good pet owner - knowing when you can’t provide the right place for them — even though you love having them in your life.
My connection with animals changed after Mike and I got married and found ourselves “pet parents” of a young black lab mix, who we named Ellie. She had been abandoned in a cardboard box out in the country, near a friend’s home. They heard Ellie and her sister whimpering in the woods and found the two young pups, desperately trying to get out of the box they had been left in. I mean… who does that? Who just leaves two beautiful puppies trapped in a box where they would certainly die from starvation if no one found them? Luckily they were found and we ended up with little Ellie. We had Ellie for 15 years. She was a wonderful dog.
Ellie was about 8 yrs old when a tiny, lost Yorkie showed up at our house one morning in the middle of a rainstorm. We tried for days to find his original owner but no one came forward. So…we realized we now had another member of our family. We named him Django. They were quite the pair. Big sister and little brother.
I won’t bore you with all the details here, but Django and Ellie died 3 days apart in May of 2014. It was traumatic. Django died first from pancreatitis and Ellie was struggling so much from many ailments (old age, really) that we had to make the difficult choice to let her go. Losing them back to back like that was one of the most painful things I had ever gone through. Mike and I were both devastated. We even said that we would never get another dog because we didn’t want to go through that kind of pain again. The tears were too much.
…… and then came Charlie.
It was six months since we had lost Django and Ellie and we got a message from our friends and neighbors, Jamie and Amy Jean. I remember Amy’s text clearly. “Hey, did you guys ever get another dog?” I quickly replied with, “No, but we don’t want another dog.'“ — then I couldn’t help myself and asked, “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she typed, “there is this sweet little abandoned dog down in Alabama that my mother-in-law has been trying to take care of, but she can’t keep him and he really deserves a good home, so we thought of you guys.” Sigh…… I remember us discussing the pros and cons. We talked about the fact that taking him in means that we are just setting ourselves up for a deep hurt again one day when he passes. We had busy lives and I was traveling a lot with my job. Did we really have the time to devote to caring for an animal? Would he fit in with our family? Could we really open our hearts and home to another pet again?
Obviously, we ended up taking Charlie. We got him on Thanksgiving Day 2014 and instantly fell in love with his funny personality and loving demeanor. He brought joy and laughter into our home and I believe he was the final step in our healing from the loss of Ellie and Django. A friend of ours once told us that “your next pet will be the recipient of all you learned from your last pet”, and he was right. We learned how to be better pet parents from Ellie and Django and Charlie benefitted from that. And Charlie taught us even more. Mike says Charlie taught him how to be a better human — and I believe he’s right. Charlie made us both better people. His love was so simple and pure. He lived in the moment. He didn’t hold grudges. He greeted each day with excitement for what the day would hold. His devotion never wavered. Oh, if only we humans could be like that.
He was so in-tune with us both it was eerie sometimes. Our lives were completely intertwined with his. From the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning until we shut off the light in the bedroom to go to sleep, Charlie was right by our sides, offering his love and companionship. He was an important member of our family….. he wasn’t “just a dog”.
I was grieving Charlie so badly that my husband suggested I make an emergency call to my therapist. She was very helpful. She reminded me that love is love and grief is grief, no matter what the container looks like. When you lose something or someone you love, the grief intensity is determined by the depth of the love. Well, I can tell you that our grief over losing Charlie has been intense. His presence in our lives was huge, and now the grief filling the gap he left is also huge.
I know some of you don’t get it. But many of you do. You know the bond you feel with a beloved pet and how painful it is when you lose them. Many of you have reached out this week to check on us, and we deeply appreciate it. It helps to know that others understand how we are feeling. I’ve gone through some of the stages of grief this week: sadness, denial, anger, depression. I’m sure I’ll get to the acceptance stage eventually, but I’m not there yet.
My friend Carol Anderson wrote a beautiful little book called “Pawprints of Wisdom: Life Lessons from our Dogs” and it is a wonderful tribute to our four-legged friends who teach us so much. There really is nothing quite like the connection we have with our furry loved-ones. I’m sad I wasn’t a better pet parent to the dogs I had in my younger days. I didn’t take the time to connect with their spirts, so it was easier to say good-bye. Now I know the richness that this type of connection brings into my life and I can’t imagine never having it again. So... I know that after some time to properly grieve our boy, Charlie, we will once again open our hearts and our home to another dog who needs us. Or maybe it’s the other way around. We used to joke about how we never were sure who rescued who… did we rescue Charlie? Or did Charlie rescue us? Either way, we became a family and we are so grateful for the almost 9 years we had with him. We have cried puddles this week since Charlie left this world in the early morning of Oct. 11th, 2022. We predicted this pain when we decided to take him into our lives. It was just as bad as we knew it would be… maybe even worse — but I wouldn’t change a single thing. All of this pain just means that we chose to love him deeply… and he loved us deeply... and having his love was worth all the pain we feel right now.
Charlie Parker Waldron… you were the best, best boy. You will never be forgotten. You will always have a special place in our hearts… and you were worth every tear. Thanks for all the love, laughs, companionship, and walks on the Gatlinburg trail.
Run free now and wait for us on the Rainbow bridge. Until we meet again….
LETTER FROM A DOG: — Author Unknown
“My dear human,
I see that you are crying, for it is my moment to leave. Don't cry, please. I want to explain some things to you.
You're sad because I left, but I'm glad I met you.
How many dogs like me die daily without meeting someone special like you?
I know it saddens you my departure, but I had to go now.
I want to ask you not to blame yourself for anything. I heard you sobbing that you should have done something else for me. Don't say that, you've done a lot for me! Without you I would have known nothing of the beauty I carry with me today.
You must know that we animals live in the present intensely and we are very wise: we enjoy every little thing every day, and forget the bad past quickly. Our lives begin when we know love, the same love you gave me, my angel without wings and two legs.
Know that even if you find an animal that is seriously injured, and that they only have a little bit of time in this world, you provide a huge service by accompanying them in their final transition.
None of us likes to be alone, except when we realize it's time to leave.
No more crying, please. I'll be happy. I have in my memory the name you gave me, the warmth of your house that in this time became mine. I take the sound of your voice talking to me, even though I don't always understand what you were saying to me.
I carry in my heart every caress you gave me.
Everything you did was very valuable to me and I thank you endlessly, I don't know how to tell you, because I don't speak your language, but surely in my eyes you could see my gratitude.
I'm just gonna ask for two favors. Wash your face and start smiling.
Remember how good we lived together, and remember the antics I made to cheer you up.
Relive like me all the good we shared in this time.
And do not say you will not adopt another animal, because you have suffered a lot from my departure. Without you, I would not have lived the beautifully life I lived. Please don't do this! There are many like me waiting for someone like you. Give them what you gave me, please, they need it just like I needed you.
Don't keep the love you have to give, for fear of suffering.
Follow my advice, cherish the good you share with each of us, recognizing that you are an angel to us animals, and that without people like you, our life would be harder than sometimes it is.
Follow your noble task, now it's up to me to be your angel.
I will accompany you in your path and help you help others like me.
I will talk to other animals who are here with me, I will tell them everything you have done for me and I will point and say proudly: "that's my family".
Tonight, when you look at the sky and see a blinking star I want you to know that it's me flashing an eye; letting you know that I arrived well and telling you "thank you for the love you gave me".
I say goodbye now not saying " goodbye ", but " see you later ".
There is a special sky for people like you, the sky where we go and life rewards us by making us meet there.
I'll be waiting for you!"
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This is so beautiful Marcia --- love to you & Mike! So glad you had Charlie for a while!
Lovely tribute to your “Charlie”. The part about not holding grudges is so true. My late “Molly” was the personification of unconditional love. She’s in Heaven now, which is a yellow tennis ball factory in the sky!