It has been about two weeks since our German Shepherd, Lexi, decided to not come home.
Her entrance into our family could not have been more perfect. My sister was looking for a companion for her dog, Annie, her boyfriend’s birthday was coming up, he wanted a German Shepherd. One day, she went to the Dumb Friend’s League, there was a rescued German Shepherd, my sister picked her up, Lexi walked into our house, plopped down on the couch, and has been part of our family ever since.
Like any loved one, Lexi brought us a great deal of enjoyment, and also of strife. There was the time that my sister caught her tail in the car door, and it turned out to be a $800 vet bill, and Lexi had to wear a cone for a month that she would often get herself stuck in the bathroom, until she decided to bury it in the dirt pile outside. Annie and Lexi would team up, chase the chickens in the backyard, antagonize the neighborhood dogs. I always loved getting pictures of the two, up to no good, running and jumping, making strange faces or being dressed in way too big t-shirts, when I was at school.
Perhaps my favorite story to tell of Lexi is when we went camping this summer. Annie and Lexi have a tendency to run off, chase rabbits, play in the mud, so of course, in a new setting, they were eager to go explore. Logan and I spent about an hour climbing cliffs and hurdling gullies, while my sister stayed at the campsite to watch for the dogs’ return. Suddenly, as I was standing on a rock (feeling like Simba from Lion King), I heard a dog collar jingling in the distance, and out came Lexi, smiling and trotting over to us (as if she did nothing wrong). We had to climb back up a huge cliff to the campsite, and having his treasured dog finally back, my sister boyfriend hoisted her up, and left me in the dust, clinging to tree roots, barely making it back up. But don’t worry, the dog was fine.
No matter what it is–a long term relationship, a treasured car, or a beloved pet–loss is perhaps one of the worst emotions in the spectrum of human experience. Anytime I hear of someone going through loss, my heart wrenches for them as I think about all the exhausting and taxing, but necessary, emotional stages they must conquer: the anger, the acceptance, the forgiveness, the learning to live without, and all the other obstacles that come in between, because the only ‘cure’ for loss is time.
There are some things in life that we are only allowed to have for a certain length of time. We may only be allowed to savor some friendships for a few months. Perhaps we are gifted the love from a significant other for a short period of time. And, sometimes we are only supposed to have our beloved pets for a limited amount of time.
When I was about 12 years old, my parents announced their divorce, and then appeased us by buying us a cat. This cat, named Cleo, was my cat, and I definitely spent many evenings in my room, sobbing with her purring by my side. Animals have a special, unspoken gift to know just what we humans need at the right time. Whenever I came home from school, she was laying on my bed to greet me. We used to dress that cat in book covers and fake hair pieces, drive her around the neighborhood in the doll stroller, and torment her with water. But, she was always there when I needed her.
Flash forward a few years later, as I was sitting in my senior economics class, my mom called to tell me that Cleo was dead; she was found, eaten by a fox, in the backyard. I remember being really upset, but I also remember feeling some peace: that, at that moment, Cleo leaving me meant that I didn’t need her anymore, and that a new chapter of my life was about to begin.
Things–friendships, relationships, pets–come into our lives just when we need them–and often depart when we don’t. Ultimately, dealing with loss is dealing with change, and dealing with change causes our rhythms and routines to shift. But, change is not necessarily a bad thing, because it is when our foundations are shaken that we begin to look at our lives in new ways, and things that were once hidden now become revealed. For us, I think it has been the outpouring of support from people to help bring Lexi home. It has shown the strength of our relationships, and proven what a special and unique bond pets really do have.
Loss does not necessarily mean that things have departed from our lives forever, because once we have those memories, we can revisit them at anytime we need to.
When I think about Lexi, I think about her bouncing around the backyard, standing on top of me as we take car drives, her curled up on the floor next to my sister’s boyfriend.
And, I am choosing to believe that Lexi is a John Grady, a wandering spirit, a gypsy dog, and is now running wild with a pack of coyotes, or that she is situating herself on someone else’s couch, someone who needs her more than we do.