This morning I woke up and my first thought was, “How will I keep living without you here with me?”
Your wrinkly, puppy-like forehead and strong jaw were resting on my knee, pushing it into an overextended position that was slightly uncomfortable. But I didn’t dare move you, at least for a minute or two.
“One day, I’ll wish for that pain in my knee that comes from the weight of your bully head resting on me,” I thought.
Isn’t it interesting how one thought can be so potent that it makes your unopened eyes fill like a salty ocean, daring to spill onto your cheeks like waves onto a beach?
I think about her death every day, just for a moment, and usually not on purpose. It’s always there, reminding me to stay present with the experience of having her on this earth.
The contrast of life and death is a gift, I tell you.
I was gifted a parental death at the age of 11. Although it didn’t feel like a gift for many years, it has allowed me to live in and love these micro-moments in life that most never think twice about until it’s too late.
She is a strong presence—physically and mentally. But right now, she’s curled up in a vulnerable, tight ball with her nose under her paw because she’s come untucked from the blanket that keeps her warm…her mum likes to sleep with the fall chill spilling in through the open window.
I slid out from under the covers, and I tucked her further into the blankets to keep her warm.
I kiss her three times just above her brow on that wrinkly Mastiff-Boxer forehead of hers, cradling her sleepy face in my hands.
After my morning coffee, I come back to where you are sleeping at the foot of the bed to kiss you once more. Do you know I love you?
You stretch out toward me, your big brown eyes giving me that gentle, familiar signal to wrap my arm around you. You are silently asking me to spend a few more minutes—maybe forever—indulging in your morning cuddle.
I will say yes every time.
And the thought hits me again—one day, your cuddles will become a distant yet painfully close memory, causing those waves to crash onto my cheeks when I long for them and you.
I’ve taught myself to lean into this feeling when it comes.
This daily, “not yet” memory of her not being here anymore is made more powerful because it’s been juxtaposed with the memories of others’ voices who say absurd things like, “She’s just a dog.”
What a ridiculous, minimizing, offensive statement.
But I must tell you: my greatest fear isn’t her death.
My greatest fear is that my husband and I will be alone in our grief, consumed by the memory of her and that nobody will understand, because, to others, she is “just a dog.”
My other greatest fear is that the ones who love her like we do will casually bring her up in conversation because they miss her, without considering that the mere mention of her name may just unglue my barely-taped-back-together heart all over again.
Knowing that her time on Earth is so short saturates our home with a level of sweetness that even the most delicious bakeries could never touch.
But don’t be mistaken—it’s not all roses and fairy dust around here.
She is my greatest, most intimate and complex teacher.
I have to know you and predict you so well that I can give you what you need in any given scenario so that you remain safe and calm, and so that others remain safe too.
I have to stand my ground and advocate for you when others chastise me and tell me that I’m too strict, or not strict enough, with your rules.
You are a guardian, and I had to level up to raise a guardian.
When you unleash your physical strength and speed, I have to remind you with my voice and intent that I am stronger and I am your leader.
When you are scared and reactive, I have to resemble the calmest of Buddhas and remain in control of both of us.
And sometimes, I fail.
You demand the highest respect from all animals and people, which most don’t know how to give.
That’s why they push their entitled, strange hands toward your face, as if they wouldn’t lose their sh*t if a stranger did that to them, and then blame us when you tell them a stern “no.”
I cried for hours when I realized that I would have to rein your bold spirit in. I remember with deep sadness what that was like—to be reined in and forced to conform to a polite and quiet society, and I still hate having to do it to you.
My baby Belle,
When you are in your joy, I willingly and excitedly give the reins to you, hoping you will lead me.
In a world where I’ve been primed to replace fun with seriousness, your joy unleashes me.
You are the embodiment of a paradox. Contradictory, yet true.
You are a protector, and yet, you wake me up at 3 a.m. just because you’re excited to run and play under the falling snowflakes in February.
You are a predator, and yet, you volunteer yourself to submissively play with the smallest, most timid 16-week old puppies until their confidence grows.
You show me how to embody equal parts of strength and joy.
You show me how to be both intensely fierce and sensitive.
The contrast of your strong love and short life both strengthens me and weakens me at the knees—the ones that will one day weep and long for the weight of your head.
Until then and forever know,
You are my guardian, and I am yours.
You are the descendant of wolves, and you have shown me what it means to be fully human.