Loss has a long tail

little good-bye’s

Yesterday, I bought a new car. I ordered the car back in June because of course, with all the post-pandemic issues there was no inventory at that time. After weeks of silence, they called me the day before to let me know that the car was arriving yesterday. Would I like to come in and pick it up?

My immediate internal reaction was ‘what’s the hurry?’ which is funny because I’ve wanted to swap in my current car (a plug-in hybrid Volvo) for the entire 4+ years I had it (sorry Jeff – the Volvo was his idea, haha). The reason behind my hesitation was simple… my Volvo had memories of Maris. She loved going through the car wash together, barked at all the attendants, usually young men who loved dogs, because she knew she was getting their attention! We had countless trips to the Metro Parks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails, pit stops at Starbucks for pup-cups filled with whip cream. There were numerous rides to doggy day care, where I would sing “Doggy School” in certain pitches, and she knew exactly where we were going. I would tell her what time I would pick her up (haha, like she understood!), and then when I returned in the evening, she would bound toward me for a sweet reunion. She knew to hop back into that car for a drive to the place we both called home.

Trading in this car, I felt like yet another piece of Maris was being torn away from me. I had very little time to get the car ready because the new car had arrived so suddenly. As I emptied the Volvo, I felt my throat tighten – there were little pieces of Maris all over that car because I actually couldn’t bring myself to clean it after letting her go. The blankets that had lined the back of the car during the last ride to the Richfield Animal Clinic were still lying there… I couldn’t get myself to take them out for the last month. The bag of treats I kept in the car just because she was such a good dog was still in the pocket of the driver’s side door. Her fur was still around the passenger side seat as evidence that she was my most frequent passenger. And I removed the doggy harness that I had installed on the passenger seat belt, the very item that I had fiercely negotiated to be thrown into the deal for free when we bought the Volvo (haha, yeah, I am a tough negotiator!). I had to say good bye to Maris all over again yesterday afternoon.

And it has been this way for the last month. There are so many little good byes after the big one. The first floor cleaning after her departure meant that my vacuum would suck up most of her fur for the last time. I had a difficult time emptying the bin full of her fur. But I had to do it and say good bye. The first mopping of the floors meant that I was erasing her little paw prints and drool, forever on our floors. Confession: there is a little spot of drool that I have not yet cleaned up… I see it when I go to that part of the house and think of Maris. Once in a while, I will find little dog food bits, and when I throw them out, I have to say good bye again. And there are the dog treats in our pantry that I have not yet been able to discard… and I know that that will be another moment of sorrow for me.

Slowly, due to passage of time and the regular routine of life, the hard evidence of Maris in our lives is disappearing. The more time passes, the more she will become a memory. Soon, the only thing I will have left in the house will be the beautiful cedar box with her name on it, her fur clippings in an envelop, and the paw print in a heart-shaped clay. No one warned me about the little good byes that come after the big loss, and they are devastating each time. But we have to move on and live happily because I know that that is what Maris would want us to do.

I will live joyfully as you taught me. And I will always love you and remember you, Little One.

Maris’s forever home with us
A pit stop at Starbucks for a treat after a long exploration session in the parks!
Maris loved Mr. Cheese and brought him to our rides in the car… yuck.
Maris had to ride in the back when Jeff was in the car. The poor puppy!
Car Wash!
She knew she was about to get a pup-cup!

The other patient in the house

ever sweet, ever loving, ever ours

Through the saga of Jeff’s surprise surgery and the recovery process, something else has also been bringing us together. And that is our dog, Maris. On March 24th, just one day before Jeff’s aorta ruptured, we found out that our little furry family member has an aggressive form of cutaneous lymphoma. All of our attention was on the dog for about 24 hours until Jeff’s surprise visit to the ER on the 25th.

Maris was born on May 14, 2011 at Double Gap Farm in North Carolina. Jeff and I had been newly married and was interested in getting a dog. We really liked the Swiss German canines, especially the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. But these dogs get to be as much as 150 pounds. I am not little, but I am 5’4″ and at a healthy weight. I told Jeff, “I will not be last in pecking order!”

One day, we were just browsing through the American Kennel Club website, and we saw a smaller version of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. After some research, we found out that there were four Swiss Mountain breeds: Greater Swiss, Bernese, Appenzeller, and… ah, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. We found a breeder in North Carolina, visited the farm to “meet the parents,” and then on July 19, 2011, we traveled to the farm to pick up the 9 week old puppy named “Pink Camo” that would become Maris.

I am sure that I will reminisce about our amazing 11 years together when the time arrives for us to let her go. For now, we are focused on cherishing our time together and on trying to make her as comfortable as possible. Maris still has some energy – still likes to go on walks with us, even though the distance is much shorter than it used to be. She tires easily. She has sores on her body that make every day activities uncomfortable, I am sure. But she doesn’t complain – she just works around it. We place a cone on her at night so she doesn’t scratch her wounds while she is sleeping, and she wears a blue inflated donut around her neck during the day for the same reason. But she just accepts that she will now be wearing these things for the rest of her life and is just happy to be next to us wherever we go.

She is such a good dog.

Jeff’s medical ordeal put Maris’s health challenges into perspective, so I am at a relatively calm place. Everyone who knows me well knows how much I love my dog. And she has had a great life because of it! People used to say to me, “when I die, I want to come back as Anna’s dog!” Maris was a great friend to me when I felt the most lonely, and the combination of Jeff and Maris was the perfect healing salve because Maris was the prism that expanded Jeff’s ray of sunshine into a beautiful spectrum. Living with them, my world grew a much richer palette of colors.

But some time this year, I will have to let her go. And I think my experience volunteering with hospice patients may help me here. During these last weeks/months of her life, it will really be about her, not my grief. We will have the most fun possible, share the most love possible, and eat as well as possible. She does not know that she is dying yet. We will cherish the time we have left together, and when the time comes, Jeff and I will be grateful that we were given the opportunity to be stewards of such a magnificent animal. It was another gift that God gave us to teach us lessons in love, giving, and healing. All creatures belong to God – and how wonderful that we got to take care of one of them!

Maris is about to teach me the proper downward facing dog