This is a story about a dog and as it goes on it turns out it’s not really about a dog at all.
A few weeks ago, my Dad’s old bulldog Max came to stay with us. The nature of why is personal, but Max needed a safe space for a while and Big Daddy and I agreed. We’d been debating getting another dog for the dog (long story) and both of us loved Max.
Max was recovering from tumor removal, which Big Daddy and I were all too familiar with, and he had some swelling and infection going on. A trip to our vet found us trying to sneak fourteen pills a day into food Max would eat. For a while, things were going well. Max was himself. He was ornery and greedy and we couldn’t get enough of his funny bulldog faces.
I debated drawing eyebrows on him.
But, Thursday Max began to refuse to take his pills and by Sunday he was doing poorly. You know the end of this story, of course. Max was 10.5. He weighed 115 pounds. He was a big dog and an old dog. Big Daddy and I took Max to the vet on Monday and we didn’t bring him back home.
Max, you see, was the rotten little brother. He stole toys. He knocked people over. He may or may not have peed on people’s legs. At one point, he stole the Princess’s beloved teddy bear and tossed him into the air over and over again with glee until Mom caught him and took N-N away. He was annoying and funny and we all loved him.
Max was my Mom’s last dog and over the years the pets that lived with her at her end have all gone on; crossed the rainbow bridge or wherever pets go. If there is heaven, they must go there because how could it be paradise without a cat in your lap or a dog at your feet? But, I’m digressing. First it was Sylvester and then it was Jasmine and then just Max was left as the old guard. And now he, like the others, has gone.
Grief, I’ve learned, is really love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot give. The more you loved someone, the more you grieve. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes and in that part of your chest that gets empty and hollow feeling. The happiness of love turns to sadness when unspent. Grief is just love with no place to go.
It’s taken me seven years to realize that my grief is my way of telling the great vastness that the love I have still resides here with me. I will always grieve for my Mom because I will always love her. It won’t stop. That’s how love goes.
When my Mom first died, it was easy to find touchstones to draw me back to her. The car she drove was my sister’s and was still parked in the driveway. The place she worked was still busy and I could catch a glimpse of her desk through the swinging doors whenever I wanted to. Sylvester was really her cat and spending a few minutes petting the patch of white hair on his chest connected me again. We bought her and Dad the hammock that was strung between the two trees at their place Up North. All those things; these beings and people and places are like a connect the dot puzzle. They draw the line backward. Mom worked here, the little lights whisper. Can’t you see her standing over there? Mom sat there, the little lights whisper. Remember the little visors she bought the Princess so they could drive with the top down? But one by one, over time, those little lights start to wink out. The car is gone. So is the place Up North. The home we grew up? A thing of the past. The place she worked? It’s gone too and so are Sylvester and Jasmine and now Max. The lights wink out over and over again and she moves farther and farther away to a place where she’s not easy to touch and to find anymore.
I won’t say it’s the worst. That wouldn’t be true, but it’s hard every time another light winks away. Max’s light is just another light in the line of lights that have already gone dark. Mom petted him. Mom walked him. Mom yelled at him and gave him treats and played with him.
In the end, it was Max’s big heart that was his undoing. Scientifically, the vet explained how these things happen and what they see in big dog’s like Max, but while I understand all the words that isn’t it, exactly. Max had a big heart inside his big body because he loved us. His heart was big because he was joyful and playful and protective. It wasn’t a flaw or a fault of old age, just a good old dog who loved his family.