I was on emotional lockdown. I didn’t want to be around people. I didn’t want to talk. I needed quiet. Noise actually physically hurt. For the first time in my life, I understood what anxiety really felt like.
I was hunkered down. Surviving. It had been almost a year.
Around that time, a homeless friend brought a 10 week old puppy to my Mom’s house. It had followed him from wherever he lived - he would never tell us. But, our friend was drunk and this tiny, fluffy, adorable, little puppy was annoying him. So, he left it with my Mom and said she had to take him.
Mom had a dog.
Mom calls me.
I go see it.
I call my wife.
Now, we have a dog. I should mention here that I am actually allergic to dogs - but the sweetness of this little animal was an antihistamine.
But, wait. Ugh. What just happened!? I didn’t want a fucking dog! I didn’t want any new relationships! I wanted less. I wanted to be left alone. I sure as hell didn’t want to have to take care of some helpless little animal. I was having enough trouble taking care of myself at that point.
I had swooned at this puppy’s cuteness and I regretted it immediately.
But, then I started to love him - Augustus Buster a.k.a “Gus”.
But then, within months, we were at the vet. Gus had severe hip problems, probably wouldn’t live for very long - at least not without severe pain.
Goddamnit! I knew I didn’t want this fucking thing. This was all just a setup for more fucking loss and hurt and loneliness.
I was furious. So mad at myself. So mad at the world. So mad that I had opened myself up to this little animal - this creature for whom we were already predicting his end-of-days in his first year.
But, I also started healing.
One of my first blogs about my Dad’s death was entitled “Living With Suicide.” Before I got my dog, I wasn’t. I was surviving suicide. But, when I opened myself to loving him, as painful and frustrating and scary as it was - as temporary as it might be - I began to live again.
Today, almost 12 years later, we had to put my dog down. Cancer.
I sobbed. I broke.
I’ve not cried like this since I lost my Dad. I feel the horrible emptiness of losing Gus, but it has also pulled at something deep in the wounds from my Father’s death. I’ve thought about this day since that first visit to the vet. I knew it would be brutal. I knew my dog’s death was coming. But, I had no idea how badly this would hurt.
I miss my dog. I miss my Dad.
My natural instinct again today is to hunker down, but I can see my dog looking up at me with his big, brown, knowing eyes: “did you miss the whole point!?”
Life and love are full of fear and loss and anxiety and vulnerability, but they are also the source of healing and peace and our connection to something beyond ourselves. Life and love take courage, but also create meaning.
Death doesn’t take that meaning away. It reminds us of it.