For a long time, I didn’t completely understand why people had such a difficult time with the loss of a loved one on a holiday. As a kid, I naively thought that all of the fun, gifts and togetherness of Christmas would make up for the sad memory of a loss. After I got older, though, and truly understood loss through life experience, I thought about it differently.
The other day, I went by the store and bought a few photo props to use today for Cinco de Mayo fun. However, a part of me felt guilty for it. As much fun as the holiday seems to be, I haven’t been able to get excited about it. That’s because eight years ago today, we lost our first Greyhound, Treat, and a part of me left with her. I’d been working on a writing project, and I finally had to give up on it at the end of summer and accept that losing her had changed me in a way that made it impossible to go back to working on that story. I truly was not the same person after she died as I was before. It wasn’t that I hadn’t suffered loss before, and that it hadn’t changed me, but losing her was different for me. We had been a close working team for a long time. Treat was my first therapy dog and also worked as a READ dog. It was like she was an extension of my arm through the leash. When she was gone, I truly felt like an amputee.
Eventually, life went on. I didn’t cry every morning and every night when I came home and she wasn’t here. I met Bunny and things began to get better. I even stopped feeling guilty over enjoying life and forging a new bond with Bunny. Every Cinco de Mayo, though, I’d remember what I’d lost and it was really difficult. Part of it was because it was a holiday and as I heard people talking about it, I’d also remember that it was the anniversary of something else.
I’ve noticed something in the last couple of years, though. The anniversary of her passing has changed for me. I always am aware that it was the day I lost a part of my heart, but it’s not the loss I find myself thinking about. Today, I find myself thinking about her life and all of the sweet and funny things we went though together. There were a hundred stories about Treat, from our first meeting when she was the only dog to look back at us before she went back to her kennel to the time she refused to pee in the rain for a week and then flooded the cat box while we were out to see a movie.
I know now that having her in our life was a gift, as it is with each dog that comes into our lives. Losing Treat taught me to appreciate that gift and to realize how fleeting it can be in the scope of our human life span. I also learned from that loss that you can survive a lot more than you think you can and that every ending is also a new beginning. I look at the two hounds sleeping beside me as I type this and I realize that if I hadn’t lost Treat before, I wouldn’t have them now. It’s not a perfect trade off, but I am just as thankful for Bunny and Flattery now as I was for Treat in the beginning, along with the other hounds that we have loved and lost along the way.
The persistence of memory is a funny thing, but now I find myself grateful that we did lose her on a day that I will always remember. I have moved forward, which I know is what she would want, and grown from life experiences, but it’s nice to have a day to remind me about what used to be. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective and I’m a hopeless cockeyed optimist, but now I find that I can enjoy the holiday a little more and that I look forward to a day to remember a different time in my life with dogs.