The Risk of Loss

Pictured: Abbey, Zoey, and Tucker (L to R)

I broke down today.

At first, I held it together. I had to, after all. My job demanded it of me. Soulless is the norm in a corporate office. General apathy towards coworkers is considered to be a productive work environment. Given these constraints, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I can regulate intense emotions easier there than most anywhere else. The problem is, when you leave the office, the dam can break, and that’s just what happened.

Like most mornings, I was at work by 6:30. Around 8:30, I received a text from my wife that Abbey, my mother-in-law’s sweet Golden Retriever, had wandered out to the road in the early morning and been struck by a car. I knew immediately what that meant. My wife’s parents live on a state highway in a rural area. A small animal stands no chance against a vehicle going that fast in the dark. I was shocked. It’s not the message I expected to get. Usually, it’s a “Hi, Baby” or “Good morning” and it always has a smiley face. Being a guy that is clunky with immediate emotional responses, the best I could muster was three words:

“Is she gone?”

Though my wife’s reply came quickly, her one word answer just sort of hung there, stark from the rest of our preceding and subsequent conversation. My mind moved fast and subconsciously to file Abbey into memory and begin the dreaded process of speaking/thinking of her in the simple past tense. No longer could anything about her be described in the present. That realization broke my heart.

A few hours later, after successfully distracting myself with work, I left the office briefly to pick up lunch and get some fresh air. As I was finishing, it all came crashing down. I had to make my way to my truck to avoid making a scene. I made it, but just barely. As the grief rolled over me like a crashing wave, I thought of my dogs — Zoey, Abbey’s pup, and Tucker, Abbey’s brother. You’ll be shocked to learn that didn’t help at all. Eventually, I was able to pull it together and get back to work. But that took a lot longer than I expected.

What is it about dogs? Why is it that the people who are the least equipped emotionally to handle losing one are the best dog owners? How is it that ‘dog people’ get shredded the worst by grief?

Obviously, these questions are impossible to answer. Too often we look upon the loss of our best friends as preventable. We bargain with, while blaming, ourselves. We long for meaning in the sometimes meaningless. We pray that God is a dog person (He must be; who else could have imagined a creature that loves us the same way He does?). Our greatest hope, however, is that after they leave us, our furry friends are waiting in one last driveway or behind one last door for us to get Home one last time.

It’s not fair, you know? We choose to risk our emotions, despite knowing in advance about the loss. Dogs come into our lives and love us unconditionally for a decade or so. Then, they leave, and their departure is as bitter and melancholy as their arrival is sweet and delightful. Having a dog is like borrowing extra happiness for a decade, and then having the loan and interest called in all at once. The crushing feeling of sadness is our own doing. After all, we’re the ones who humanize them because of their expressive faces, their smiles and their personalities. Dogs are eighty years of happiness in less than fifteen years of life. They light up our lives for nothing in return but some food to eat, some water to drink and maybe a tennis ball or two. When we lose them, we feel worse off than before we started. In many ways, we are. Dogs dig into our hearts and souls, and when they’re gone they leave an awful hole.

Eventually, like all grief, we find a way to function. We create new routines to avoid old reminders. The importance of our missing friend isn’t diminished, but we choose to remember the joy and the laughter over the pain and the sadness.

After all, that’s what the dogs would want, right?

To Donna: I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry. I’m really going to miss her.