My dog died. Nothing can prepare you for the heartbreak of losing unconditional love. Driven, no nonsense, are some of the words used to describe me. Sentimental – not so much! Yet I sobbed when I had to put my dog down. He had been failing for almost a month. On his final day, it was undeniable that he must pass. He alternated between his soft fluffy bed and the cool, tile floor of the bathroom to soothe his many aches and pains. When he awoke on his final morning with his entire undercarriage red with infection, on top of his other chronic ailments, I knew it was time to let him go. A month earlier my twelve-year old son had said, “Mom the dog has lost his fluffy little mind! He has NO idea who I am”. He wasn’t wrong. Rufus also had dementia.
The second I told the Vet it was time to let Rufus go, I had a vision of a fluffy, white, weightless being with wings, joyfully flapping and floating effortlessly upward. I knew in that instant I had made the right decision. We waited for my ex-husband to join us. The dog had been our first child together. Fourteen years earlier, we weren’t altogether certain I would remember to come home and feed something every night. A dog seemed like a sensible test run before having a child.
I left the Vet’s office with empty arms. At home, sitting in my favorite chair, rocking back and forth, staring out the window, tears streamed uncontrollably down my face. I had been prepared for this event (yes, I am the kind of woman who organizes my dog’s obituary in advance). I posted the photos I had selected, then wrote a few true sentences and hit post. The outpouring of affection and kindness from family, friends and neighbors overwhelmed me. A dear friend and neighbor, who saw the post on her way home from work, knocked on my door. I couldn’t speak. We just hugged and cried. Losing my dog would have been unbearable without these kind words and acknowledgements. A like, a heart, a teary face, a text, a flood of comments and more of my tears. Stoic doormen, offered uncomfortable condolences, perhaps thrown off balance by seeing the woman who is their rock, crack. The next few days my faith in social media and humankind was restored. After watching a video earlier in the day about falsified video posts, I had almost sworn off of all social media, deeming it evil, and was later relieved I had not, witnessing its restorative value firsthand.
The next day, desperate to find some relief to my pain which didn’t cause weight gain, a hangover or involve prescription drugs, I remembered that my friend, Jacque, a gifted professional intuitive and animal communicator knew something about pets on the “other side”. I went to her website and found one of her guided meditations under the “Pet Loss” tab. The ten-minute, “Your Animal Companion Has Passed”, was the salve I was seeking. I was able to imagine his warm, fluffy, white body pressed up against my leg as we sat together on the sofa. I realized I didn’t have to let him go just because he couldn’t stay in his physical body.
Having consulted Jacque on a semi-annual basis for almost five years, I felt in this particular circumstance, I could reach out to her and ask for some free guidance. In my grief, I was still questioning my decision to let Rufus go. She wrote back, “I am truly sorry for your loss. I do understand and from everything I can see you absolutely did the right thing at the perfect time.”
At a fundraiser years ago, my ex-husband, bid on a pet oil painting. No one else had bid on it. The blank sheet of paper, in a sea of heavily bid items, immediately caught his attention. It was instinctual. The trader, always in search of an arbitrage. Little did he know, he was not getting an oil painting for $100 bur rather $100 off on what would be a $1,000 oil painting! He honored his bid and went deep, deciding to have fun with the project. After all, this artist painted pets in uniform. A bulldog in full leather, a la Peter Marino. A poodle in a tutu. Rufus, my ex-husband decided, was in his heart French and should have a uniform from Napoleon’s army, regal and complete with epaulets, full honors and of course, a top knot tied with a red bow! We didn’t stop there. Mais non! The jacket was only the beginning. Countless e-mails to the artist went back and forth, fine tuning the twinkle in the dog’s eye, the slight twist in his nose and the exact expression on his mouth. Great thought went into the correct sweep and color of the sky to give the painting just the right blend of gravitas and whimsy to make it very funny. And then there was the frame; a thick, ornate, gold, gilt frame worthy of a place in the Louvre. This was truly a collaborative masterpiece!
A few years later, my Japanese born hair-colorist began displaying her oil paintings of pets in the hair salon, which were decidedly far humbler and more organic than Mr. Rufus in full uniform. Having divorced and moved, I left the other oil painting, and that period of my life, behind. I thought one day I should like to have an oil painting of Rufus for myself. There was a long line for these genuine, life-like oil paintings which captured the soul of each darling creature. When the painting of Rufus finally arrived, it was perfect! A reproduction on canvas of his sweet, calm demeanor, soft brown eyes and a heart full of devotion and love.
The night after Rufus passed, and after I had listened to Jacque’s guided mediation, Rufus came to me in spirit and asked me to move his oil painting from the living room closer to the front door so that he could continue guarding over me. He also felt terrible about what a mess he made on the floors when he could not control his bladder. I told him repeatedly it was not a problem and I think he was somewhat comforted. This was thirty-six hours after the entire ordeal had begun, and of course I had not missed a minute of work. I also made certain my son got to school on time and had his homework done. I then arrived promptly at my scheduled marketing meeting. The team had seen my doggie obituary post. Sweetly offering condolences, they asked if I wanted to postpone the meeting. I replied, “NO, we are not postponing the meeting! I didn’t die, my dog died!” I genuinely thanked them for their kind words, because they truly mattered to me. They laughed nervously, fearing I was not altogether human, and we got to work!
“My marketing lady wants lots of new ghostly encounters stories for this month. The request for the painting to be moved is perfect. Would you mind writing up a piece on your experiences with him since he left physical. The what has happened and the how you have experienced it? That would be great. People need to know relationship continues beyond.”
This was the e-mail I received from Jacque when I got home from work that night. I was worn out and second guessing myself. At this point my heart had begun to heal, progressing from a gaping wound to a large hematoma. I wrote back, “I would be happy to send you my story as long as
you can confirm he really did ask me to move the painting and it wasn’t a case of a lonely, middle aged, grieving woman meets sauvignon blanc!”
Jacque wrote back. “I love you! This is so funny. Yes, he did, not your hopimation and wine. Yes indeed. This is genuine communication. “
The next night, sweet little Rufus came to me and told me how much he missed me. I cried a bit but I didn’t have many tears left. When night four arrived it was Friday evening, the end of a long week, successful on many fronts and clearly challenging. A couple glasses of wine plus fatigue fired up my OCD and the cleaning and purging began. Most of Rufus’s supplies were worn by age and many were too personal to pass on. I marched them straight to the trash shoot. “ARE YOU GETTING ANOTHER DOG!?!?!?!?!?!”. I jumped. The message came through as if on a loudspeaker with the hurt volume turned up just as high. “Nooooo My Sweet, Darling Rufus”, I cooed back to him, “I just couldn’t live with all the physical reminders”.
Shortly thereafter Rufus and I settled into an agreement to stay in touch. His sweet, little soul will visit me from time to time, dispensing doggie affection with a wagging tail and an uplift furry muzzle punctuated by a black nose, to remind me his love is eternal. I think the real reason he had me move his painting closer to the door was so I would see it every day and not forget him! On occasion I still look for him on the bed when I wake up in the morning or worry about getting home from work in time to walk him. Then I stop and remember he’s gone. I don’t cry as much anymore because I know he is forever in my heart and watching over me through his oil painting.