Grief and Recovery


It washes over you, at first – a tidal wave. It sits on your chest like a rock. It sucks the air from your lungs. And then it slips beneath the surface where others cannot see it. A song, a beloved photo, even a smell can bring it back suddenly, and without warning. Early on grief is searing. Later it becomes a silent companion which leaks from your heart and fills your throat.

Yesterday marked three years since Caribou left me. Three years. It is hard to imagine because until very recently, her loss felt so acute it could only have been days since she closed her eyes for the last time. Caribou was a dog, but she was more than that to me. She was my search and rescue partner. She was a loyal friend. She rescued me from the depths of depression, and then showed me there was still joy in my future when she brought me to my husband through his dog, Argus.

After Caribou died, I shared my early anguish…and then I fell silent. My grief for her become solitary. My husband and I got a new puppy – Raven – very quickly. I loved her, of course I did, but I didn’t open my heart all the way to this new puppy. I just could not. It seemed around every corner was this memory of another dog, a friend to whom I was not ready to say good-by. Not yet.

After Raven came to live with us, I was asked many times if I would train her to do search and rescue. My answer was always no. My husband and I had talked about it, and in the end decided we were done with that part of our lives. Truthfully, I had lost my heart for it. The thought of slipping into my search gear and stepping out into the woods to train a new dog filled me with something like despair.

A month ago, however, I did just that. It was a beautiful sunny day with a cool breeze. My husband and I called it a hike, but we both knew we were doing something bigger. We clipped a search vest on Raven, fastened a bell to her collar, and headed into the woods to play search games. Raven is a natural. She took to the game as though she had just been waiting for the day we would ask her to “go search.” She ran with abandon, tongue lolling, eyes bright. And I found myself laughing, encouraging her, praising her every effort. We had fun.

Fast forward several weeks now. My husband and I are walking back to our vehicle and Raven is prancing, head up and proud of her training session. The sun is filtering through the pines and the wind has reddened our cheeks. A joy has filled my heart and as I watch my dog, I realize I am not thinking of Caribou. Instead I am enjoying Raven with her easy going personality, her sense that life is a big game…and love swells inside me. I have not noticed grief walking away, but suddenly I recognize its absence in the lightness of my step and the unfurling of joy from my heart.

That is the nature of grief, I think. It is there for a long time, and then it slips away and leaves in its wake a small scar. It makes way for something else eventually. For me, that something is the ability to enjoy a hike with my dog again, to find laughter in playing a search game, to feel a connection with another being who I had first held at a distance.

My husband and I are not returning to canine search and rescue. We have no plans to certify Raven. We are simply enjoying the time together – the three of us.

 


58 thoughts on “Grief and Recovery”

  1. What a wonderful post!

    I still do not have a dog following the death of my last one in 2007. I started talking about getting one at the end of last year, but unfortunately it is just not practical at this period in time. Instead we got a kitten which is at least an animal around the house. And, she plays fetch, so it is sort of like a dog. :)

    1. Kailana: It is always so hard to get another dog when you’ve lost one who was very special. I’m glad you have been able to bring a kitty into your home…they can also help heal your heart!

    1. Thanks, Laura. I don’t think a lot of people knew how much I was grieving for Caribou all this time. I hardly realized how deep my sadness was with missing her…it was just there all the time. The other day it was like a door opened up again. Finally.

  2. What an expression of love and healing! I am amazed at how much we learn about love from loss.
    We have not replaced what we consider the dog of our life — but I am getting closer.
    My heart goes out to you.

    1. Barbara: I agree – loss is essential, even though it is very difficult. I don’t think I was really ready to get another dog after Caribou died – I just did it. In many ways, it helped, although I think traveling through grief is a process that cannot be rushed.

  3. I love this post. It reminds me of how funny it was when my husband and I took our daughter to look at shelter dogs this weekend…it has only been 5 months since Charlee left us. It was good to see other dogs and their eager and happy faces…the hope that filled them that we would take them home. Wiggles had a good time cheering them on and chatting with them, but I fear I am still not ready to make that leap…none of the dogs made my heart leap nor made me anxious to begin the adoption process right away….I felt lukewarm…if thats even a feeling.

    1. Serena: I know exactly what you are talking about. I am glad we got Raven, even though I don’t think I was really ready. She has wiggled her way into my heart.

      1. Maybe that’s a good way to do it….to eventually fall in love again. Charlee was a dog I fell in love with the moment I saw him….I knew he was my dog.

    1. Lenore: *smiles* I didn’t want to make people cry so much as I wanted them to see there was healing to be had…for such a long time I thought I would always just have this heavy, heavy heart about Caribou…and not be able to really truly let another dog into my life. And then, I realized I had done just that…an unexpected surprise.

  4. What an emotionally eloquent and moving post. I teared up at certain points, and the more I read, the more my heart felt the buoyancy of your healing. Animals are so much more than companions. They are like our children, and when we lose them, it hurts more than anyone can ever understand. I am glad to see that you are starting to open your heart to Raven, and I am glad that loving her has begun to heal you.

  5. Aw, shit. I’m a blubbering mess right now.

    What a beautiful, tender post, Wendy. You wrote about your grief… the love for your sweet Caribou… but it could easily have been written for a husband, or parent, or… a child.

    It washes over you, at first – a tidal wave. It sits on your chest like a rock. It sucks the air from your lungs. And then it slips beneath the surface where others cannot see it. A song, a beloved photo, even a smell can bring it back suddenly, and without warning. Early on grief is searing. Later it becomes a silent companion which leaks from your heart and fills your throat…

    I have not noticed grief walking away, but suddenly I recognize its absence in the lightness of my step and the unfurling of joy from my heart.

    Spot on.

    With love & friendship,

    Les

    1. Les: You don’t know how much your comment means to me. Knowing a little of your grief, humbles me…and I am glad I was able to capture something universal in my post. *hugs* xo

  6. The love for a dog, and the grief when that dog dies is not something one can share with many people. My sadness about our Ben who died a year ago this month is only shared with Tom. I still cry most days, if only for a minute or two when something reminds me of him. I have another dog that I love to pieces, but no two dogs are the same, as no two people are. I’ve loved and lost several dogs in my life, but Ben has been the worst loss. I’m always ready to open my heart to a new dog but that doesn’t mean the loss is diminished. Just different.

    1. Nan: I’m sorry about your Ben. I know what you mean. I kept silent in my grief because I wasn’t sure others could really understand it. And you’re right – no dog replaces a dog you’ve lost. I think that is a common misconception: we think if we get a new companion it will lessen the loss. A year or two or three…is not that long to mourn really. I think I thought I would recover faster…especially with Raven here. But, in the end, it is a process. For me, recognizing the amount of love I now have for Raven was a sign, to me, that I had worked through my loss of Caribou.

  7. Your post is beautiful..so beautiful that it has me in tears! I am glad to see that Raven has helped you with the loss of Caribou. You will never forget Caribou and she will always be a part of you. This post is a great tribute to both dogs!

    1. Beth: Thanks – I hadn’t thought of it as a tribute to both Caribou and Raven – but, of course, you’re right … it is.

  8. Great post Wendy. I was just thinking of the Bou since her birthday is almost here. I also came across some great photos that I took of her. That is so cool you got out and did that w/Raven, too. I can see that she would enjoy those search games. :)

    1. Carol: I know you know what I am talking about here. A tough few years for both of us. But now, you have Leah and I have Raven…and we move forward, don’t we?

  9. Wendy, I feel we are honored that you shared this part of yourself and your journey with us. Grief is a funny thing. You described it perfectly and, as Les said above, your thoughts could apply to any dear, loved one – regardless os whether they were family, friend, pet or all three rolled into one. Hugs to you and I’m so glad that you’ve come to a better place in this grief journey. It’s nice when you get to the point that you’re not constantly tripping over it. Hugs and best wishes!

    1. Kay: I agree, it is much better when we get to this point in the journey. I don’t think it ever leaves entirely, but it is nice when it is missing for long stretches.

  10. Beautiful, Wendy! I read this with tears in my eyes. I distinctly remember when Caribou left you….and I must confess that I cannot believe that it has been three years already. But I share tears of happiness at the joy that Raven has brought to your life.

    Blessings to all of you!

  11. Ah Wendy, just yesterday I came across something that reminded me of my beloved Thelma (whom I lost just over two years ago) and I was grief-struck all over again. Just when I think I’ve finally come to terms with her absence, I’m back to wishing I could somehow turn time back and appreciate her more while she was still with me. (Oh dear, this is making me cry.) What I do try to do is spend quality time with Cairo every day and not take the time I have left with her for granted. (She’s 16, so quite elderly too.)

    All this to say, this is a beautiful post, and I’m so glad to hear that you are feeling lighter and enjoying your beautiful Raven. *Hugs*

    1. Aw, Avis…it is so hard. We are so lucky to have time with these wonderful animals, even if it never seems long enough. *hugs*

  12. Oh Wendy, This was such a wonderful and beautiful post. I find myself in tears quite often when I think of Bruce and know exactly how you’re feeling. I hope to feel that way one of these days. I know it takes time to heal. We too got a new puppy and I love her but I’m still at that stage where I haven’t allowed her fully into my heart. I think your thoughts will stay with me for some time.

    Hugs,
    Staci

    1. Staci: It really does take time. And Bruce will always be with you. I think what I learned recently is that I could still love Caribou with all my heart, and there was still room to completely love Raven too…and letting that happen is healing. *hugs*

  13. Wendy, this is just beautiful. I am so happy for you and for Raven.

    I had a wave of grief for Kit the other day, and thought of you and Caribou. It is such a wonder that we are given what time we have with these special beings and that we get to love them.

  14. Wendy, thanks for posting this. I lost my heart dog five years ago this month to cancer. Even though I love my two dogs now, and I’ve loved every rescue that has come through here, I’ve found it hard to open my heart completely to another dog. I’ve actually wondered if I’m capable of ever loving a dog that much again. Your post has given me hope that maybe one day it will happen.

    1. You’re welcome, Jan. I do think we get a couple of really, really special dogs in our life…but there is room to fully love again. I wasn’t sure I would ever really feel toward Raven the way she deserves…and then, out of the blue, it was just there. I hope you will find that too.

  15. What a beautiful post! I’m only venturing into the world of dog ownership for the first time and so haven’t experienced the grief that I know will one day come. It is lovely to hear that you are enjoying Raven now. I hope she continues to give you all that pleasure.

    1. Jackie: I’m late responding to your comment – but thank you for stopping by. It does not take long to have these fur babies wiggle their way into our hearts.

  16. Oh Wendy–this post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I was expecting when I lost Maggie a little over a year ago and I think had I not been pregnant I would have taken the loss very difficultly. As I know that I’ll do when Lexi goes in a few years. Raven sounds like the perfect balm for your aching. Hugs.

    1. Trish: You’re welcome – very hard to lose a pet. I think it probably did help that you had your little one on the way when you lost Maggie.

  17. What a wonderful tribute to Caribous that you are now training your new dog. I hope you will continue to find the experience to be as fulfilling as your first outing.

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