On Friday morning, I lost a dear friend. His name was Shakespeare, and he passed away at the ripe old age of 17. Shakespeare of course was a dog, a Yorkie, and he was raised as a third child by my dear friends, Vicki and Joe. Although he was not my dog, he and I had a very long and special relationship. Shakespeare had a very small circle of friends and an even smaller circle of people he would “tolerate”, and I was honored to be included in both circles. He knew me by name. When I was expected for a visit, Vicki would tell him ahead of time that I was coming. Shakespeare would get very excited when he heard, and would eventually settle down to sit by the glass front door to watch for me. As I walked up to the house, the first thing I would see was his little face in the door. The closer I got to the door, the more excited he got. As you can imagine, when I finally got in the door it was sheer bedlam! Then I would scream, “Give me kisses!”, and Shakespeare would run up their center staircase just high enough to be at face level with me. I would put my head against the spindles on the staircase and Shakespeare would proceed to lick any part of my face that he could reach. It was our thing. If it was his thing with anyone else, I will never admit to it. It was OUR thing. We had a “we”, and our we was special.
All of this got me to thinking about what we all go through when we lose pets, those of us that actually care anyhow. As we know, there are some that don’t. Last night I went to Vicki and Joe’s house to grieve with them and share our memories of the little one. One of the things that Vicki repeated over and over was that the day Shakespeare died was “the worst day of her life”. I totally understand that. My heart of hearts was a dog named Tiffany, who passed away in 1995 after fourteen years. I’ve never gotten over her loss, can still cry over her and look forward to the day when I see her again. Eighteen years later when I finally brought another dog home (although there were many cats in between) it was with Tiffany in mind. Clancy and she look extremely alike, right down to a little pink spot on the tips of their respective noses. Since Tiffany passed in 1995 I’ve lost basically every family member; Father, Mother, Brother and a dear Uncle. But I will still say that the day I lost Tiffany was the worst day of my life. Not to take anything away from the loss of my family members, but it’s different when you lose someone that you were responsible for. It’s a different sort of bond and it leaves a different sort of hole in your life. And for me, I’m just one of those people who is better with animals than I am with other people. I always feel more connected to animals than to humans, so when I lose one I am inconsolable. When Tiffany died in 1995, I phoned the person whom I called my best friend at the time. After a very brief conversation she said, “Well I don’t want to bother you, so call me if you need anything”. You don’t want to BOTHER me? I just lost the dog who had been my life for 14 years (I don’t have children), and you’re saying you WON’T CALL ME because you don’t want to BOTHER me? I sat up with this woman a whole night when her dog had run out the door and disappeared, only to be found in the morning having been run over and killed by a car. She had only had that dog for about a year but was taking Valium to handle the pain. But she wasn’t even going to call me? I never heard from her again and I never called her either. Years later, in 2007, my mother passed away. I received a card in the mail from this person. There was a long note explaining that she had moved to another state but by coincidence happen to see the newspaper with my mother’s obituary. She went on to tell me how she thinks of me often, and then all the news about her family (I guess I was supposed to care). There were the obligatory expressions of sympathy and on and on, yadda yadda yadda. My response to her was merely to sign my first-name-only to one of the standard funeral home thank you cards. I had nothing to say to her, and I wanted her to know that, but I also wanted to be sure she knew that yes, I HAD indeed received her letter. I just didn’t care. In retrospect, what I really felt and should have said was, “It would have meant more to me if you had called me when my dog died”. Because it would have. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my mother, but my dog was my dog. It’s different.
So now there is the healing and the aftermath. My friends say they will never bring home another dog, which is sad because they are the kind of people that we all want to see have dogs. They are the good people, the counter-balance to all the bad people that have pets, the ones we thank God for when we see how their pets are taken care of and loved. Dogs deserve them. Maybe someday their hearts will heal enough to allow them to change their minds. Just like when a relationship ends, we often learn to love again, even when we thought it would be impossible. For my friends’ sake, and for the sake of all the dogs out there that deserve their love, I hope so.
But my friends are also in a gray area now that I believe to be imposed by society. There is a somewhat Victorian notion which seems to preach that there is a certain window of time which must be endured before we consider getting another pet, or even getting into another relationship. They talk about “respect”, and it being “disrespectful” to the one who has passed if we don’t wait a certain, arbitrarily decided upon period of time to bring another pet home or as humans, to love again or just stop crying. Like we are bad people if we accept death as a part of life, or choose to love again and, heaven forbid, be HAPPY! But I really have to question the whole philosophy. First of all, WHO DECIDED?! Who made up those rules? Who decided what the proper period of time is, for EVERYONE?! Who says that by choosing to love again we are diminishing the character or the memory of the one who has passed? I don’t see it that way at all. The way I see it, we are HONORING the one who has passed. What we are saying in effect is that the hole, the void left behind by their loss is so great as to be unbearable. That it aches to be filled. As the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum”, so why would it not be natural for our HUMAN nature to want to fill the void, especially where love is concerned, the best and most natural quality of our humanness? Why would we not want to spread as much love as possible, as often as possible? How is that an insult to the one who has passed?
I don’t love Tiffany any less today than I did when she died 21 years ago. Since she died I’ve had nine cats at various times (there are six now) and my two present dogs. I don’t love Tiffany any less because of any of any of the others. Tiffany taught me more about love than any other being I’ve ever met. Isn’t it a good thing that I’ve gone on to use what I learned from her to care for other animals? Every one of my pets, and a lot of people, have benefited from the lessons in love I learned from Tiffany. Not long after Tiffany passed, a cat wandered into my yard and my life. His name was Chessie. Rumor had it that the people whose home he used to live in got a dog and put Chessie out onto the streets. Maybe Chessie just left. Either way, I vowed that I would never get a dog as long as Chessie was with me because I never wanted him to fear being abandoned or feel that there was no longer a place for him with me. Chessie passed in 2012, after fighting feline leukemia for two years. At that point, there were four other cats coming into my yard to be fed, one of which kept trying to come into the house but wasn’t allowed because of Chessie’s age and illness. The day Chessie passed I opened the door for Bandit and told him to “Come on in”. About a week later, I brought Bandit to a relatively new vet, but the one who had put Chessie to sleep when the time came. When I walked in with Bandit she said, “Miss Fitzgerald, you did not even give yourself a chance to grieve?” Excuse me? Are you implying that I’m NOT grieving? That just because I have another patient for you, that I didn’t/don’t love the one I lost? That it was inappropriate for me to have taken in another cat at this point, a cat that was hungry and homeless? I never said any of that to her, but I never went back to her either. Bandit is still here.
People feel like they aren’t entitled, or have to feel guilty, if they want to feel better again. I say, SPREAD THE LOVE! Your loved ones that have passed understand now that it was all about the love. I think they would want us to use what we have learned from them to benefit another. My belief is that they are happy now, whether human or animal. I think they are happier now than they ever were in life, and that our grief weighs them down like a balloon tied to a rock. I believe that they will never be completely free until we let go of them, that love isn’t about holding on to them because love is not selfish. Like I told my friend, “Losing a pet is like when you raise children. You raise them knowing that someday you’re going to have to let them go, but knowing that they will take all your love with them”. It’s all we’ve got to go on.
So last night my friends and I cried about Shakespeare, and we laughed about Shakespeare. There was no little face in the door for me anymore, no one running up the stairs to slather me with kisses. His little bed under the end of the coffee table was noticeably gone. The house was quiet and the emptiness was palpable. This is what my poor friends are having to endure right now. But they are also the most loving and fun seeking people that I know, so I’m sure they will come through and continue to love and laugh. We already started; We laughed last night about Shakespeare and some of his antics. We laughed about the fact that no matter how many blotches I had on my face, or how much I was sneezing because I was in fact allergic to Shakespeare’s saliva, I still would let him kiss me until the cows came home! We laughed at how selective he was about people and who he allowed to be a friend. We laughed at how his attitude toward me changed the time I brought a boyfriend to their house and he let me know he was NOT happy about it! The boyfriend didn’t last, and Vicki says that Shakespeare eventually forgave me, but I’m not really sure he did.
When I told another friend of mine today that Shakespeare had passed, and that I was in the middle of writing a blog piece about him, she wished me well and said, “I hope it comes to you easily”. I texted back that it actually was coming easily because, after all, Shakespeare was my muse!
Rest in peace my little friend. Thank you for brightening all of our lives. Thank you for the love. Give Tiffany a kiss for me and know that we will all be together again some day. Much love, now and always.