Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom

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cocker spaniel

by: Carol Bryant

There’s a hole in my heart where whole used to be. Those were the first words that came to mind when I sat down today to write this piece about grief, the power it spews into one’s life whether we want it or not. The great Emily Dickinson wrote so many passages about death, yet one resonates over and over, “Forever is composed of nows.” It certainly is. Are you loving someone today? Missing someone today? Wanting something today? Right now, you hold the forever that is the feeling. Right now.

And today, now, my forever is grief.

It’s an odd thing grief. We fear it, dismiss it, try and avoid it, occasionally have brushes with it, and most often times without warning, it invites itself into our lives. No welcome mat but it comes nonetheless. Good ole Emily said it best, “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.” So when Lucy Maloney asked if she could have the honor of immortalizing my Brandy Noel in replica form with one of her miniatures, I hesitated.

Brandy_Dog

She stole my heart and never gave it back.

Did I want to resurface those feelings? Would people think I was ‘weird’ for wanting to have this forever keepsake? Would this set me back to day one when I let my baby girl’s frail, disease-ravaged body free to soar and me left alone without her physical presence? None of that mattered, I deduced. This is a gift for me. Some of us visit cemetaries. Some light a candle in memory of, others we suffer in silence because, after all, ‘it’s just an animal.’ Nod your head if somewhere along life’s highway you’ve had that comment thwarted your way.

There’s no wrong way to grieve, my grief counselor told me. “You saw a grief counselor because your dog died?” Uh, okayyyyy. Yep, some people validate themselves and their ability to master the art of grieving by tossing eye rolls and handing out sneers like napkins at a cocktail party. <thumps hand to forehead> Oh wait, that’s right anger is a part of the process. Some wounds run deep.

So I sent a locket of hair to Lucy Maloney with some photographs of a life well lived and forever painfully missed. It costs two postage stamps to send grief these days. Not bad. I figured I would see something resembling my Brandy in microscope thimble-sized form come back to me where I’d keep it in a closet until the day came I could face her likeness without melting into a puddle of hurt.

What did arrive changed me. Me, who knows all about grief has mastered the art of suffering through it and while not kicking it’s choke hold on me, overcame and carries it with her like a shield of sorts. A wounded warrior. The mailman delivered hope. Hope costs a few more than 2 stamps by the way.

Brandy

I called a family member to come open the box for me. Same as the day I had to let my baby go at the vet. Please don’t make me do this alone.

What  surfaced was nothing short of a complete likeness of my Brandy Noel. Her fur intertwined with the process Lucy uses to make miracles come to life. She stands more than several inches high, she certainly isn’t thimble sized, but the gaze in her eyes, the ever so slight tilt of her head, the love in who she always shall be, those are the magical qualities in Lucy Maloney’s work that were brought to life. Many a tear fell that day and continue to do so. It’s my grief, after all.

“Are you going to sleep with it?” “Put it next to her ashes?” These are some things people asked me. Contrary to popular belief, no I’m not sitting home with an Ouija board summoning her spirit nor immortalizing her with a dedicatory wing of the house. But even if I were, am I not a fully functioning adult? Don’t I pay taxes and live and laugh, earn an income and rescue stray dogs? Don’t I have the right as a human being to hurt and deal as I see fit? What is wrong with this world to diminish the handling of one’s grief?

My Brandy is home in the closest sense I will ever have her until again we meet. Lucy Maloney is a maker of miracles and far above the craft her hands create. She is sort of a Clarence to George Bailey. Well, at least to me. For that, I am forever indebted.

As for my hurt, if you’ve loved and lost someone, you are walking that path with me. I view my grief as a suitcase. Some days it’s a cosmetics bag full and others it’s Samsonite gorilla sized. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a carousel in the airport waiting for the form my grief will take. Do I wait days or weeks before I tear up and ache so very much or is today a carry on kind of day where I just take it with me? In any event, I know my luggage always arrives and never gets lost. I’ve learned losing a loved one means gaining a new identity. Victim of grief, survivor of hurt, and eventually carrier of pain.

brandy

My dearly departed little girl and the miniature made by Lucy Maloney. <3

I was one of those people, by the way, who said “never again. I cannot get this close to an animal like this.” He sits at my feet daily and his name is Dexter, by the way. My never again. Thankfully I think with my heart and then ask my brain to double check my work. I could never not love this way again.

Will you like Lucy Maloney’s work should you choose to have her create magic for you? More than words could say yes. Celebrating the life of a dog with a forever full of nows, that’s the uniqueness of what Lucy does. “It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog that comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be a dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they.” Anonymous wrote that. I bet they’ve grieved a suitcase full, too.

 

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Comments

  1. OMG Carol what a wonderful story! And just think….if you didn’t have Dex we would have never met! I am very thankful for that and you!!Oh and of course Dexter!!xox

  2. Carol Bryant says:

    Awwww thanks, Sandy. The feeling is completely mutual. xoxox back

  3. I’ve never read an article that has touched me more than this one. I didn’t think anyone could put into words what it feels like to lose a pet, but you did, Carol. You really get it and perfectly and with compassion and honesty showed how I feel and the feelings I’ve gone through after losing my beloved pet!

  4. Carol, you summed up my feelings in every word. Sydney left me 9 months ago on Monday. She died in my arms at our Vets. on February 28th. I still grieve for her. She was my “Heart & Soul” dog-if not for her, I would have stopped searching for a diagnosis to my MS. I was finally diagnosed on 11/9, and oh, how I wish my sweet girl was here with me. It isn’t fair that I am finally diagnosed, and she is not here to share any improvements the medication might give me. She was the most beautiful Yorkie, inside and out. She loved me. I needed her. But, I guess God needed another beautiful Angel in Heaven.

    • Carol Bryant says:

      You are more than welcome, Sheila, and I know what you feel. I never knew my body had that much emotional pain in it until she left my life. I know she watches me and I will be with her again. I know she sent me my Dexter and will continue to watch over me. In my heart, which broke into so many pieces, I know she’d also want me to carry on in her name and I try every day to do that. My prayers and thoughts are with you, Sheila.

  5. Carol, this was so eloquently put – and so heart-warming, I read it three times! I am ever amazed at people who do not understand the power our pets have over us – that the unconditional love they give is not offered anywhere else on earth and it needs to be appreciated. I miss my little girl, Pandora – maybe more than I miss her “dog” Carmie, who left her and us over 3 years ago. Pandora truly was my little one. There is no way to explain that to people who don’t love their pets as if the world revolved around them. Luckily, you understand and so many others understand and I don’t have to feel alone in my sadness. Carmie and Pandora are together again – forever. I will miss them forever… they will never be forgotten. Thank you for writing this – it’s so beautiful.

  6. Carol Bryant says:

    That’s the thing about sadness and the temporary parting of our furbabies, Yvonne. I feel like we become soldiers of sorts, even wounded warriors. I’ve lost human family members before and yet never grieved as I did/do with losing my Brandy. I know in her name, she’d want me to be okay and love her forever through what I can do while I’m here.

    Pandora is a lucky kitty to have shared her life with you. She runs free with Carmie now. One thing loss has given me – restoring my spirituality and sense of hope that we will all be reunited someday. My warmest hugs and deepest condolences are with you, Yvonne.

  7. Carol – I am so touched by this. Thank you for sharing your journey. The love we have for our pets is undeniable. And when we lose them, can break our heart in a million pieces.

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Indeed before Dexter, there was Brandy. She totally unequivocally stole my heart. I never ever thought I’d get another dog, let alone love this way again. And then there he was. I love him just the same. I read a quote a while back that sums me up to a T: “It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”

      I could never not love this way again.

  8. So beautifully written! Grief is such a personal experience and yet there is so much comfort in knowing that others walk this path too. It’s not as lonely :-)

  9. This article put into words something I was never able to express on my own. I lost my dog Bandit suddenly and unexpectedly July 10, 2011. My guilt is still overwhelming. I am planning on sharing this article again during the year if you don’t mind. This article is something everyone who has lost a pet should see. Thank you for writing it, I still haven’t had the courage to put my story down in writing.

  10. Beautifully written. And my grief, just like yours, takes on various forms daily. It has just been 3 months since Zoe departed for the Rainbow Bridge. Truly the hardest decision I have ever had to make. But it was the best and most loving one I could ever make for her…..not for me. But for her.

    When we are all reunited at the Bridge, there will be a river full of tears of joy. And once more I will get to hold her precious head in my hands, stroke her lovely fur and kiss that special place between her eyes and her ears.

    • Carol Bryant says:

      My heart breaks for you, Cindy. This is one club I never wanted to be in. Sadly, loving them so much means hurting so much when they move on. I do believe they move on and not truly die. For me, love never ends, and I know you feel the same way. My deepest condolences.

  11. OMG. You just brought me to tears. Brought me right back to when my cocker Buffa died. I love the miniature of your baby. I wish I knew in 2003. Your baby is over the Rainbow Bridge, running, frolicking and playing for eternity and out of her pain and will always be in your heart. Trust me…I know too..

    Love you Carol.

  12. This is an amazing post. I sympathize with every bit of it. I assume most of us animal parents agree on this topic, though it’s not discussed often.

    Some people really do dismiss the loss of a pet as nothing serious, nothing you can’t manage. I remember my regular Dr. bringing me to tears after the loss of my dog Carter. I went to her because I was in a “daze” and I had no idea why my brain was so foggy. She simply told me “your dog just died and you expect to go to work like normal?” Out of all the people I was expecting compassion from she was the one who really got to me. She’s usually so matter of fact and cold but that statement made me realize that I needed to allow myself time to grieve.

    Life is different for all of us. I try not to judge people specifically because of the way I myself have been treated in a similar situation; no one needs to have their feelings belittled.

    I’ve also told myself never again. Somehow I always end up with another dog. It’s not a replacement, just a continuation of my lifelong series of dog companions.

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