In the last few weeks, three people I know have lost their long-time companions. One was to accident, one’s noble heart gave out and one old dog left as his devoted owner’s last gift to her friend. One was buried on our land. After a tender ceremony where we placed his favorite toys, his bed, pictures and collar on his quiet body, after we said our words and sprinkled flower petals over him, I stepped away to let the couple grieve together. Leaning against the car, I looked up and watched a Great Blue Heron stroke his way across the sky, neck buckled back on itself, in no hurry to be coming or going.
Soon, too soon, I will be in this couple’s shoes. That reminder has made my hand fall onto my 10-year-old dog’s shoulders more often. He rides in the car on a few more errands than usual. We goof together with his favorite game of “I chase you and you chase me” which we do as gleefully (if a tiny bit more slowly) as we ever did.
His little habits that used to annoy me, don’t because I know they won’t in hind sight. Then they will define him. He and I are easy together. When I lay a sandwich open in my lap on a car ride, he takes a polite air sniff from a distance but does not intrude. If his nose drags him into a grocery bag I can speak a word quietly and he withdraws. With no tension in either of us because we’ve danced these steps a thousand times before.
When he looks at me panting, I know to close the car windows because a storm is coming, whether or not the horizon says it is. And if he sleeps soundly as the rains crash down, I know it will not be thundering tonight. He wants nothing more than to be by my side every waking moment. The only time he is more than six feet from my voluntarily is at night, where he curls up outside the door — on duty.
He knows me better than I know myself. A certain intake of breath means I’m about to get up. I can walk past the back door a dozen times but the time I walk past intent on going for a walk in a few minutes, he knows. And, when I open the back door, all race out except one – he stays looking at me saying “Not without you. Only with you.”
Some day I will be on that hill, weeping with friends over a loss no one can ever really comprehend but the one who has lost.