You are meant to roam free. We bought a home with a fence and all you want to do is wander down the porch steps and out on your own. Bryan said this to our sweet 12 year old Shih Tzu hours before he took his last breath.
Bruiser. Our first kid. The family dog our boys have known since birth. A constant companion from Southern CA, to the Central Coast, to Huntington Beach, to TN is no longer with us.
What began as low energy fast forwarded into refusal to eat, then drink. He got up only to stumble and fall. He laid in one area seconds before scooting to another part of the house. I recognized the signs and was surprised to notice that near death symptoms are similar whether human or animal. I know both now. And the ache is familiar and rancid. Even as I write, I feel the acquainted grief tang rise up in my throat.
The moment most framed in my memory- wait, two moments – are these: the boys went to sleep after we talked to them about how Bruiser was doing and prepared them for his passing. I scooped Bruiser up as he was too weak to walk, and held him like a baby, rocking him, my chest hanging over his limp body. I cried buckets sitting on our back steps. So many dang tears at thinking our time with him was closing in. It’s weird to watch for death signs and check them off and wait. And pray. And then whisper the same words I said to my dad as he laid in a coma five years earlier, ‘Just go. It’s okay. You can go tonight. You’ve been the best ever. Please go home.”
The second moment was upstairs in our room, Bryan and I sitting on the floor, bawling together as Bruiser struggled for air. I hate watching him suffer, Bry said. And then my sweet hubby, he too, cradled him like a baby, in the chair near our bed, and told him all the things he needed to say. And then we wrapped him in a blanket – and similar to how we’d done when the boys were babies; staring and snuggling them before laying them in their cribs – we laid him between us. Hours later I woke to find no more breaths.
Bruiser was gone.
I’m looking at my shadow as I walk the trail near our home. I notice how the sun casts images on trees, I hear the crickets chirp, and see polka dots of white flowers faces peeking above tall grass and remember that one of the sweetest moments of today was while planting a garden in honor of Bruiser. Our Bruiser garden. Ty, on my back, said, “Look mom, look at our shadow. It looks like you’re wearing a backpack.”
This is the beauty of grief; intertwining sacred sadness and raw joy into one moment and allowing them to unravel as the day goes on.
I forgot what grief is like. I forgot the numbness. The slow. How the day feels long because of all the tears cried dry. I forgot living into the day the same as I woke; barefaced and present.
I also remember how beautifully grief puts what’s important into perspective. Being with our boys and allowing them to process the news in their own way, in their own time. Going to the nursery to pick out the perfect flowers to plant in Bruiser’s honor. Sitting with Tanner on the backyard play structure while he took it all in. Offering him silence and space to quietly cry. Holding arms open for when Ty barreled from outta nowhere with tears and I’m so sad and hugs that melted into hours. Grilling a simple dinner, big watermelon triangles, and Doritos under a blue evening sky.
These are grief moments. I’m thankful for today. I’m thankful for what Bruiser taught us; his gift of constant companionship. I’m reminded to reach out to the people I’m thankful for; the constant companions in our family’s life. But, like I often did with Bruiser, I leaned toward his annoyances: Stop licking your paws. Walk faster. Stop wandering down the sidewalk. When instead, I wish my daily mantra would have been, Thank you for being here.
Grief and joy live in the same breath. They roll in like a storm; swarming and playing hide-and-seek but ever present when death or life come. They crash and flash and come without warning. Tears and laughter remind us of the beauty of humanity, the infinite hope that we can simultaneously ache with sadness and feel joy pockets expand like air balloons in our chest.
Wander, Bruiser. Roam free and fenceless. Thank you for being here.
I’ve no care to dig into the theology of whether dogs go to heaven or if they’re angels on earth, or if they are a mere manifestation of God’s comfort, but I do know this: Bruiser brought our family even closer through his death. And there’s a garden of flowers in his honor and carrot cake being enjoyed and through tears and ‘remember how he loved carrot treats?’ we know The Lord gives and the Lord takes and blessed be the Lord. (Job 1:21)