Grief and Joy and a Final Gift
As many of you know, our beloved Bailey, the Rescuepoo, the Boo of Boos, The Little Smackeral, left us on the morning of February 9, 2023. His passing wasn’t exactly unexpected, but we didn’t expect it at that moment. We had arranged with our vet, the wonder Kim Weisner at Caring Hearts Animal Hospital, to have her drain some fluid from his chest that morning. We hoped this might make him comfortable enough that we might have a few more weeks with him, but this was not to be. The night before, he took a very bad turn. It was quite awful, and I won’t go into details, but he couldn’t even settle on the bed (his favorite place), and first Ron lay on the floor with him, and then I did. He coughed and coughed and gagged as I held him, then finally sighed and slept, or passed out for a little while. I felt this was the end and told Ron I didn’t know if we’d be bringing him home.
When we arrived to see Dr. Kim, Bailey was resting in my arms, but he was no longer, I felt, completely with us. Would the procedure help? How much time would it buy us? Dr. Kim, ever-compassionate, said it wouldn’t buy us much time. Maybe days. Not enough to justify putting him through it.
The time had come. The moment we had dreaded since last April, when Dr. Kim told us to begin preparing.
Dr. Kim, knowing how afraid he was of vets, came out to the car and gave him a wee shot to put him into a twilight sleep. We carried him inside and then did all the things we could, said all the things we could, and cried all the tears we couldn’t suppress until he was gone.
I don’t remember much about the next three days. I refer to this period as The Howling, since that seemed the only sound I could make while conscious. I howled. I screamed. I slept. Repeat. Repeat.
Friends called and sent emails. Chewy (bless ’em) sent flowers. Everyone was very kind. Very supportive. Many had been right where I was now, and so they understood this terrible rending, this horrific loss of a dog I have loved as well as I have loved any person (and to be truthful, more than many). I could process none of it. I couldn’t stop feeling Bailey’s weight in my arms, seeing his face, how his eyes opened one last time and met mine. I swear I could see him leaving… Ron was grieving too, of course, and he took remarkably good care of me.
One thing became clear: if I was going to survive this, I had to get out of the hollow, empty, echoing house. And so we found a house to rent on Long Beach Island a strange, ersatz Italianate Rococo monstrosity, saved from being a complete horror by enormous windows that looked out on the sky and sea and dunes. When we arrived, I rushed to the downstairs bedroom and began howling again. Ron held me in that strange, dark, below-dune room and together we sobbed and howled and then, with juddering breaths, began, tentatively, to remember joy, delight, all the funny, endearing things he did, and was.
We talked about the time he found a baby bird, protected it between his paws and wouldn’t move until I came to rescue it. (We took it to a wildlife refuge where it grew big and strong and was happily released.) Or when he did the same with a tiny bunny and waited there until I placed it back in the nest its mother had made in the big flowerpot. Or the wild box turtle he befriended. Or the squirrel a hawk had dropped and was dying. Bailey sat beside it until I came, shooed away the already-working green flies, placed it in a shoebox with a towel and took it in the house, Bailey trotting closely beside me, watching, bearing witness until the little thing passed. There was something both so joyful and so gentle about Bailey, and yet he turned into a terrified, frenzied barker around most other dogs unless and until they took their time to get to know him, and then he was a life-long pal. Tobie, the big black lab from around the corner was his girlfriend, and we had to visit her every day on walks. (Tobie’s mum wrote and said she was quite sure Bailey and Tobie were together again. Ah, more tears.) He also bit three vets, but best not to talk about that, I think. No one’s perfect.
After a while, talking this way, I crawled up to the main room. We moved a chair in front of the windows, and I spent hours and hours looking out at the ever-changing sea and sky, the shifts sands, and began the work of grieving, which will, no doubt, last a long time. I do not exaggerate when I tell you I felt held in heaven’s arms.
On Sunday, I spent the morning in prayer and meditation and the afternoon walking along the beach — that liminal space — with Ron. As Wendell Berry said, “the seed is in the ground, now we wait.”
That night I felt strong enough to read an email from Douglas, a friend in Scotland. In it, he talked about the loss of his beloved dog, Juno, the first dog he and his husband, Aidan, had together. He was the center of their home, as Bailey was the center of ours, and when he died Douglas and Aidan were left in despair. This is part of his letter:
“… we were both so sad every morning, so bereft; after 5 weeks of this I realised we had somehow to fill this terrible gap that had opened up, and I went to look, just to look at some puppies that were apparently 4 weeks old and all sold. When I got there, they were actually 8 weeks old and three unsold, and I heard myself say before I had even made the decision. – “ I will take that one “ and so Hero came into our lives. No discussion between us, Aidan just accepted it, but we had turned a small corner. She came like a tiny lit matchstick into the darkness of our lives. Did I love her from the start, No, I cared for her and cuddled her , how could you not? But she was not Juno, could not be Juno, we still grieved…but she did slowly, gently, pour her tiny life into ours, in her own very different, very gentle way and though we still talk of Juno and Gussie ( their portraits hang as guardians above my bed) and mourn them both from time to time Hero is totally ( as they were) part of our lives, we are three not two. She is an absolute joy to us.”
He concluded by saying he hoped that one day Ron and I might be able to open our hearts again.
I read this at an interesting moment. It was Sunday evening, and I was more or less coherent again, at least briefly. His description of how Hero appeared and how through loving her, she became a small lit matchstick in the darkness of their lives struck a deep chord. Would it ever be possible, I wondered, to love a dog again, to have that delight in our lives once again? Maybe, one day. But not yet. Of course, not yet. After all, Ron and I have agreed to go traveling after Bailey’s passing, to take some time to perform the necessary kintsugi on the broken bits of our hearts.
Still, after reading his email, I found myself online, looking at adoptable dogs, and I was surprised to find my heart opening just the tiniest wee bit. Hardly at all, but something. And there was this dog. A female. A year old. The same rumpled, raggedy, scruffy sort as Bailey, known as ‘cockapoo mix’ in the rescue world. Something plucked at me. I read her description and was relieved to hear she was very popular, that there were several applications, and at any rate, she hadn’t even been transported up from the high-kill (shudder) shelter in Texas yet and wouldn’t be available for anyone to meet for at least a month.
“Don’t put in an application,” said Ron when I showed him.
“Of course not,” I said.
And then I put in the application, without quite knowing what I was doing. It didn’t matter. There were others before us, and it was at least a month away, which would be the five weeks mark Douglas and Aidan had lived through. It was all done much in the way Douglas said he’d take Hero home before he’d consciously made the decision.
Well, surprise, surprise, a woman from the wonderful Matchdog Rescue organization messaged me the next morning. Yes, the NEXT bloody morning. Could we come to meet “Velma” this coming Saturday? The transport was moved up because so many dogs are in need. She’s been in a foster home already for two months down in Texas, and they were anxious to get her into a good home for her sake and the sake of other dogs who could be rescued. Transporting dogs is expensive, and they try to make as few cross-country runs as possible, but there are so many dogs! (Strays, post-covid many of them.) A woman had been going to adopt her but, at the last minute, couldn’t because she needed a much smaller dog. Our application, while not the first, was certainly appealing they felt.
I picked up my phone, thinking to call my friend, my aman cara, Sr. Rita, and have a good cry because of course I couldn’t consider really adopting “Velma;” it was too soon. However… and I swear I do not know how it happened, but there was Bailey’s photo, full close up, nose practically on camera, as the screen saver. …
This had not been the screensaver on my phone just a few minutes before. That was another photo, which had been there for months, and I hadn’t changed it. I could feel Bailey pawing my leg in encouragement. Truly. And inconveniently.
Sr. Rita said, “You might consider listening to Bailey.”
Good lord. More tears. A long conversation with Ron (who really is a saint), and it seemed we were going to meet, and most probably adopt ‘Velma’ on Saturday which, was the day we had planned on returning home anyway and, and as it happens, the adoption center was on the way home. I kid you not.
The rest of the week I cried, and waited, and walked, and prayed, and cried… I let the sea and sky and sand begin the process of mending my heart, and then Saturday came.
This is such a bizarre turn of events, and such a strange both/and place to be in, full of both grief and joy, that I hardly know what to say, except, well, meet Maggie, (Miss Maggie McWiggles) who told me her name is absolutely not Velma, and I believe her.
Some people might think it’s too soon, that we’ve rushed this and haven’t grieved properly. I assure you we are as shocked as anyone, and also… of course, we’re still grieving. Grief and joy, it turns out, can exist in the same heart. Here is what dear Douglas had to say when I wrote and told him we were, indeed, considering bringing “Velma” home:
Dear Fragmented pair,
It seems that Glue is coming! I do hope so, and it comes probably in the most unlikely form. When I claimed Hero, the words really did come out of my mouth before a decision in any normal sense or usual sense had taken place in my brain ( did you know quite what you were doing when you started looking at rescue dogs and defying Saint Ron’s advice? I think not, but on you went ) and lo and behold a small animal parachutes insouciantly into your life, a minor miracle, and Life has changed. Let us know of course what you decide and of course, I hope she wins your hearts, if she does, very slowly the dog-shaped hole in your lives will diminish. I promise you that much.
It has taken me years before I understood the power of a dog – you have made all the decisions ( haven’t you? ) along this path, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel quite like that, does it? Velma just looked at you, she said something, she could not see you, but you heard something, something happened. And now look where you are. Bailey has played his part.
After Juno died about three days later we had a sunny rainy day, it couldn’t make its mind up, and we had a triple rainbow arcing the house. We drove down the drive and the end of the smallest rainbow finished at the end of the drive, I am not joking, and as we reached it and stopped the car you could see it right beside the open car door ( no gold but hey)- we both saw this. Iris the goddess of rainbows is the messenger of the Gods as you will know – – Juno must have made a hell of an entrance…we are careful what we say about her. Obviously.
So now you know. Dogs are powerful.
Yes, now we know, and look forward to having Miss Maggie teach us more, and Bailey as well.
We brought Bailey home yesterday. How we love him. How we miss him. How grateful we are for his final gift.
A beautiful resolution.. I wish all three of you the most wonderful welcome home..❤️❤️❤️
Thanks, Lally. That’s very kind.
When our Bebe died (A Japanese Chin we found on the T tracks during a blizzard) and discovered later he’d been abused by his owner), we were devastated. A replacement? You don’t replace, a friend told us. What you do is honor your lost love by making a loving home for another dog. We ended up with a message at Angel Memorial Animal hospital that no Japanese Chin was ever to be put down. Tukanut came into our lives. We also later ended up with Vixen and Albert. We learned quickly that all three were not Bebe, but each with their own personalities and we adored all of them. We are sure Bebe would have approved on how we honored him.
I’m sure she would. Well done you, DL. xo
The spirit of Bailey has touched and guided you to this most improbable, unexpected and heart healing resolution. They know. They truly know how to heal and fill that hollow space.
I am filled with a swelling heart that you have found Maggie, or rather she has found you.
We forever hold in our souls the joy all our departed and beloved pets have brought us and how their memory reminds us how powerful is the love we are blessed enough to share with animals. Much love, Lynne
Thanks so much, Lynne, for your wisdom and care.
Oh Lauren, I cried with sadness and then joy at this story. It was most definitely the right thing to do. What with e-mails landing, you looking at rescues (without thinking about it) and Bailey making an appearance to give his blessing!
It’s just wonderful that you have Maggie McWiggles in your lives. The new adventures begin!
She very much resembles my little Maya who is a cross Shih Tzu /Maltese Mum and Yorkie Dad. She was black when I brought her home and is now almost completely white (like her Mum) and like me!
I wish you both much love and joy with your new fur baby. ❤️🤗🐶
Thank you so much, Joan. I think Maya and Maggie would get on very well indeed, and Bailey and Oscar would certainly approve.
Crying and smiling as I read this, remembering my own experience. What joy Miss Maggie-Clearly Not-Velma has arrived!!💖
Ah, I know you’ve been there, Terry. Thanks so much. xo
There is no arguing with the magic that somehow appeared on your screen. The universe truly works in mysterious ways and love is the engine, always. If only we are open to it. I’m so happy for all three of you, and suspect Bailey is wagging his tail.
“when love is the engine”… absolutely. Thank you Carin.
Perfect. SO sweet! Bailey loves Maggie!
I believe he does, Penn. I believe he does
Such a beautiful choice! Life is too short to not have a dear dog. Not that a dear departed one can ever be replaced—but it’s about new love.
I agree, Carol! Love, as a friend says, is expansive. She’s stitching up our broken hearts
Lauren, I cried when I read about Ron and Bailey and you. You three were a team. There is not another animal that will ever replace him He will always be the sweet guy that gave Ron and you both so much love and laughter . And brought you both to your knees in grief when he had to leave. And yes, Lauren, he had to leave……….. The poor little fellow was not enjoying his life as he should’ve been able to, these last few weeks, especially the day and night before he died. . You both loved him with all your heart. He never would’ve lived this long had you both not taken such good care of him and showered him with love. When Ron and you talked about the possibility of adopting another “angel”( b/c that is what our animals are-“angels”) and he said “Don’t put in an application,” and you said “Of course not,” And then you put in the application, without quite knowing what you were doing, I do believe Bailey was guiding you. He would never want you to grieve…………….and then Miss Maggie came into your lives. Miss Maggie is yet another amazing sweet angel for you to look after. And Miss Maggie will look after you !It is easy for me to say don;t compare Miss Maggie to Bailey but of course you will. Miss Maggie will never measure up. She will bring new joy and laughter into your lives, of a different sort. You will never forget Bailey. Ever. I still remember losing my Tommy at age 6 and I’m 72-so believe me I know what I’m talking about when I say our love for our Baileys and Tommys is profound. To think you saved her from a terrible fate makes me so happy. Miss Maggie might not have Bailey’s cute little feet that look like skis (love that picture of him wanting his cuddles) but she will have different sweet ways. So happy for you now but also I do get it-you are still grieving. Hugs Lauren
Thanks very much, Lynda. All you say is true. Maggie has her own qualities, as did Bailey. All creatures are resolutely themselves and we respond to them as individuals. Nothing ever dies, nothing is replaced. We’re crazy about her already.
Dear Ron and Lauren,
How wonderful. Bailey’s legacy lives on.
Bailey teaching the two of you how to be joyful like he was, and your courage to love again, has brought another dog to you. Of course Bailey would want another dog to find your lovely home.
I say Mikey taught me “dog” as I was so clueless. Of course he taught me so much more. I realize now he was already about 10 years old when I adopted him, and in a life where things had been hard and scary for him, he was completely trusting, happy, and full of love from the moment he arrived. Not something I could say about myself, harumph.
Maggie, I love you already, and I do believe Bailey has trained this pair well in “dog”, and would be so pleased to see you keeping them on track, as they learn to live without him. Now your happy quirks can fill their home. You can teach them “Maggie”.
With tears of joy ,
LeeAnn and Yankee
Thanks so much for your support, LeeAnn. I know you understand this both/and of grief and joy very well. and yes, Maggie is teaching us well. She is, frankly, irresistible. Bailey is everywhere, always. So close, as Mikey is. You’ve been such a wonderful companion for dogs who otherwise might have ended their days very differently indeed. I only hope to have the capacity for love you do. L. xo
Many years ago, a coworker, who was becoming a friend, pulled me away from my desk at work to talk to me in a quiet hallway. She had been sick recently and absent from work so I asked her if she was feeling better. She confided in me that she wasn’t actually sick but grieving. She had to euthanize her beloved cat two days prior. Because pets don’t count for bereavement purposes at work, she’d called in sick. That was certainly how she felt, too sick to come into work.
She went on to tell me, in a hushed tone, that her cat was actually her best friend. My coworker-friend had a husband and a new borne baby at home, but her cat was secretly, her best friend.
I recall recognizing how special this moment was. That she trusted me enough to tell me this.She knew I would understand.
I understand as well. What a gift to have your coworker trust you with her shattered heart. Thank you for sharing the story here, MsAisha.
Your tribute to Bailey is elegant and moving. It is easy to see why you were paired with Maggie. She is sensitive and gentle and clearly was sent by Bailey. May you have peace.
Thank you, Mary. Miss Maggie looks forward to another visit!
For some reason, Lauren, I checked your timeline on Twitter and saw the sad news of your beloved Bailey being so ill and giving you the time for you and Ron to have the goodbye’s you did. I send you my sincere condolences about this but also am so happy you now have a new patter patter in your home of Maggie being a new companion. She won’t remove the grief but will definitely soothe it. May you have many new memories to make with her and she with you.
Thank you, Wendy. It’s been the worst of times and the best of times. The excruciating pain is now a dull, but ever-present ache, but wee Maggie is stitching our shredded hearts back together.