Weird title, right?
So let me tell you how puppies and grieving go together. At least for our family. Last year someone tried to give us a puppy. A kind, generous offer from a family friend who is a breeder and can get big bucks for these dogs. A puppy?!? Last year, I didn’t even want to be given a freaking plant. I did not want to care for another living creature as I felt like I was getting the stuffing kicked out of me just trying to take care of what already existed in our house. I considered it for a few days. It was an unexpected gift and the breeder’s husband was very close to Ron and loves us-- he wanted to give us a puppy so badly. I came to my senses though and with appreciation and some pangs, declined the gift.
Time went by. At some point we started talking about puppies again. Sophie got exasperated with Samantha and me. At one point she said, “I don’t know why you and Samantha want a puppy so badly. Do you know how busy I am?” Glad there is at least one grown up in the house… (She is 11). The same friend that offered us a puppy last year had a second dog, a pug, that we grew to love and was planning to breed her. We decided to wait until she was old enough to become pregnant and to get one of her puppies. That seemed a good way to tide us over and for me to prepare myself to have to take care of a chewing, peeing, needy creature. Our friend voiced some concerns at one point about not breeding the pug and that sent me out of my sensible head and into a, “well be better look for a puppy then” state of insanity. The only problem was that we couldn’t find a pug puppy. Time passed again. I thought maybe we could wait.
At some point in the spring we learned that our friend’s pug might not be a good candidate for breeding and we started looking for a puppy again. We found a breeder and even went to see the puppies. I even said yes to one but instead of feeling happy I was instantly filled with anxiety and doubt. I was looking for every excuse to not bring that puppy home and the truth is that it wasn’t particularly cute and I didn’t get a good feeling from the breeder. I came back to my senses and I realized that I just wasn’t ready to take care of another creature. Telling the kids was not fun and not a star parenting moment.
Fast forward to this fall. Kids back at school—markers of time passing. Unemployment, anniversary triggers and a feeling of freefalling into a dark, aching place. I started spending time on Petfinder.com and looking at the local animal shelter. It distracted me from my heavy grief and gave me something to dream about. I realized that the shelter wasn’t too far away and maybe I could drop in once in a while to see the dogs. I teetered on the brink of crazy dog lady. I even put an application on a puppy. I didn’t feel right about this one either and then fate stepped in and it was put in quarantine and I withdrew the application. Then, a few weeks ago, the same breeder friend who has a new litter of puppies (not a pug) and offered us a puppy again. This time I kind of wanted one. Maybe I could open up my heart and our house to a puppy…
Sophie still wasn’t excited about getting a puppy and Samantha couldn’t understand why. One day Sophie and I were talking and she was able to articulate the problem. She tearfully explained to me that she didn’t want to do anything or have anything that would be a change to what our lives were like with Ron. She was worried that it would make her forget him and forget what life felt like with him in it. Ah. That made sense. Damn grief. Our worlds are forever shaded by grief, even in the best of times. How to hold on to Ron, to hold on to memories? How to prevent our minds from letting details go? How to make sure we keep the love? I understand completely.
That’s why it was hard to throw away medicine bottles. That’s why Ron’s contact solution and contact lenses are in the exact same place in the medicine closet, why the little treasures he arranged on his dresser haven’t been moved or why I still have all of his clothes. I get it.
Change. How do we make our hearts know what our heads understand? Change will not make us lose our loved one again. Change will not take away the love. I listened to her fears and sat with her while she cried and I let her talk. A few weeks later we talked again but this time we talked about the present. Would Ron want the three of us to have a puppy? If he were alive I don’t know that he would want a puppy but would he be happy for us now? Would he want us, in our reality which exists without him, to have a puppy? Absolutely, yes. We talked about how he wanted us to live and to do things that gave us joy. He wanted us not just to live but to thrive. She took that in and thought about it for a few days and then came to me to tell me that she’d changed her mind and maybe it would be okay after all to add a puppy to our lives. Now she is quite excited.
Puppies and the past. I wanted a puppy for years and years. I wanted not any puppy but a pug puppy and when Ron and I were dating I talked about this pug puppy that I wanted when my living situation finally allowed for it. I talked about it so much that it was part of our wedding invitation (a comic strip we created with friends over a glorious fall afternoon). The text said, “I want a pug puppy…and a husband. Will I ever get either? Do you think I could have both?” We got married and bought a house, I got pregnant and we got a pug puppy. I had everything I wanted. Lucy is the name of the puppy we brought home just over 12 years ago. She is an old dog now, crotchety and cranky. Her senses are dull and she moves very slowly. She is my dog and she follows me around and looks to me for comfort and guidance as well as body heat. Today as she curled up in my lap after I walked her I thought about bringing her home all those years ago. It never could have occurred to the younger me that in the lifetime of this dog, Ron would die and that yes, I could have both a pug puppy and a husband but I would only get to have the husband for a short while. How could that be? How could that possibly be? I love this dog but if I could have chosen….
Puppies make me miss my Dad. He died two months before Ron’s diagnosis. I have always thought that as much as I was sad that he died, I was relieved he didn’t know about or live with Ron’s illness and death. It would have hurt him so. He loved animals. He loved our dog Lucy and he really loved my brother’s first dog, Kresgy. He thought he and Kresgy communicated on some kind of level. Animals liked him, too. So ever since I decided we could get this puppy I have had the urge to call my Dad. He would have been very excited for us and excited for himself, to get the chance to play with a puppy. There is a funny story about the last day that I saw my father. The girls and I went to NJ to say goodbye to everyone before we moved to Indonesia. It was hard to say good bye to my father and even then I knew that I might not see him again, although at the time, his health was stable-- for a man of 88 years. My sister told me that after I left he looked really sad and she asked him if he was okay and he said mournfully, “ I’ll never see Lucy again!”.
Things I said I would never do:
Well I guess I didn’t mean any of that because that is exactly what is going to happen in less than 48 hours. EEEEEEK what the hell was I thinking? I can’t stand the cold, yet I am going to have to get up in the middle of the night for the next few weeks (month?) and take this creature outside to pee. I am going to have to walk him in miserable weather. A dog trainer friend said that getting a puppy is like adding a 10 month old baby who can walk and chew to your household. We are all going to have to adjust our schedules and routines. Things are going to be different.
Change is going to do me some good. Puppy energy is going to inject some new life and new habits into our days. I’ve had such anxiety this fall as I launched my job search. So much fear, so much trepidation about what it will mean to start a new life and one that has nothing to do with Ron when he was alive. Maybe this little tiny puppy will make me step out of my head and the dark, gloomy place where I’ve grown comfortable. Maybe something safe like getting a new pet will help me accept that change isn’t going to make me lose Ron more, lose him again. Our lives changed the second he died yet somehow by keeping things as constant as possible, by clinging hard to what was, it feels like I can protect myself from his death, be in a state that isn’t too different from when he was alive. I get that that makes no sense in reality and that it is a kind of magical thinking (thank you Joan Didion). But change does feel so scary, like I have tolerated all the change I can take and I just want to feel some stable ground under my feet. Sigh, who knew that getting a puppy could bring us so much complicated emotions and stir the grief pot that simmers and bubbles away. I think this puppy will be work but I think he will make us laugh and he will give us a place to put some love and energy and excitement. I think Ron would be happy for us and I think I may be insane for agreeing to get one but here we go!
And you just thought we were getting a puppy…..