For the second time in as many months, I find myself packing up toys and folding crates for a newly deceased dog while I wipe away the tears and shake my head in disbelief.
Horatio had loved and lived with us for 13 years before succumbing to a brain tumor in October. A shih tzu with bad eyes and limited hearing, who had lost his tail in a car accident, and had progressive heart valve disease, he was a constant companion who asked for nothing more than to be loved. He sat at my feet for hours as I worked, occasionally nudging me to get up and go for a walk, find him a treat or just reach down and scratch him behind the ears. He came to the tennis courts when we played, on hikes in the country or walks in the city, to the park or for a ride, always happy to be with us. And if left behind, would greet us with a single bark and a full-body wag, making up to the absent tail.
At first, we hadn’t intended to get another pet. What animal could replace Horatio? But the house was so quiet and empty without him, his spot on the couch between us a vacant reminder of all we had lost. Sure, we could sit closer, and that embrace felt good, but didn’t diminish the absence of our beloved Horatio.
It isn’t easy to find a puppy in the middle of a pandemic when most have been snatched up by homebound households hungry for companionship, especially not a hypoallergenic one young enough to be trained to a litter box. But with fortitude and the willingness to make a long drive, we found a well-timed litter with a male temporarily named “Boo” by its owners. Since our nickname for Horatio had always been Boo, we took it as a sign and drove the four hours to collect him in central Pennsylvania. At 2.5 pounds and looking more like a miniature bear cub than a dog, we named him Orsino.
The house again felt joyful. Orsino was a rascal. Full of antics and energy, barking orders for food, entertainment and affection one moment, sound asleep in my arms or his crate the next. He could wear himself out chasing a toy in circles, and was just beginning to understand the game of winning praise and a treat by eliminating in the designated spot.
But he was with us for barely 10 days before his wild energy and desperate need to be with me caused him to jump from my husband’s arms when I was in the next room. He landed badly, dying hours later from the trauma of his fall. Just 9 weeks old and so small, he was too fragile to recover.
Now we are the ones who feel too fragile to recover. How can we sustain one more loss in this wretched year?
Grief and Gratitude
I’ve cried, I’ve raged, I’ve stared out at the empty corner where his crate used to be. But I have also begun to remember all that I have to be grateful for. Five years after a cancer diagnosis, I am healthy. I have a loving husband and two adult children who are good and kind and generous and smart. I have an extended family that is bountiful in its love for me, my family and each other, however complex all those relationships may be. We live in safety, working from home with minimal risk of the disease, and in comfort, assured of plenty of food and heat and diversions, including the wildlife outside our windows.
I continue to grieve for that dear little creature who filled our days with hope and joy. But I am truly grateful for all that I have in a year so filled with losses.