After the goodbyes

With the heaviest of hearts, we said goodbye to our Zoe this week.

Our family is swimming through the grief as best we can, trying to support each other without pulling anyone underwater.

When we told the kids the news, 9-year-old Doodlebug burst into tears, sought refuge in my lap, then went to her room to draw an elaborate picture of Zoe and Winston soaring through the stars as Angel Dogs.

7-year-old Rascal leaned over and tucked his head into my neck, saying nothing. Several minutes later he got up, went outside, rigged up a punching bag and attacked it with two oversized toy swords. Again and again and again.

Smiley, our 3-year-old, kept repeating, “But Mama, we have a dog. Our family has a dog.” It was as if this impossible piece of bad news just did not fit the drawings that hang from our kitchen magnet board. Our family has a dog.

Hubs put dinner in the oven, offered wine and chocolate, and held me as I shook. He promised me, over and over that Zoe felt loved every day of her life.

Me, I just cried. And when nobody was around, I wailed. Five days later I still don’t have a grip on the pain or the tears.

My everyday routines are brutalizing me. I wake at my usual 5am, before everyone else, and gingerly step out of bed so I don’t land on the sleeping dog beside me. But she’s not there, of course. So I start my run, which is typically my source of sanctuary and relief, already gasping for air.

As I pack up the kids before school, I realize we are actually early because we are no longer juggling the dog chores with everything else. Have you fed her? Did you get all her meds? Has she gone outside yet? Is she back in? Somebody lock the back door. Kids! Don’t let her bolt out the front! Instead, we leave for school with time and tears to spare.

In the afternoon, as I work from my home office, I glance up every hour to see if she needs to go out. She is an old dog with a tempermental bladder...She always needs to go out. Not now, not today.

And later, during the chaos that is our evening dinnertime, I carry a steaming pot of pasta from stove to sink, and instinctively glance down to make sure Zoe is not underfoot. She is constantly underfoot, waiting for a crumb to drop. But of course it’s not her, just grief that I’m tripping over now.

And then, the house falls quiet. Before I go to bed, I peek in on each sleeping child and turn to let the dog out once more before setting the alarm. I wince, then tiptoe right across the spot beside my bed where my Zoe has slept for more than 13 years.

And as I lie there, praying for sleep, I realize that I’m ending my day exactly like I started it: aching and tearful and feeling every inch of the tremendous hole in my heart.