Writing this is hard. Writing has a way of making things real; even things that are pure fiction, like magic and Middle-earth, can be made so familiar through skillful writing we can find ourselves subtly jaded upon returning to reality after closing a book.
This is one case where I wish writing had no such quality, where I wish my writing would be so horrible there’s no way anyone, especially myself, could believe it. As things are, it wouldn’t matter how many misspellings and cliches I make, this reality remains.
My dog of 18 years left me behind for the first and last time. He died on March 24, 2019, in his beloved little bed, with the hands and love of his family surrounding him. I wasn’t there; I was out of the state, completely convinced he would be right there in his little bed like he’s always been for almost 2 decades upon my return.
I hate myself for not being by his side for the loneliest journey of every animal’s life. By his side the way he’s been by my side for his entire life. He wasn’t alone when he died, but I was alone when he died and that’s my burden to carry. A burden of my choice, of course, as dogs wouldn’t be dogs if they held grudges the way we do.
I’ve written something for Simba and for me. It’s messy, it’s a pile of grief and gratitude and then more grief and gratitude; it’s a bunch of words to communicate my love for a dog that never needed a single word to communicate his. Simba deserved every good thing that this earth could give but there’s nothing else I can give now except my mournful, grateful words.
I look at the ground where you sleep and I have to hold myself back from digging you out, just to hold your perfect, tiny, potato-round body one more time. You were just here and now nothing — no money, no miracle — nothing can take us back to 1 week ago. In a world with so many exceptions and caveats, death feels otherworldly. A punishment from an alternate world. It’s been 1 week since you were sleeping in that little brown bed and I still thought we had 10,000 years left together. The innocuity of an empty bed is so deceiving; an empty bed is loss — loss of sleep, loss of love, and now, loss of life. I never once thought of how painful seeing your empty bed would be.
Now I too feel empty. Worse, I feel robbed. I didn’t know the last time I saw Simba would actually be the last time I saw him. I hate the world for taking someone so pure. What kind of place lets a life so gentle end? I don’t want to spend my grievous energy contemplating the circle of life and accepting our life’s limited time. I don’t want anything except my boy. My small, irreplaceable, fat-bellied, fire-bellied boy of 18 years. I want to tell him how much I appreciate him. How massive an impact this 9 pound being had on me, on my life. How sorry I am for all the times I walked past you without taking 60 seconds to give you affection, attention, even acknowledgement — how sorry I am for how human I am.
Thank you for being my friend, a tiny but fierce blockade against that penetrating sense of loneliness we humans are so sensitive to. I am no exception; without the comfort of knowing you are somewhere in this world at the same time as me, that fearsome loneliness creeps around me. I’d never felt your presence so heavily until I lost it forever. How selfish I was, to take for granted that greatest gift of companionship you gave to me, the loneliest of species. I hope you’re not alone. I’ll try to step away from my humanness just to live a little bit more in the way you taught me; I’ll try to be a better companion to the lonely humans around me, just the way you were to me.
You taught me so much. We shared the simplest, smallest joys that all mammals understand — stepping outdoors and breathing fresh air, skin warming under a mild sun; feeling safe and trusted, the only relationship I knew to have been effortless without language. I didn’t understand how valuable those daily 4 minutes we would both step barefoot onto the damp grass were. I was so impatient. I’m told I was the epitome of patience, of care, but even 1 minute of unappreciated time is too much to forgive now that all our time is gone. I can’t believe our time is gone.
Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for tolerating me. I’m a verbose person and you were of so few words. Just a few words in this world of endless talking and languages — “walk” and your name were the only words you needed. By the end you had no words left, no way to hear those words, relying solely on the bond of trust and care to communicate. I know I gave you everything because you trusted me and felt safe and cared for til the last sigh. It was so easy to give you everything because you never wanted anything more than loving care. It’s that purity, that genuine ego-less selflessness that breaks me apart now. Another lesson you taught throughout your whole life but one in which the student is destined never to surpass the master.
All I can do now is feel the acute guilt of a less than selfless existence, a bond marred by human frailty — the times I was annoyed, the times I was busy. I would apologize, but a dog has no need for this human invention; an apology isn’t love, love is love. So once again, even gone from my side you still teach me — guilt, mourning, apologies — they have no use for those without ego. The only language you understood was love. So I’ll try, though only having a fraction of the vigor your 9 pound body coursed with til the last second, to set aside my self-indulgent grief and give to others in your name the only thing you ever asked of me, compassion and a few moments of gentle, loving care.