It was a strange feeling, walking into the veterinarian’s clinic that November afternoon. I was leash-less, but I was picking up one of my girls.
“I’m here for my dead dog,” I said to the receptionist. The surprised look on her face only lasted a second, as one must become accustomed to the grief of the human of the recently deceased fur kid. My first inclination was to call it “strange grief,” but if I’ve learned anything since her death, it’s that no grief is strange. It may feel strange working through all the fear and anger, especially when it seems to come in waves or at different paces, but there is nothing strange about realizing that a part of you is physically gone and that terrible pain, the physical pain of finally understanding what everyone meant when they said their hearts were broken. It isn’t strange, it just is.
It’s rare that I find myself without words or struggling for words, but in those situations, I usually just let what’s left of the filter slip and the truth was, I was there to pick up my dead dog. The last time I was at the vet’s office, I’d walked in with my beautiful Alli girl, whose tremors and dementia were getting the better of her and instead of letting her waste away while becoming a doggie sedative addict, I watched her die, quickly and painlessly. I owed her that dignity.
Having never picked up the remains of a dog before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My childhood dog, Blacky, was buried out on the family farmland in Minnesota, so I knew about carrying out a body and picking wildflowers while my dad and brother dug a grave.
The receptionist returned with a small, square box labeled, “Alli Schoolmeester November 10, 2016.” I remarked that it was heavier than I expected, although what did I really expect? Alli was 60 pounds in her prime, so it wasn’t like she was a monster dog, but she certainly wouldn’t have fit in a teacup, either. It was less than a couple pounds, I figured, but physically holding her at all felt odd that day.
After thanking the receptionist, I walked outside with my girl, quite proud for having shed no tears, and hopped into the car. I stared at the tacky little box for a bit and contemplated the little hearts and paw prints with which it was covered as I turned the key in the ignition and the radio flooded the van.
“Now you’ll be missing from the photographs, missing from the photographs…”
Isn’t life a bitch sometimes? It had to be that song, right at that moment.
Of course, the box of Dead Alli and the song turned me into a blubbering mess in 0.5 seconds.
I thought about her beautiful face and kind eyes.
“What’s gonna be left of the world if you’re not in it?
What’s gonna be left of the world, oh…”
That’s the big question, you know? What was gonna be left of the world without Alli in it? I’d been losing humans since I was a child, so death wasn’t something that scared me. I’d lost grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, but it never hurt the way Alli’s death did.
Was it because I was the one who decided? I sure as hell wasn’t going to feel guilty sparing her the agony of a slow demise that we force our human friends to face. Maybe that agony with humans makes it easier for the living to go on, maybe it calms us when we watch someone suffer for so long that death is a welcome respite?
Alli was my world, though. She knew me better than anyone because I let her in. She saw all the cracks in the armor. She knew when I was on and off and never judged me for that. And she got me ready for Joey, who’s now ascended the throne to secondary HBIC.
It’s been eight months since I picked up that box. Sometimes Dead Alli hangs out in the laundry room. Sometimes I bring her out in the kitchen while I’m cooking so she can stare at me like she used to. Sometimes I think about making part of her into a piece of jewelry or bringing part of her to a place we liked to run.
But I just can’t bring myself to open it.
Insert your favorite metaphor.
Eventually, I’ll know what to do and open the box. Eventually, I’ll know what to do.
“Every minute and every hour
I miss you, I miss you, I miss you more…”
“Good Grief” written by Daniel Campbell Smith, Mark Blair Crew Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC