They say losing a loved one changes you forever. I believe it. I will never be the same again, and there’s some comfort in that truth. Of course I will never be the same again! How could I? Most days, I feel like I’m trying to get some footing in a constantly shifting world, trying to figure out how to live this new chapter of life, and how to adjust to what is now, apparently, “normal.”
One of the most surprising changes has been my perspective on Peets, my dog. I have come to a stark realization: Peets is… just a dog. He is not my soul mate, he is not extraordinary, he is not compassionate, he is not my friend, and he does not understand me; he is simply a dog. It sounds silly, but this is quite the discovery for me, considering who I was before October 2013.
I adopted Peets in September 2009. Susan had just had her 2nd transplant in June, my mom had moved in with her to be her primary caretaker, and I was looking to make my life as stable as I could (I’m not someone who likes uncertainty). So, I bought a house, adopted a dog, and “nested” as much as possible. I furnished and decorated my house in a matter of weeks, and threw myself into caring for my new dog.
Behavior training, agility class, dermatology visits, day care, professional grooming, gourmet food, Peets had it all. His pictures decorated my classroom, and he was always the subject of any grammar exercises I created for my students. I’m sure hundreds of my former students remember nothing about gerunds or participial phrases, but I’ll bet they remember my dog’s name. When Fidel and I were wedding planning, one of the main criteria was how pet-friendly the venue was, since Peets would be, without question, our ring bearer. When I would gush over Peets, in my Peets-specific (read: embarrassingly high pitched) voice, Susan would say, “Woman, get a hold of yourself!”
Peets was the only other being with me and Susan when Susan suddenly passed. In the weeks immediately following her passing, I was angry at the dog. I know it was silly of me, but I expected him to somehow share in my trauma, pain, loss. Seeing him wag his nubby at the sound of the treat jar, or stretch out in a sunny spot as if the day was just another normal one angered me. How could this dog have experienced what I experienced, and be so unaffected?
I’m not angry with him anymore. I’ve accepted that he is, and always has been, just a dog. Now, I not only intellectually know, but also actually believe, that I cannot expect him to understand me, or comfort me in the way that I wanted him to. He does still bring me nice moments – at our last Mora family reunion, he was so calm and sweet that he may have undone a long history of dog-phobia for one of my sister-in-laws. And even if I don’t ever gush over my dog the way I did before losing Susan, Peets will always have a pretty cushy life. He will always be well taken care of and treated as part of the family. A family that is smaller now than it should be, but a family nonetheless.
When I imagine telling Susan about my new perspective on Peets, and my discovery that he is just a dog, I can hear her tell me, “Um, yes.” Well, Susan, it appears I have finally gotten a hold of myself.
When Fidel and I moved in next door to Susan last June, Susan’s nightly exercise was to walk over to our apartment, knitting and blanket in hand. We would chat and watch a movie on the couch, and Peets would snuggle in somewhere. One night, he got up with a blanket draped just-so over his head. Susan snapped a photo of him on her cell phone, and I found it in the “Blog” folder on her desktop. She labeled it “Peets Jedi.”