"A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things - a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty." - John Grogan, from the novel, "Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog"
My columns pay homage to the idea of "write what you know." So they have been about things going on with my professional life, as well as my personal life. This month, it is incredibly personal. I do realize that not every person feels the same way I do about family pets but losing one is like losing a member of your family. Everyone in the house feels that absence.
Last weekend, we lost our beloved dog, Mo (AKA Maureen). (I am on the second paragraph and already crying. How did I think I could write about this?!) Maureen was acquired through this very newspaper's classifieds "Free to a good home. Mom is a purebred Golden Retriever. Dad is from a good neighborhood." The story behind this litter of pups was quite funny: Mom had been studded out, and then somehow gotten loose from the family barn, and met up with some cute boy dog in the neighborhood. Awhile later, BOOM: black retrievers. Obviously not what the owners had anticipated.
When we went out there in 2006 to meet these pups, this one in particular would not leave my stepdaughter alone. Mo just mauled her. It was obvious that she was attached to us - so she came home with us, this little 6- week-old fluff ball of a puppy. I will not lie, I fawned over this dog. She was babied. And my goodness, she was a gorgeous dog. When I first took her to the vet for her shots and to be spayed, they said, "Oh! She is so pretty! The problem is that she knows she is pretty." It was completely true. She was aware that she was a lovely dog. She had two years of uninterrupted attention.
But when our son was born in 2008, I was of course concerned that the dog would be jealous. I read all the books. I wanted to make sure that I could introduce the baby to the dog in a way that would not make her feel resentful toward this new arrival.
It was the complete opposite of what I had feared. This new baby was her baby. She slept near him every single night. When she passed away this past weekend, the five year old was hit the hardest. It broke my heart to see him grieve so. Trying to be pro-active and help my son cope, I looked up how to help a child deal with heartache and how to answer questions about death. Our family spent days answering questions like, "Why did Mo have to die?"
This change has had a serious impact on bedtime. The ritual of Maureen going into his room at bedtime, snuggling on the floor next to his bed, has been disrupted. He has never known a life where Mo was not there to go to bed with him. I just keep reassuring him that where Mo went, there is no pain. There are no more tumors. There are no more loads of medications that we need to trick Mo into taking. There is no more cancer.
Over the last few days, I have gotten to reflect on the life of a dog. Reading quotes like the one at the start of my article have helped to ease my heart as we mourn the loss of a part of our family. When you truly think about it, dogs give the most pure, uninhibited love. There is no judging. There is no withholding. There is nothing but an out-pouring of absolute love. What more can any one person ask for?
Even though the loss is incredibly hard, my son received love from his best friend, Mo. She "protected" him when he went to bed. She helped him clean up his messes (she was however, a walking vacuum cleaner). She lay near him when he was on the floor building Legos. She served as a thick forest race track for Hot Wheels cars. I envy the life of my dog - she was loved beyond belief. She was fed well. She was well cared for. She had a good life, albeit too short. I am so thankful for her loving him with all she had. We will miss her every day.
Simply put: there is no love better than the love of a dog.
Editor's note:?Heather Heinz teaches English at Lake Linden MS/HS.