Dear Diary, I have lost a friend.
I’m writing this while watching my husband dig the hole in which we will bury Henry tonight. It’s exactly one hour from now that we will tearily watch Henry go, peacefully, hopefully.
Watching Adam dig is therapeutic somehow. Like with every swing he takes with the shovel, he’s unaware he’s showing me how much he loves me. Because frankly, if it were up to him, he’d do something entirely different with Henry tonight. His view on pets and animals is a little bit different than mine. Not that he’s not compassionate – in fact, Adam is one of the most compassionate humans I know – it’s that these animals aren’t human, aren’t his offspring. Aren’t… what’s the word. Lifelong. Yes, lifelong.
When Adam said “until death do us part,” he truly meant that. His relationships that he cherishes most are lifelong ones, relationships that don’t end too soon, aren’t cut away at the edges and torn down the middle until there’s nothing left. No, Adam puts his compassion and energy, selflessly, into things like marriage, fatherhood, legacies. Pets, he knows better than I, are temporary placeholders in our hearts, only leaving us to allow for our hearts to grow, expand, and inherit a new piece of love we didn’t know we had. A place for something, someone, else to fill that we didn’t know we needed.
My first reaction, of course, is that I will fill this space with another pet. A cocker spaniel, maybe. But he knows, as do I (though I won’t tell him) that this space will fill with something else entirely. It will fill with my love for him, my children, my home and my family and my ability to grow as a human. To be more loving than I was yesterday.
Because to lose your best friend, human or otherwise (and I know what it’s like to lose the human version…), is an act of extreme growth. Grief, as it seems, is a placeholder for what is to follow.
I have cried much more than intended these last few days. I knew, deep down, weeks ago that this was impending. I’m not blind. Henry has been declining for months. But I denied, prayed it wasn’t so. But I knew. That’s why it surprised me so when I finally let the reality sink in. That he would die soon, very soon. Watching him suffer has not been the most painful part, as some might think. I believe it’s been the idea of not having him here in a definite period of time. Knowing that Thursday at 5:30, my friend would be gone. And wondering, trying to unfold the mystery of, what would happen when he did go. Who would greet me at my door, as he has the last 9 years? Who would be my couch buddy on late nights while Adam is hunting, or early mornings while he’s fishing? Who would teach my children to be gentle, and who would lay there while they played tonka trucks all over him?
And then it hit me.
That space that will feel empty when he’s gone – the answer to all those questions. My children. My children will be those answers. The love I have for Henry will easily, seamlessly, transfer into the love for my family, my friends, my life. He taught me how, and now that I have all my lessons from him, he is leaving me to put them in action. To take what he has instilled in me – at most, a passion for slowness, the ability to be late without guilt, the patience for uncomfortableness and the impatience for perfection – and teach that to my children. To fill that void he is seemingly leaving me with an ability to love more, learn more, teach more. That hole is in fact, not a hole at all. It’s a new space, a space he has grown within me, and now it’s time he lets go of it.
Yes, I realize, I am speaking about a dog. A golden retriever, which I understand, is not an endangered species by any means. I’ve known a dozen wonderful goldens in my lifetime, and Henry is not my first nor my last hairy love to roam this house.
But there is something else about Henry that those other golden’s don’t have. It’s me. It’s my family. It’s my children and my home and my… life.
I was, am, so lucky for him. And he, so lucky for us. I don’t know if dogs can feel mutual respect, but I do know this – he has manners better than most adults I know, and respects boundaries better than any adult I know. And Henry can love harder than most and almost as much as a toddler in a good mood.
So yes, these last few days have been some of the hardest I’ve had in years. The grief was unsettling, questionable, uncomfortable. It made me resentful, guilty, and sad. But this was on purpose, I am sure. So I could process and come to this place, this place of solitude, and peace, and understanding. Knowing that he isn’t leaving me too soon. I held on too long.
I feel ready for my heart to grow without him, using what he gave me to do so. I will miss him, dearly, unequivocally, terrorizingly hard. I will make the mistake of talking about him in the present for weeks to come, and wonder where he is when I open my door. I will feel lonely at 2 am and saddened at my clean baseboards.
But he will be there, in the hole my husband of the same love and madness as Henry, dug for him tonight. Forever in our forever home. With me, reminding me always, of the space he gave me to grow.