grief is sneaky

I'm 24 days into life without my dog, and I still habitually look for him when I break open a hard-boiled egg to give him the yolk.


a euology and a requiem

My Eli is gone. I have his paw prints in clay on my bathroom counter. I have his empty bed kicking around my room, as it has been for years. I have his leash, his food bowls, his sweaters, his tooth brush, a clip of his fur in a baggie. I have more than eight years of good (and admittedly not-always-good) memories. Tomorrow, I will pick up his crate and a tiny box of ashes.


All his life, I had nightmares about his demise. In all of these terrible dreams, he was afraid and suffering and I was powerless, screaming, unable to reach him, forced to see his panic and hear his cries. Over and over and over, for eight years, I watched Eli die dozens of terrible, miserable deaths. I would wake up crying, pulse pounding, often shaking, and reach for my tiny companion. He would always be there, drowsy and asking for a belly rub. It was just a really bad dream.

But last Thursday, it wasn’t a dream. It was a terrifying reality, playing out inches in front of me, and reality was worse than I’d ever imagined. The attack, the worst surprise of my life, happened so close and so fast that it still takes my breath away. For eight years I’d been anticipating that moment, and yet in all those years of rehearsal, I never learned how to stop it from happening. Powerless and screaming, as always, I couldn’t stop it.

I’m so sorry, Eli.

Tiny Eli, in shock and suffering desperately from his wounds, heard me and trusted me enough to haul himself into his crate. I held hope close on the way to the vet, but I also knew. He wouldn’t be coming home. No animal could have survived the attack I’d witnessed from mere inches. When the vet found no internal damage from teeth that went all the way through his tiny body, I was dumbfounded. Maybe there are miracles and maybe God was giving us one. I thought...

And then he wouldn’t wake up. I went back and met the vet who had been working for an hour just to wake him up. Had he been shaken? We all cried.

My choices were heroics that would most likely fail, or cradling him in a peaceful goodbye.


The afternoon we met, Eli chose me. Our first moment together, he nestled himself in my lap. Our last moments of normal life were spent together, me kneeling at the door, him in my arms, cut short by a long-awaited nightmare that charged at my left elbow. Our last moments together with him fully alive were in the car, the car he loved so much, me sobbing and talking to him, my Eli in unbearable pain. His last moments of real awareness were probably in a back room, surrounded by people he didn’t know but who cared about him very much.

Did he know they were helping him? Was he looking for me? Did he even know they were there, or that I wasn't?

We tell each other that “they can hear us” or that “they know these things.” I say it, too, but I don’t buy it.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope he knew, on some level somewhere, that these scary people in this scary place were safe, that they loved him and were doing their very best to help him live. I hope he knew I was with him when he took his last breaths, and that I was still taking care of him, and that I loved him very much. I hope those comforts were his last memories. I hope.

Precious Eli, I am so sorry. I am so very sorry I couldn’t stop this from happening to you. I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you everything would be ok. I’m sorry. I'm so sorry. You didn’t deserve this. I’m so sorry. I miss you, Eli. I love you. I’m so sorry.


My priest, when I told her about what happened, said that these are the things we can only live through. There’s nothing we can do but simply keep ourselves alive as we endure the seemingly unendurable. There’s no point that I’ll “be ok” with this, or get a handle of it, or just deal with it – I must simply live through these days until I’m able to do more.

Now I’m hobbling around my house as often and for as long as my wounds will permit, limping around the place where my little dog and I lived together and where we lost each other. It’s unbearably quiet here, with my son at his grandparents and my roommate at a conference. I need to move things around and put things away and change the way everything looks so that I can, someday, walk into my kitchen and not want fall to the floor and sob.

Soon my son will be back from his weekend away, and I will try to explain to him what death is and tell him that we can still love Eli and talk about Eli and look at pictures of Eli, but that we can’t kiss him anymore because he’s not here and he won't ever be here again. I will watch him closely, see how he has changed, wonder how much he saw, find him a helper to heal his little heart. Soon my roommate will be back with her sweet, sad dog who witnessed the whole thing from the other side of a window, and she and I will be gentle with each other or we will avoid each other or maybe we will do a little of both. And I will all the while try desperately not to get attached to this furry four-legged girl, as I will try desperately not to get attached to anything or anyone ever again. How could I live through this another time?

Soon, I hope, I will stop losing my breath when I close my eyes and suddenly relive what happened. I will stop scanning for the spray bottle when the doorbell rings. I will stop expecting to hear the jingle of dog tags when my laptop snaps closed, once the cue for bedtime. I won’t wake up in the middle of the night, no longer having to coerce the heaviest 8-lb. dog in the world off my feet or my neck or wherever he’d inconveniently lodged himself. It won’t seem weird that I can enter my house in silence. I won't wonder if this hair is the last dog hair I'll find on these pants or in this corner. I won't be obsessed by all the minuscule decisions that led to this tragedy, wondering why and how and why again. I won’t lose my vision to hot tears and falter, whispering how sorry I am, that I am so sorry, you didn’t deserve this, I love you, I’m so very sorry.

Someday, maybe soon.

But for now, I trace a set of paw prints with my finger, I nudge a clip of fur and hear the echo of a memory of a toddler saying "eee-yi very soft like a bunny." I am simply living through this loss.