I always knew the dreaded day would come when my scruffy best friend Peanut would no longer be by my side. I once told my husband, “I don’t want to live in a world where Peanut isn’t a part of it.” And yet, the harsh reality is that I also knew one day that reality would hit. I had Peanut from ages 23 to 35; through so many life transitions, moves, and relationships. Peanut was the steady in my life. When the ground was shaky and I didn’t know where life would lead me next, what I did know is that Peanut would be there by my side.
Nothing can prepare us for such a loss. We can try to have gratitude and embrace the good times, and while that is important, it certainly doesn’t make the loss any easier. I have a memory of watching Peanut hang his head out the window of the car while I was driving, watching his scruff and ears blow in the wind, and thinking about how happy he looked, how happy he made me. Now when I look back in my rearview mirror, I try to still picture him there and it almost always brings tears to my eyes. The good memories are also the painful ones, because we know we do not get any more of them.
The first month after I lost Peanut felt like I was a shell of myself. As a therapist I had been to grief trainings and had the knowledge of what emotions might come up, but experiencing and having book knowledge about something are two very different things. I could barely eat, and when I left the house I felt like the world was happening in fast motion around me and like I was frozen in liminal space. The pain was so immense that I didn’t know if it would ever get easier. Our pets give us unconditional love in a way that people just quite can’t. They are a part of our everyday lives sometimes even more than our families and friends are. Their innocence and unending love is so extraordinary. Many of those who have not had a beloved pet do not understand this sort of loss, which can make it that much harder for many of us throughout the mourning process.
About a month after losing Peanut I decided to foster a dog from the local shelter. I told myself I would not ever get a dog again because the pain of the loss was so immense that I didn’t think I could endure it again, so fostering felt like a safe option. I picked up a little girl dog named Dobie who was on the “unadoptable” list because she was so timid and wouldn’t allow anyone to touch her. With patience and trust, Dobie slowly opened up to me. She would sleep for hours on my lap because of the exhaustion she experienced being a small girl on the streets of Denver, then in the shelter. She slowly gained energy and began to run, play, and enjoy going on walks. She came into my life when I needed her, and she needed me. After much wavering because of my own fear to love a dog again, I decided to officially adopt her.
Peanut will always be my soul dog. No one will ever replace him. The love and companionship I have with Dobie is different, but gratifying nonetheless. We do not “move on,” from loss. Rather, we find ways to accept our reality, create new meaning, and cope the best we can. I still dream about Peanut often. I find comfort in believing that the circle of life played out in such a way that Peanut gifted Dobie a chance at life given the timing of his passing and her ticking clock at the shelter. Peanut was an emotional-attuned dog and at any sense of unease in me, he was there to support me. As painful as it is not to have him any longer, also what a special gift to have had a friend like him.