When we lose a loved one, we all lose, and we all have to cope, each in our own way. As a double widow myself I’ve found that all those recipes and rules and lists for coping are really, well, wrong. There aren’t any rules, and every loss is different for every member of a family.
That couldn’t be better exemplified by the smallest member of my immediate family. This is Fuzzy. You’ve probably seen her on our website. She’s always with me. Always. I have to hire a sitter for her if I am gone. The neighbor had to watch her at her house just so I could go to Christmas Eve services without the dog in tow. By the time we got home Fuzzy was scratching at the door to run back across the street to our house.
Fuzzy was not always my dog. In fact, when we brought her home before Christmas in 2002 she was my nemesis. I was the cat person. I love big dogs. My Akita Maggie was Fuzzy’s first playmate. We’d had poodles in our marriage since almost Day One, but they were “ours” in name only. Marty tolerated me, and squirmed to be away as soon as the real dog parent arrived home. When Fuzzy joined us she was tiny. Not only is she a Toy Poodle who now tops out at almost 7 pounds, she was the runt of the litter, and the breeder was very ill and not taking care of his dogs. Fuzzy was more of a rescue than a breeder purchase, and we had to take her home way too early to save her tiny poodle life. Despite the fact that I was at least half of the every three hour milk replacement formula feeding routine, keeping her warm in a heating pad, potty training, and all of her care, Fuzzy was not mine and she knew it. I was the secondary dog mommy.
Then her first dog mom got sick. Really, really sick. Prior surgeries caused a momentary absence she could cope with. Pulmonary fibrosis was another thing altogether. Fuzzy’s rides in her backpack and leathers in the Spyder motorcycle stopped. Being able to play actively with toys stopped. The routine became work then bed. Lots and lots of bed. Then oxygen arrived. More bed. Then the wheelchair arrived. Through it all Fuzzy was front and center. She needed her mom, and she stayed with her. We took walks with her on the lap in the wheelchair. We had an incident where Fuzzy nearly died and had to be nursed back. They did that together while I was at work. Fuzzy was on the hospital bed day and night after it arrived. Her mom never left her sight. Fuzzy was with us when my spouse died (along with the kids, the cat, the niece and nephew. We are a tribe). When the mortuary arrived Fuzzy rode out with her mom to the van.
Fuzzy was not okay. Almost four years later we repeated that moment with my second spouse. By that time Fuzzy had the whole hospital bed and oxygen thing figured out, and we had to medicate her with “holiday ham” to keep her calm. When I reached down for a final goodbye Fuzzy went into shock. Just like a person. She wouldn’t eat. She wouldn’t even walk. We had to carry her.
It’s been nearly three years now, and Fuzzy is still coping with that loss in her own Fuzzy way. She refuses to be left alone. She runs away if she thinks she’s at home alone- and we can’t figure out how. She’s now my constant companion at work, and wears clothes to help calm her anxiety (and she looks pretty darn cute as well). Fuzzy has adapted to her new life by choosing me as her companion, and asking for support whenever she needs it, usually with a loud sharp bark or by following someone around. In my office she’s ranked our therapists in order of her favorites, and seeks them out when she needs snuggles and reassurance (Or lunch tidbits- the same order applies: Lisa, then Ilse, then Lynn, followed by everyone else). She even has favorite clients she looks for.
My loss was different than Fuzzy’s, obviously. But I have adult capacity to understand, where she operates at a toddler level. I have remade my life, and she has as well, bringing those attachments with her and transferring them to others. Do I think she has some kind of memory of who she’s missing? Absolutely. But she has become a new kind of Fuzzy, with a new purpose, and she looks forward to her day as I pull out her new dress and get her ready for the day.
Loss is overwhelming. It can momentarily stop our world and incapacitate us. It can demand that we take care of those who are dependent upon us to help them in their grief. Ultimately it transforms us as we make choices about what we need to prioritize and how we make their memories part of our new lives. For me that means keeping up with Fuzzy and seeing those memories every day; for Fuzzy it means she’s now a greeter, a pet therapist, and that she has a new tribe. For both of us it’s not such a bad way to adapt and recreate ourselves, is it?
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