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.