If you step up to the windows in my office, lean forward and look to the left you’ll see it there down below. Off at the edge of the lawn is a stone lined oval of freshly dug soil. Protective pines reach their arms over to shelter. Thin stems sporting broad heart shaped leaves form a centerpiece. There, three feet below, lies the one I loved most.
This is the dark side of cultivating beauty. We don’t awake every morning to sunny skies. Not every endeavor is a success. Not every intention is realized. Not every hope is swiftly fulfilled. We struggle, we doubt, we fight, we fail, we lose.
On August 9, I lost hard. It was a cool fair day, the kind of day you relish with intention, knowing that August draws the curtain on summer’s play. But I passed it in distracted denial. The clock pushed its presumptuous accounts of despicable time into the room with greater persistence than ever. I watched it in aggravated anticipation avoiding the feelings by thinking my way through. This is my last morning with Bailey. These are my last couple of hours with Bailey. As afternoon bullied forth, the hour Kate and I had agreed upon loomed large and I listened for the crunch of the vet’s tires on gravel.
Between the thoughts I sat quietly with the shadow of a dog Bailey had become. He lay in a variation of a pose he had lain in for weeks, unable to stand, disinterested in food, his one good eye as lifeless as life can be. And still I questioned my decision. I questioned my decision not so much for him as for me because I longed for one more hour, one more day, one more lifetime with him. I stroked the soft black fur that remained silky and smooth to the end. I pressed my nose against the cool spot at the bridge of his snout. I buried my face in the scruff of his neck and drank in the familiar scent, the one that never failed to calm and soothe when I was on edge.
Our capacity for despair equals our capacity for joy and Bailey allowed me the extremes of both. I have never loved so purely, so trustingly, without reservation. And on the other side of that love I’ve met loss. It was the deal I struck 12 years ago when I invited in that dark handsome stray who needed a partner, an anchor, as much as I did.
Bailey died beautifully. For that I am grateful. His face relaxed into a younger version of himself, his broken body freed of its burden. But along with him went parts of me, the core, honest parts of me that I liked best. With him I was a better version of myself, without doubt, without a wall of mistrust, unreserved and well… downright goofy at times.
We buried him calmly. H cut an August bouquet of great white hydrangeas and Queen Anne’s lace. We curled our bare toes into the cool creamy soil as we covered his body. But at the close of ceremonies I entered the house and his absence swallowed me at the threshold. The color drained from the world, my chest hollowed and I fell to pieces.
Back in the early spring of 2010 a good friend lost harder than I ever have. I wrote some loving but challenging words to her, reminding her not to turn away, reminding her to live fully and to drink as deeply of the losses as of the gains. Now I’m telling myself the same. But damn if it isn’t sometimes the last thing you want to do.