I became acquainted with loss at a young age. From earliest childhood, I understood that my mom had lost her mother at thirteen, and been forced to struggle on, raising the rest of the family. My paternal grandmother also died before I was born—I knew neither of them. When I was eleven or so, my mom came home from the doctor’s office and announced she had a terminal disease. It took her more than ten years to die, but by the time I was twenty-one, she was gone.
From my dad, I inherited a love of music, and a love of dogs. People need certain things to live—if we’re honest with ourselves, we know what these things are. Food. Water. Security. Perhaps chocolate. For me, dogs made that list. My love for them reached deep inside me, to a place so fundamental I never knew it existed.
Perhaps, being familiar with loss, I should have known that a love so deep had a flip side—loss so painful it tears the heart apart. Experience, as it does, taught me the truth of that. You’d think it would be a lesson well-learned—touching the hot stove hurts, and all that. Yet having lost a dog, I took on the promise of pain over and over again. Because I just can’t live with a hole in my heart.
For years, I believed I learned something from every dog I lost. From Champ: don’t give up on your love too soon. From Mac: pay the dues to the dog you’ve lost by cherishing the one you have. From Mara: love can overcome death, at least for a little while. From Shannon: the love of a dog can heal. From Jessie: patience, patience, patience is a huge part of love.
After each loss, I pulled the pieces of my heart back together, and adopted again. Seniors. Those whose pet parents had gone in the hospital and not come out again. The lost, the bewildered.
After my husband and I lost Jessie, a lengthy and painful process that involved doggie dementia, we decided on a different route. A slightly younger rescue this time, one who’d been found stray in Kentucky with a single puppy. Nobody knew her story. We didn’t care. Her puppy, a little boy, got adopted by someone else. We welcomed Lacy into our home and our hearts, losing them to her wholesale. The sweetest, gentlest dog we could imagine, with barely a bark and the trusting nature of an angel.
Angels may come to earth, but they rarely linger long. Perhaps that explains why we’ve had less than two years with her before receiving a diagnosis of Mast Cell Sarcoma. Passed by our vet to the cancer specialist, we learned there are no options but to make her comfortable for as long as we can.
I feel my heart breaking and tell myself I should have known. I did know, but I reached for love anyway, and now I grieve because this little, sweet-natured dog deserves better. She deserves a long life filled with cuddles and cherishing. Filled with love.
Yes, the flip side of love is loss. And it hurts, let me tell you it hurts. Anyone who’s ever loved knows this, and so, truly, I don’t have to tell you.
Will we have the courage, after this, to adopt again? I can’t answer that now. I just know the love never dies. We will see how long the power of love can carry us, and Lacy, this time.