Today my brother and sister-in-law are getting a new puppy, and the whole house is abuzz with excitement. Since they have so graciously let me stay with them until I move into a new place of my own, I have been watching them prepare for the puppy’s arrival the way soon-to-be parents might prepare for bringing a baby home. This is in large part warranted, as having an eight week-old puppy is much akin to having a newborn baby. For the first few weeks it seems like all they do is eat, poop, and sleep, and they cry all night wanting to be held.
Of course I, too, am anxious as hell to get a hold of that little fluffball, a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog to be named Grettel, because puppies seem to have the amazing ability to wipe away any trace of sadness or stress. I am especially freakish about my love for all things puppy-related, and have been known in the past to forgo watching the Super Bowl in favor of the Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl,” a non-stop camera feed into a playpen of puppies, with a kitten half-time show. Beyond my own excitement to cuddle and play with Grettel however, is my eagerness to see how my dog, Mona, will make friends with her new cousin, and help guide her in the ways of learning to pee outside and chase tennis balls.
But there is something bittersweet in the air today, too, as we all let our minds wander back to my brother’s first dog, our beloved Jimmy. Jimmy was a black and white spotted mutt, who looked a little like a Springer Spaniel/Holstein cow hybrid. He was a rambunctious, defiant little troublemaker who grew up to be one of the most quirky, loyal, and loving animals I’ve ever known. Strongly attached to my father, Jimmy always reminded us of that relationship long after my father passed away, and in some way remained a sort of family mascot in our hearts.
So last April when Jimmy, who has by then almost 15 years old, became very sick and needed to be put down, a whole flood of emotions came rushing forward for all of us. Even knowing that putting Jimmy to sleep was absolutely the right thing to do, it was one of the most painful moments of my shared history with Dylan and Maura. To be honest, I hadn’t cried that hard since my father died.
People who have never had pets don’t understand how hard it can be to lose a pet, not knowing that pets become extensions of ourselves, members of the family. These days I am constantly pushed to learn that there are so many different kinds of loss, so many different ways to grieve. Just as the pain of not having my father lingers and grows so many years after his death, so too, do I continue to grieve for Jimmy long after he left us for doggie heaven.
And just as anything happy in my life remains tinged with a hint of melancholy simply because my father isn’t here to share it with me, today is only a 90% happy day for Dylan and Maura. Though they will spend the day loving and caring for Grettel, making her feel comfortable in her new family, I know that Jimmy will not be far from anyone’s thoughts.