I’ve written about my dog Zoey and her extraordinary devotion to Angela and in particular, her tender concern for her throughout her illness.
In the end, as I began my journey of grieving and adjusting to life without Angela, I understood that she was engaged in the same process; learning to make a life without the person who had been such a large part of your life. So we have been on this journey together over nearly two years.
It’s very easy for a person to become totally self-absorbed during a difficult emotional time. Who else but yourself do you need to worry about? Who else but you is experiencing this life altering event? I remember how frightened I felt during those first weeks alone.
But, even though I wanted to be totally engrossed in my own personal situation, I was forced to carry on with certain necessary tasks, including caring for Zoey. I almost resented that responsibility because it required me to think about something beyond my scope in interest at that time. I just wanted to think about me and what was happening to my life.
In the first days and weeks, I also worried about my sons and how I might support them as they processed their loss; trying to be available for them and reminding myself of how much Angela had done for them, and it occurred to me that Zoey needed care as well.
Zoey needed me to take care of her basic needs and I had to fess up to that responsibility. But it wasn’t difficult to see that she was also dealing with her new life situation and stressing over the changes.
I noticed that since all of her old habits had been disrupted, she retreated into seclusion, almost as though she needed to gather her thoughts to figure out what to do.
She would always sit on her bed which was situated in the middle of the two chairs that Angela and I sat in each night to watch TV. She would wander out from the bedroom and take her place between us when she heard the TV playing, and Angela would always greet her with some kind of welcome, “Oh, I see you’ve decided to join us” she would usually say, as Zoey settled in. This was our routine, our happy unexciting day-to-day way of doing the ordinary things that we all do.
But, Zoey stopped joining me when I sat in my chair, even though I called her to come out. It seemed as though she was avoiding our usual routine, not wanting to be reminded of how things had changed.
How is it possible for a dog to grieve, I wondered? Isn’t that a human emotion? I began to realize that we needed to figure out how to make a new routine that only included me. She stayed in our bedroom for a long time, and even now, when she does come out to join me, she isn’t in her usual place.
I realized that we both needed to develop some habits that would represent our new status; living together in a new relationship. I wasn’t quite sure how it would roll out, how would be become a couple, I wondered?
So it’s been a journey of trial and error, developing a schedule of going to the dog park, hanging out in the kitchen when I cook, (hoping for a hand out, I’m sure), getting a few scrapings from my plate, and getting a belly rub each morning as she jumps on my bed to announce that she’s ready to eat. But it’s not the same and we both know it, she loves me, I’m sure she does, but in a different way, and we both quietly acknowledge that.
She’s a comfort to me in that she represents yet another thing that Angela loved and had to leave behind, and so I treasure that. She has given me something besides myself to focus on and take responsibility for, and I need that, she has reminded me that we all need to make a new path when the old one is no longer passable, and she gives me her love and affection each and every day - something that is very important to me.
I wonder how a dog can be such an important factor in my journey of reconciliation to my new life situation, but I realize that an emotional attachment is not limited to we humans, it’s a blessing that we get from our pets as well. So me and Zoey will continue to make the best of our situation, and I will continue to be reminded of the power that affection and constancy has to see us through the dark times.