What is the expiry date on grief? When do we suddenly decide our hearts are no longer broken?
Is it the day you wake up, and realize you no longer expect to see your dog on the end of the bed? Or is it the day when you realize that you have not heard her bark, not once, not even thought you’d heard it.
Perhaps it is the day when you start to remember her as she was, when she was young.
Have I said it before, how fast she was? No one told me that French Bulldogs could move so quickly. Before her, I’d been used to a more sedentary kind of dog, a slower moving one. When we were at the park, when she was young, there was nothing sedentary about my girl. Her best friend, a whippet, could beat her for endurance, but for the short stretch, the ‘chase me around the tree’ stretch, she could keep up and then some. And, if she couldn’t keep up? Well, she was still a bulldog – she’d smash into him with her head, knock him flying, then turn to me and laugh. She was so funny, my little girl.
Is grief gone when you can think about her eyes, her liquid, beautiful, soulful brown eyes, and not find your own filling with tears? No matter where I went, those eyes kept track of me. She maybe didn’t have to get up and follow me, not when she was young, but she liked to keep track. “People are wayward”, you could see her thinking. “It’s best if I know where mommy is, in case she gets lost or wanders off. Better safe than sorry”.
I don’t know what the expiry date is on grief. The experts say, at least so I’ve read, that six months is enough for a dog. I guess the experts never had a dog like mine.
Today, tomorrow and always, I will grieve for her, and I will remember. I will remember my shame that her death was not a good death. That is what breaks my heart, and leaves me unable to celebrate the best parts of my sweet girl’s life. I can’t blame anyone for that but myself. I knew she was afraid of the vet, and I could have done more to find someone who would come to us, instead of taking her to them. She should have never felt fear, but she did, and I let her. She reacted, badly, to the sedative that they gave her before that final needle, and I could do nothing to help her. I let her down, and I know that I could have done more to make her final minutes a release from pain, instead of a terror.
The joy and the wonder of our dogs, the thing that lets me continue to breathe, even on today, is their unending capacity for forgiveness. I know that, even while I can’t forgive myself for how my girl died, she herself would have forgiven me. I don’t know if that makes it better, or worse.
I miss you, Tessa. I miss you every single day. There is no expiry date on grief.