Dear broken hearted human,
Your best friend in the world died today. I see your wound.
The one who was with you just after college when you moved into your first place and got your first job as a full fledged adult. The one who loved you when you made just enough money to pay bills and couldn’t afford cable. The one who was glad to see you every time you came home. The one who waited for you on those long days when you worked extra hours and then went out with friends. The one who laid beside you when you were sick. The one who snuggled next to you on the sofa. The one who listened as you talked through the pain of relationships that didn’t work.. The one who swiped food off the counter when you weren’t looking, and sometimes when you were. The one who joyfully played with you when you had the energy. The one who understood you and accepted you as you are, without question or judgment.
The one who stiffened around the hips. The one who needed more and more medical care to be comfortable. The one who celebrated your promotions with ice cream and a movie on the sofa. The one who deeply appreciated your gentleness and care with an aging body. The one who thanked you for the ramp that led to the bed so you could sleep together whenjumping was no longer an option. The one who didn’t complain and continued to give freely.
The one who was your heart with a tail and paws. The one who loved you as no one loved you.
Any human would be crazy to not sign up for a relationship like this. You have loved and been loved in a way that defies explanation.
My broken hearted human. Oh, my dear. You carry this love with you. Always.
That frail body you held held during the last breath had a heart and soul that remains with you. Death changes that status of your relationship; it does not change your connection. It does not change your love.
It brings a new level of rawness and pain. Many people will not see that. They do not believe it is possible to experience such a soulful connection and resonance with an animal. We know differently.
There are people who can see you and see your pain. They have felt their own versions of your heartbreak. They have fought to get out of bed in the morning. They have cried for days and weeks and months. You are not alone in this.
My broken hearted friend, your life has changed. You have been forever marked by this love. It goes with you everywhere. Someday, sometime, you’ll feel moved to open. You’ll receive a different companion in your life who will teach you different things about yourself. You’ll go through the same cycle. You have been chosen for this. They choose you.
The one chose well. The next one will choose well.
You are remarkable. You hurt. You love. All of those things can exist together.
With great love,
It didn't take long for me to realize that being a multi-Dane family required adjustment. In 2002 we adopted Angus (Dane #2) to join Vaughn (Dane #1). They were different sizes and personalities, and sharing stuff didn't seem right, especially because Angus never liked to share anything other than impatience.
I decided to color coordinate everything. Vaughn's stuff was red. Angus was blue. Conan (Dane #3) was green. Rhys (Dane #4) was orange. This made life so much easier. I could tell from across the room what belonged to whom.
On our first walk without Danes, I planned to bring Rhys' collar and leash. I wanted to feel connected to him, and hearing his tag jingle through the forest seemed like a good place to begin. Why just Rhys, though? I invited everyone to come. I pulled out every collar, connected them together in a knot, and threaded my arm through the center.
We walked through one of our favorite places. Every Wednesday night for years I would bring The Boys there after work to explore the trails and creature smells. We had one of Conan's birthday parties there (yes, we celebrated birthdays with friends).
It felt right.
Walking through the woods was time to share stories with the friends who came with us. It was time to reflect on our adventure there. It was time to simply be a part of the natural world, where birth and death are the cyclical experience.
It was a stunning morning.
The coldness of winter gave way to just enough warmth from the sun to notice. The forest was on fire with light. With every exhalation, I saw the cloud of my breath floating away from my body and joining nature.
Nature reminds me that life goes on, and that means death and decay do, too. For as much as I intensely dislike the pain that comes with mourning, I value what I learn from the experience. I am grateful for the relationship.
I wouldn't trade a single day with Rhys, or any of The Boys, to minimize the anguish during hospice or after death. It sometimes takes more time than I would like to find the beauty in the life experience. I'm glad I keep looking. I'm glad I invite that to happen.
All I did was take a few old dog collars to a natural area and walk. Feeling, smelling, seeing, and hearing those collars in the forest, a place where I knew they belonged, felt right. It helped to reassure me that my life continues to move, even when I feel stuck. Nature doesn't wait unnecessarily.
When I put on my trusty dog-walking fleece that morning, the zipper pull came off in my hand. It hadn't been loose. Although I had worn it for years, it showed no signs of wearing out.
I hung it up in my closet because the thought of being without it feels like too much right now. It's not something I'll wear because I can't zip it up, and what's the point of a coat that doesn't zip?
Maybe I need a few more walks in the woods before I'm ready.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.