Category Archives: Grief and loss


A few weeks ago I heard an interview with social-cognitive neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman on the NPR show “Science Friday” about his research into the social underpinnings of our cognitive and emotional processes. The interviewer asked about Dr. Lieberman’s counterintuitive finding: that grief can activate the reward centers of the brain. My ears perked up. How could that be, I wondered? When I think about the process of mourning Alec, I recall pain, despair, torment, and confusion…but pleasure? Nope, not even close.

It turns out he was referring specifically to chronic or long-term grief — also called “complicated” grief. This is what occurs when a bereaved person becomes “stuck” in grief and shows no signs of improvement after a specified period of time. I became familiar with the distinction between acute and chronic grief after losing Alec, as one of my coping mechanisms was to read every book and article about grief I could find in an effort to understand what the heck I was experiencing. After several months passed and I seemed to not be improving (by this point, I had learned to fake it well enough on the outside most of the time, but on the inside I was the same — in pretty bad shape), I wondered if I was sliding into complicated grief, the kind that wasn’t going to resolve itself with the passage of time and active attention.

As no two relationships are the same, no two grieving experiences will be the same, but there are patterns, and I read with interest the factors that can lead to chronic grief and becoming “stuck” (e.g. the nature of the relationship, the circumstances surrounding the death, other sources of social support, etc.). I wondered what prevented people from being able to move forward and to heal. I wondered, idly, if that was going to be me.

It wasn’t. I got better, eventually. Acute grief periods vary in length and mine lasted about a year, which is on the longer end of the spectrum. But after around a year I began to feel the fog lift some. It is not a coincidence that this coincided with my adopting Teagan.

That’s just some background on my interest in the subject. In all my reading about grief reactions, including normal behavior versus warning signs, I had never come across this research suggesting long-term grief can activate the reward center of our brain (and hence contribute to keeping people stuck). For me, I hit a crossroads eventually where it became very clear to me that moving forward was a choice I could make, that I was in control. This realization seems simple, obvious, but it was in marked contrast to the overwhelming feeling that is typical of many grievers in the acute stage of grief: loss of control. Not only could you not control your loved one’s death, but your emotions and even your thoughts seem to careen out of control. It is a scary place. So getting to a place where I felt in control of the choice to feel better or not was a revelation, a huge step forward. I realized staying stuck was also a choice.

I don’t mean to minimize the experience of being stuck. I was truly that way until I turned a corner and wasn’t. Reading this, or hearing of others’ experiences, wouldn’t have helped me before I arrived there in my own time. The light bulb went on when it went on.

As we listened to the interview together, C. suggested maybe self-pity could be activating the reward center. This didn’t resonate with me and my experience, although I tried to honestly examine my reaction to see if it was because “self-pity” has an obvious negative connotation that most people instinctively reject as a descriptive label for their behavior or motivation. But I truly think it just didn’t resonate, though for some perhaps this would have relevance. In trying to objectively analyze what does feel true for me (Ha! As if I can objectively analyze myself — this is the true province of subjectivity. But we can still try, right?), I realized what I do think is that the pain can feel like a tribute, a measure of love, an offering, even a sacrifice. Because it is all you have left of the beloved, your pain can become a monument. Or at least it can feel like your grief is all you have left of your loved one, the only thing remaining to bind you together in the shadow of their physical absence. Without it, will we be untethered forever?

While it undoubtedly can feel this way, it’s of course not true. You don’t lose them more when you stop actively grieving (and you cannot keep them with you by clinging to the pain, by stoking it and keeping it alive like some twisted bonfire of sorrow), and you can honor them with joy and happiness. I remember being so bewildered, so utterly lost. “Adrift” was a word that resonated with me. For a time, Alec was my world. I loved him so intensely, so immensely. When he was gone there was a gaping hole where he’d been. The pain closed the gap, almost like a bridge from me to him. Grief can act as a string, permanently tying us to the person who has gone. Many grievers upon beginning to feel better experience an unexpected jolt of guilt. How can I be smiling when my loved one is gone? How can I laugh when he suffered so much? It is not rational, it is just something that grievers at times experience. When you begin to smile again, it can feel like you are abandoning them in some way.

Although it is a common aphorism and I had never thought of it critically until now, I’m not sure I believe that the depth of our pain is the measure of our love. However, our culture feeds this idea. How many times have you heard (or read in sympathy cards) that the depth of the sorrow we feel in our time of mourning is a reflection of how much we loved the being we have lost? This is true to an extent. Beyond, it can become almost a competition with yourself. Competition isn’t really the right word, but if the pain begins to recede (as inevitably it will, except in cases of complicated grief, which is not something to which to aspire) does that mean I did not love them enough? This doesn’t make sense at all if you haven’t experienced it. It barely makes sense to me as a type it. But I know this was working below the surface of my consciousness at different times in my grief process. I had a few glimpses of clarity where I realized that by holding my pain, I was trying to hold Alec. I tried a few times to loosen my grip, to let myself experience joy, and I realized I could feel closer to him in these moments of beauty. It was a seemingly small revelation, but a big step forward.

I vividly remember driving home one day listening to a song I liked, and the sun was setting and the light was beautiful, golden. And I cried. But it was okay. I was crying because the light was beautiful and Alec was beautiful and his life was beautiful and my love for him, also beautiful, and I could see all of this, and the tears took on a different tone. It was a tiny moment that was a significant part of my being able to move forward…to experience him, to feel him, to remember him, in moments of happiness and joy, not just pain and sorrow. I imagine most people who move out of the acute grief stage (whether it lasts two months or two years [I recently read that six weeks is average]) experience some version of this shift. Not of letting go (I will never let him go) but of shifting our grip.

So is that how long-term grief can activate the reward centers of our brain, I wondered? Was it something about grief becoming a stand-in for our beloved? The mistaken belief that if we loosen our grip on the pain, then we will lose them definitively and forever? (Mistaken because, of course, we have already lost them.) But staying actively stuck in grief can be one way to keep memories alive, and maybe it can facilitate the feeling that the lost love is still an ongoing presence. I understand that. I am not saying it is a healthy adaption to loss, but I think I get it.

I still think of Alec, but it’s nothing like when I was in the acute stages of grief. The year after he died, it was like I was living with a ghost. I miss that ghost, but I don’t miss the pain. It became a self-destructive force. Choosing to live, and to love again (Teagan!!), was for me a better way to honor and remember Alec than trying to tie his ghost to me permanently. But everyone copes differently and I’m not judging. Being self-reflective about what I am feeling and experiencing is just another coping mechanism for me (in addition to the book-reading). To try to stand outside myself and see my experience as objectively as possible, within the confines of my own consciousness. I don’t know how successful any of us can be at this, but for some reason I am compelled to try. And undoubtedly, engaging in reflection, to the extent I could remove myself a bit from the pain I was feeling in the acute stage of grief, was therapeutic for me.

So what of this interview? It appears I have made this entire post about ME. Bait and switch! Gee, I didn’t intend to. But I guess that’s okay; this blog is a chronicle of my personal experience grieving for the dog who was the love of my life. I barely remember the findings of that research now. But I had felt stuck and wanting to write again, and it served that purpose (thanks C. for the suggestion). You can read more here and here, but basically the idea is that engaging in memories of the dearly departed caused a pleasurable surge, almost akin to addiction, and this was the mechanism by which the reward centers were activated in people stuck in chronic grief. This is a nice summary, from the second article linked above:

Grief is universal, and most of us will probably experience the pain grief brings at some point in our lives, usually with the death of a loved one. In time, we move on, accepting the loss.
But for a substantial minority, it’s impossible to let go, and even years later, any reminder of their loss — a picture, a memory — brings on a fresh wave of grief and yearning. The question is, why? Why do some grieve and ultimately adapt, while others can’t get over the loss of someone held dear?
Reporting in the journal NeuroImage, scientists at UCLA suggest that such long-term or “complicated” grief activates neurons in the reward centers of the brain, possibly giving these memories addiction-like properties. Their research is currently available in the journal’s online edition.
This study is the first to compare those with complicated and noncomplicated grief, and future research in this area may help psychologists do a better job of treating those with complicated grief, according to Mary-Frances O’Connor, UCLA assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study.
“The idea is that when our loved ones are alive, we get a rewarding cue from seeing them or things that remind us of them,” O’Connor said. “After the loved one dies, those who adapt to the loss stop getting this neural reward. But those who don’t adapt continue to crave it, because each time they do see a cue, they still get that neural reward.
“Of course, all of this is outside of conscious thought, so there isn’t an intention about it,” she said.

That’s all for now. Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you peace and comfort. Happy New Year. Keep your chin up.



Filed under Grief and loss

Memory, redux.

“Hold on to the corners of today, and we’ll fold it up to save until it’s needed. Stand still. Let me scrub that brackish line that you got when something rose and then receded.”

–John K. Samson, “Watermark,” Lyrics and Poems, 1997-2012


Now that I have opened the floodgates to a subject I had been assiduously avoiding, I might as well dive in with both feet. Besides the two kinds of memory discussed in “A past that has written itself on you,” I think there is a third, which may or may not be real but in which I have decided to believe –another recurring theme in my Alec writings, just like that iconic poster in Fox Mulder’s office:

i want to believe

The literary term “redux” means “brought back, restored, revived.” Between our faulty and unreliable episodic memories and the indelible bone deep “memory” of a past that has become part of our essential self are the memories that live in our subconscious, sleeping away. Because we can hold only so much data in the accessible regions of our brain, these other memories slip into our subconscious, into the locked vaults. But they are still there. And we do hold the key. Even if we don’t know how to use it yet. That is my theory. And in knowing how episodic memories inevitably fail and deteriorate, I think of the vaults as sort of a safekeeping device. Even if we cannot — and perhaps, more precisely, because we cannot — access them at will, they are preserved. If we could access them they would fade, become distorted, and succumb to the other perils of episodic memory. But because they are safely tucked away they remain intact, pristine.

You may ask, what good are these memories if we can’t access them, if indeed they are locked in our subconscious. They may as well not exist at all then, right? Well, yes and no.  I believe we should be comforted knowing (or believing) these memories are there, knowing that if we kept banging on the door to get in and view them, we would ruin them.

I think if we ever REALLY need those memories we can have them. But I also believe if we pull them out to much to look at them, they will start to fade and disappear. This is another (or maybe the main) reason I avoided the photos for so long; I want them to be fresh, and repeated viewings of any static item inevitably make it stale. But this slip into distortion and staleness, like the episodic memories, is unavoidable. It’s what time does, and our memories and photos are just artifacts. They are not the thing. “The thing” lives in our bones. But what about these memories sleeping away in some hidden corner of our brains? Ah, what of them?

I had a conversation with my friend Sophie sometime after Alec died. She had a special relationship with her dog Promise, which seemed similar in many respects to the bond Alec and I had, and she struggled with losing him too soon (to cancer as well). One day she mentioned she was at a stage in her grief where she was starting to forget the little details (the feel of the fur, the weight of a paw) and this realization was of course upsetting to her. I was in a different stage, one where I could not even think about Alec. This stage lasted quite awhile for me. I kept shoving my thoughts and emotions down when they came, batting them away reflexively, because I simply could not deal with them. It was a stage characterized by numbness and denial.

While Alec was sick, while he was dying, I wrote furiously in my journal every day. Toward the end I feel like I was writing in it almost constantly. Nothing profound, just details, details, as if I could contain him in the pages. It was a lifeline for me. After he died my journal turned into a crazy place that made no sense. Sporadic entries scrawled large across the page in some insane person’s handwriting that I didn’t recognize. I eventually stopped trying to write (until I tentatively stepped back onto this blog). But during this time of non-writing, I would sometimes record little details about him in a notebook, terrified I would forget.

Around this time, as I was lying in bed trying to fall sleep, an image popped into my mind of the soft wispy fur on Alec’s chest between his front shoulders, how it felt, the way I liked to press my cheek against it. Random. I snapped on the light and jotted it down in my notebook (always this faith that words will save me).

That night I had a vivid dream, in which I was pressing my face to Alec’s chest. I could feel his soft wispy fur against my cheek. It seemed so real. When I woke, up it felt like a gift. And that’s when I created my theory — that our brain contains it all, even without us writing it down. It comforted me, so I kept it like a charm. And I told myself that even if I didn’t dream about him every night, there was always the possibility it could happen again. And that it would feel just as real. The promise of a secret world. We take our comfort where we can, and to me this was a tiny balm during a very bad time. I did not examine this too closely, just trusted it and tucked it away.

Since I now believe in ghosts (we take our comfort where we can), I talked with various animal communicators and also just people who are open to that sort of thing. I was distressed I did not see Alec or feel him around me after he died. I read lots of accounts of this happening. Why not with us?? Especially when the only way I got through his death was to tell myself we would still be together; we just had to figure out a way to cross the great divide. (No, I don’t care how nutty that sounds; this is how I kept myself going and it felt like the only option at the time.) Anyway, that really bothered me. I had full expectation I would feel him after he died. Even if it was my wishful mind conjuring him, whatever…I didn’t care that much. That distinction would be something to worry about later, but later never came because I never saw him! Why didn’t he come back to haunt/visit me?** Didn’t he LOVE me?? Etc!

**I pray one prayer. . . may you haunt me, then!…I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul! — Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, p. 167

It was suggested to me by more than one person that I might be trying to hard. This could be my problem, why I could not sense him. So I tried not trying too hard, but you know how that goes. (Warning: this is where things get pretty woo woo.) Someone also told me that when our “vibration” is high we are more likely to connect with the spirit world or whatever. High vibration means basically that we are happy and in a positive, peaceful place. We would be vibrating at a low frequency if we are miserable, depressed, angry, etc. So this lady said being too depressed and sorrowful can interfere with our attempts to connect  with…well, I will just use “ghosts” as a shorthand, but I mean this whole other hypothetical world that we cannot see. And I think this is also related to the memory issue. More on that in a minute. I promise this is going somewhere.

That was sort of a roundabout introduction to talking about CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed, which was sitting on my coffee table for about a year before I finally got around to reading it. I really liked it. At just 76 pages, it’s a slim volume that documents his personal struggle with the universal issues that affect us all when we lose a profound love, and his grief,  like so many, is complicated by the special factors that make each relationship unique. Although much of Lewis’s struggle revolves around him questioning his god and faith in the aftermath of the death of his beloved wife, many of his reflections resonated with me.

In Lewis’ case, he and “H.” – the great love of his life – had only been together a short time when she was stricken by cancer. It was as if they had waited their whole lives for one another and then, just when they finally found each other, were ripped apart. Lewis was a deeply religious man and his faith in god was shaken by the circumstances surrounding her death. While I did not question “god,” I did question my whole existence (something I had not done with such verve since high school) and these existential questions can be as, if not more, alienating I think. Lewis eventually finds his way back to god, but the existential questions have no comforting answers, at least not to me. (I am also reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Maybe it will help! I am still looking for answers though I suspect none will be forthcoming.)

Anyway, it’s a good book! Highly recommended for the bereaved, especially those who find comfort in reading about other people’s experiences, as I have. Long introduction! So this passage (on pages 44-46) reminded me of the themes I have been trying to unpack above. For Lewis, bad day follows bad day follows bad day until, on this particular day, he finally experiences something different:

Something quite unexpected has happened. It came early this morning. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. And I’d had a very tiring but very healthy twelve hours the day before, and a sounder night’s sleep; and after ten days of low-hung grey skies and motionless warm dampness, the sun was shining and there was a light breeze. And suddenly at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best. Indeed it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. To say it was like meeting would be going too far. Yet there was that in it which tempts one to use those words. It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.

Why has no one told me these things? How easily I might have misjudged another man in the same situation? I might have said, ‘He’s got over it. He’s forgotten his wife,’ when the truth was, ‘He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.’

Such was the fact. And I believe I can make sense out of it. You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately; anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk!’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead? ‘Them as asks’ (at any rate ‘as asks too importunately’) don’t get. Perhaps can’t.

I love this! It’s the same idea as the vibration thing. And this notion that trying too hard, not only to commune with the dead but also to remember them (in itself a type of communion), can be a block to that which we want so desperately: to be with them, and/or failing that, to remember them with precision and in living color. Consider these, my favorite sentences in that lengthy passage:

  • And suddenly at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best.
  • He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.
  • It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.
  • You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately…

There is something here, some measure of comfort, right? These words help us to persevere, knowing that something better waits as we move into another stage of our grief (not a shameful word but a lifelong process! As much a part of life and love as anything else). As we fumble for meaning and secretly fear that feeling happy is a betrayal (this creeps in even as we know it is irrational), we might do well to realize that those first tentative steps into sunlight, rather than carrying us farther away from our loved one, may in fact be one of the keys to the kingdom we feel we have been locked out of forever.


Filed under Ghosts, Grief and loss, Memory

National Justice for Animals Week 2012

When Alec died, I swore I would never adopt another dog. Losing him was too devastating. Then I heard Teagan’s story and changed my mind. This week, little Teagan is the mascot for ALDF’s National Justice for Animals Week. Check out her video!


Filed under Grief and loss, LOVE, Teagan

Nothing gold can stay.

Speaking of fragments and the flotsam of a mind working through loss (as I sort of was at the end of my last entry), I had fun looking up this phrase and being reminded it originally came from Robert Frost and not Ponyboy in The Outsiders.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

The phrase “nothing gold can stay” popped into my mind, however, not as I was thinking of Ponyboy Curtis but of snowmen, and how they always melt. My good friend Blaine recently made me aware of a poignant (and apparently classic) children’s book that perhaps everyone in the world has heard of but me, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Although Blaine warned me that as with most tales involving snowmen this one did not end happily, I have an affinity for snowmen (especially ones that come to life and stuff) and had to check it out. So check it out I did, after briefly waiting for someone to return it to my local branch of the public library. Clutching it in my hands eagerly (the cover was so cute!) I raced back to my office where I “read” it less than ten minutes (scare quotes because one does not read The Snowman; it is a picture book and WOW are the illustrations gorgeous). I can’t believe I never heard of this book! Thematically it is similar to The Velveteen Rabbit, another of my all-time favorite stories. In a nutshell, boy builds snowman, snowman comes to life, boy has magical night of adventure with snowman, boy hugs snowman goodnight, boy wakes up in the bright dawn of a new day to find snowman melted away, only a pile of clothes where he once stood. I started crying even as they were in the middle of their heart-melting magical adventure… maybe because I knew the terrible ending coming, or maybe because the illustrations of them flying hand in hand above the night cityscape were so breathtakingly beautiful, or maybe both. Either way, I had to close my office door because I was crying kind of loudly.


I encourage anyone not familiar with The Snowman to check it out; the tale told in pictures of the blossoming friendship between these two different creatures, boy and snowman, is so sweet, so magical. Their story unfolds quickly and is over too fast, but they packed so much beauty and wonder into that one night. I guess maybe it reminds me of something…of someone.

Blaine had warned me! I knew how this tale was going to end. I sent him a quick message to tell him I was holed up in my office with the door shut, weeping over a storybook snowman, thanks to him (but that seriously I loved the book, thanks for the recommendation! *Sniff*) and his response made me think about how nothing gold can stay, and how snowmen always melt away. I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him, but I quoted Robert Frost in this post too, so Blaine is in good company, right? Right. He responded:

I hate to think I had something to do with making a dear friend cry but, at the same time, I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! : ) It’s strange but I think the sad ending makes the book even more beautiful, somehow. I mean, if the snowman and the boy (or the velveteen rabbit and his boy – another book near and dear to my heart, btw!) simply lived happily ever after, the books probably wouldn’t bring out the same emotions, you know? Both books seem to tap into something very deep and human within us…and they choke me up, too, but in the best way (as far as tears go).

Hmm. I pondered this all the way home, especially because I, too, love The Velveteen Rabbit. I hate sad endings, or I think I do. But do they make the stories more beautiful? Would The Snowman be as compelling if the title character did not melt at the end? If not, why not? And why am I attracted to stories and images of snowmen? (My thrift score dishes even have smiling snowmen on them.) What does that say about me? Am I a masochist? Etc.! But I think what attracts me is the magic, not the sad ending.


Anyway, Blaine pointing out the obvious-to-anyone-but-me fact that stories featuring snowmen don’t usually have happy endings made me think…and then think some more about this idea that the very thing I hate about them maybe makes them more beautiful. And I think he has a point. They do tap something deep within us (at least us more sensitive souls), but what? I honestly am not attracted to sad endings; I cry enough in regular life and I think there is plenty to feel melancholy about without having to seek out tragedy in my entertainment, you know? (Especially being an animal advocate and knowing the horrible things happening to animals every minute – I actually spend a lot of mental energy studiously avoiding thinking about sad things.) So what’s the deal with snowmen, and with stories about toys coming to life only to become real and leave us, a la The Velveteen Rabbit? I guess the obvious interpretation is they are sort of a metaphor for the human condition. The only constant is change, everything is impermanent, blah blah. It sounds cliche to me now, but wrapping my head around the salience of impermanence was one of the greatest challenges for me in the early stages of mourning Alec.


Or maybe it’s that when we love deeply with our entire being, we create something new. The relationship becomes a living thing, we create a new entity, we bring something to life, like magic! But that is a bit too abstract; it’s not what attracts me. What always appealed to me (an imaginative child with lots of stuffed animals and imaginary friends) so deeply in the story of the velveteen rabbit was this utterly romantic idea that if you loved something/someone enough you could literally bring it/them to life. And an extension of this magical thinking would be if you loved someone enough you could keep them from dying, right? I didn’t realize some part of me believed this until Alec got sick, and it made losing him harder, though it’s difficult to put gradations on that experience. I blame the fairy tales! Though I guess I can’t really, because they contain both messages: love can bring someone (your snowman, stuffed bunny, etc.), to life, but they always melt in the end (or in the case of the velveteen rabbit, leave). Yet I guess somewhere deep down I really, truly believed my love could keep him alive, not literally (maybe literally), but that’s what it felt like, you know? How could I lose him when I loved him so much?

My love couldn’t keep him here, though. He melted away. But we really flew for awhile. And maybe I’m not the boy in these stories. Maybe I am the snowman, the velveteen rabbit — my love for Alec brought me to life. I recall my friend Mike saying, during one of our many conversations when I was in the initial, noisier and messier, throes of grief, something about how knowing our time with our loved ones is finite makes it more beautiful somehow (and especially in the case of those of us who love dogs, we’re just asking for it since their average life spans are so much shorter). I could be making that up but I am pretty sure he said almost exactly the same thing as Blaine, but rather than referring to stories about snowmen and such he was talking about real life. I thought that was horseshit. I wanted Alec back, that was all. I knew our time together was beautiful. I knew it every day. But I wanted him to grow old. I wanted more time.

But nothing gold can stay. And as with the boy and the snowman in the story, Alec and I packed a lot of life, love, and happiness into our seven years together. Although it wasn’t much of a comfort at the time, I knew this when he was sick: our relationship was so rich, so full of joy and gratitude (on my end – I certainly can’t speak for him!), that we had packed more good stuff into our lives together than many relationships that last much longer. It didn’t make losing him any easier. But as I reflect — as the loss becomes less immediate, making reflection actually possible — I do see the beauty, the magic in it.

Although sometimes I wonder if I made it all up, you know? He’s not here anymore to verify what I once knew so assuredly. It’s just me. Just like the guy in that Weakerthans song who sees Bigfoot and nobody believes him. What does he say? “But the visions that I see believe in me.” I always liked that line. So at the end of my pondering, I have concluded what I like about these stories is the magic, the sense of wonder and possibility, not the sad ending. And that’s okay. Just as it’s okay for others to like, or at least appreciate, the sad endings. It is a fair question — does brevity make things more beautiful? — but as for me I probably would have honestly been just as happy if the snowman and the boy kept having their magical rendezvous every night until the end of their days. But there it is. There is always an end. One night, 30 nights, seven years. I loved Alec before he was mine. To me it was magic not only that we met and connected, but that I got to adopt him at all. Without hyperbole I can say that being able to bring him home, finally, was the fulfillment of the dearest wish I have ever held. There is magic in that…in our wishes coming true, in connecting so strongly with another in this life, whether they be human or nonhuman. I hoped there would be magic in our separation, that I could keep him with me somehow. And who knows?

When I was little I used to play a game called Stuffed Animal Town. I would build a miniature town out of books and have my stuffed animals walk around and do things and talk to one another. Besides reading, it was one of my favorite pastimes and I could get lost in pretending for hours. One of my ex-boyfriends used to tease me when I would go off on my occasional flights of fancy (ahem, not that I do that a lot or anything) by saying I had gone to “stuffed animal town.” I always thought that was funny. But the thing is since an early age I have been imaginative and had a fondness for stories about magical friends and stuff. It is a childish trait that part of me never left behind, which is why these stories are so dear to me. And now I have a real someone to project all of this fanciful stuff onto – Alec! I wrote in my last post that it was a leap for a skeptic like me to decide that Alec and I could never be separated and that he would always be with me (my #1 coping mechanism).But as I ponder, perhaps Stuffed Animal Town is my “religion” and therefore it’s not as big a leap as would first appear. I have always wanted the world to be enchanted, from a young age. I grew up and out of it to an extent (let’s hope so!) but part of me will always be back there playing Stuffed Animal Town and arranging my stuffed animals on the bed so the blanket doesn’t suffocate them while I’m out. I guess that’s part of who I am. And I guess also it’s obvious why these stories speak to me. They are like the ultimate wish fulfillment for someone like me, whereas a more normal person may interpret them, well differently. I don’t have a good conclusion here. Sometimes it’s just good to ponder, and wander. And wonder.

Musical postscript: The theme songs for this post are Bigfoot! by the Weakerthans and “Abominable Snowman in the Market” by Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers. Enjoy.

1 Comment

Filed under Grief and loss, Magic, Snowmen

A past that has written itself on you.


Impossible to remove, erase, or wash away; permanent: indelible ink.
Making a mark not easily erased or washed away: an indelible pen for labeling clothing.
Unable to be forgotten; memorable: an indelible memory.

“Our consciousness is fickle and not worthy of the task of remembering.” (Rowlands, 2009, p. 46)

Memory is a place I have not wanted to go, because memory cedes he is gone, and my way of coping with Alec’s death has been to act as if he is still here with me somehow, because I cannot accept that he died the way he did. There it is. I said it. I still have “work” to do, obviously! I am not surprised. I have re-entered the world of the living wholeheartedly. I have even opened my heart to another dog and allowed myself to feel joy again. I emerged from the fog sometime in late spring, around the time I went to Germany. I felt very clearly that I was at a crossroads, or maybe on a seesaw with my grief is the better analogy. It was like I was teetering between two worlds, light and dark, up and down. That sounds so simple and trite, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Anyway, there was a point where I made a very conscious decision to move forward. I will write about that someday, but this is not that post.

Where was I even going with this?

Right. My fingers in their infinite wisdom, racing faster than my mind, seem to have typed “I cannot accept that he died the way he did.” As often happens, these words appeared on the screen before I knew what I was going to write. Some things we don’t say out loud even to ourselves I guess. So yeah, I still have work to do, despite the fact that I have gotten back up, and made room for other things in my life besides my grief. But even though I don’t walk around crying (or trying not to) every day, I do cry, and I do miss him, and I do still mourn. And I need to stay cognizant, because when I hear myself blurt out things like, “I cannot accept that he died the way he did,” I know I still have plenty of processing to do. I have made a lot of progress. But I am not healed.

Two things I have written about repeatedly are that 1) I have avoided organizing and going through photographs of Alec, and 2) my way of coping with his absence, since the moment he died (and truthfully since before, when I knew I was going to lose him), was to re-conceptualize our bond as not having ended but rather having changed form, like we had a new relationship, one that did not involve nor depend upon his corporeal presence (and as a non-religious person, this was definitely a huge leap of faith, or desperation). I had to tell myself he was still with me, somehow, some way. It was the only way I could  go on. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t explain it. Because I didn’t have all the answers, or even, as Alec’s death drove home, any of them.

“It is in our lives and not, fundamentally, in our conscious experiences that we find the memories of those who are gone.” (Rowlands, 2009, p 46)

So these two things, these recurring themes, are interlinked, right? My not wanting to go into the photos is like not wanting to go into the past is like not wanting to confront MEMORY is like not wanting to have the recalcitrant fact of his death, of his being gone,  hit me in the face. Now, what the heck does that sound like? It sounds like someone dealing with a bit of avoidance is what I would say, if I were hearing this from a friend. It’s funny because in some ways I have been a model of “good grief” (though, honestly, in other ways I have been its very antithesis) in that I certainly allowed myself to cry and cry and cry (and cry some more! no problem there) and I even have been able to use writing as a way to explore and process my feelings. Healthy emotional outlet, check. And yet, here I find myself saying I don’t want to deal with the fact that Alec, and my relationship with him, is a memory now. Because the only way I have made it this far is by dragging him with me, metaphorically, stubbornly refusing to consign him to the past (a topic discussed in other posts). But really, the regrettable transformation from companion to memory is the most obdurate fact in losing a loved one to death.

Memory sucks. Memory scares me, because it’s unreliable, and because it fades. I really haven’t spent much time thinking or writing about it (on purpose) but I always knew one day, when I was ready, I would tackle this subject (“just like the photos, I guess,” I say to myself with chagrin – but here I gently remind myself that grief has no statute of limitations).

As luck or fate or simple circumstance would have it, yesterday I received a nudge in the direction I need to go: forward. As I was reading The Philosopher and the Wolf, I came across an interesting passage on memory. This book is a memoir of sorts, a reflection on philosophy professor Mark Rowlands’ transformative relationship with his companion wolf, Brenin, who dies before the book begins. Rowlands’ ruminations on the difference between episodic memory and another, nameless (but far more meaningful) type resonated deeply with me. I really like his perspective on what for me is a terrifying subject (i.e. the caprice of episodic memory; it’s almost like a second way of losing someone). I am always on the lookout for keys to unlock the various doors in the sprawling prison of my grief. This is one such key. I share an extended excerpt here in hopes it may give someone else the same comfort in grappling with the slippery issue of memory. I have only just begun the third chapter, but I do recommend this book based on what I have read so far. Rowlands’ take on memory, as he apprehends a profound relationship receding into the distance of time, helps me as I continue to grope for meaning, for comfort, for keys. I found his words powerful (from pages 45-6):

There are different ways of remembering. When we think of memory, we overlook what is most important in favour of what is most obvious. A bird does not fly by flapping its wings; this is merely what provides it with forward propulsion. The real principles of flight are to be found in the shape of the bird’s wings, and the resulting differences in the pressure of the air flowing over the upper and lower surfaces of those wings. But in our early attempts to fly, we overlooked what is most important in favour of what is most obvious: we built flapping machines. Our understanding of memory is similar. We think of memory as conscious experiences whereby we recall past events or episodes. Psychologists call this episodic memory.

Episodic memory, I think, is just the flapping of wings, and it is always the first to betray us. Our episodic memory is not particularly reliable at the best of times – decades of psychological research converge on this conclusion – and is the first to fade as our brains begin their long but inexorable descent into indolence, like the flapping of a bird’s wings that gradually fades in the distance.

But there is another, deeper and more important way of remembering: a form of memory that no one ever thought to dignify with a name. This is the memory of a past that has written itself on you, in your character and in the life on which you bring that character to bear. You are not, at least not typically, aware of these memories; often they are not even the sorts of things of which you can be conscious. But they, more than anything else, make you what you are. These memories are exhibited in the decisions you make, the actions you take and the life that you thereby live.

It is in our lives and not, fundamentally, in our conscious experiences that we find the memories of those who are gone. Our consciousness is fickle and not worthy of the task of remembering. The most important way of remembering someone is by being the person they made us – at least in part – and living the life they have helped shape. Sometimes they are not worth remembering. In that case, our most important existential task is to expunge them from the narrative of our lives. But when they are worth remembering, then being someone they have helped fashion and living a life they have helped forge are not only how we remember them; they are how we honour them.

I will always remember my wolf brother.

So there you have it. The most inspirational thing I have read in a long time, and entree for me, a reluctant visitor, into the land of memory and meaning. My fear of the photos, of the past, is really the terror of my memory betraying me, which of course, it will. It betrays us all. But what of this other form of memory, the indelible one? Well, that brings me full circle to my #1 coping mechanism: forging a new relationship with Alec. You see, he can’t be gone. He is written all over me.

Live. Love. Honor. Remember.

Musical postscript: Certain songs sometimes attach themselves to posts as I am working through them. One of the theme songs for this post is Regina Spektor’s “Us”  and another is “Oh, you are the roots that sleep beneath my feet…” by Bright Eyes:

You are the roots that sleep beneath my feet
And hold the earth in place
Each time a faucet opens
Words are spoken
The water runs away
And I hear your name
No, nothing has changed

Roots, statues, love carved into us like poems… as I sort through the fragments of images and lyrics that float to the surface of my consciousness, it occurs to me that these are all metaphors for the same thing. This thing is too big for the words I could use to describe it, but I can feel it in my bones, where it has settled, permanently.


Filed under Grief and loss, Memory

So many jackets…

. . . so many forgotten cookies to be found in the pockets. It happened again today. I grab an old rain shell from the closet that I hadn’t worn in a long time. When I put it on, I feel something in the pocket. My hand closes around the Buddy Biscuit. And I remember. I remember everything. And I start to cry. It’s unexpected, like the cookie. It is a grief burst. I take the cookie man out of my pocket, put him on the table, and see that he’s broken. I try to put him back together, cry a little more, and then continue out the door with Teagan. I carry on with my day. But I don’t forget those broken pieces, that smiling cookie, my lost friend.


Filed under Grief and loss, Memory

Music to my ears.

Alec. Alec. Alec. I love to hear his name. I think I always will. Sometimes people are afraid to bring up the deceased for fear of inadvertently triggering a flood of tears and/or emotion on the part of the griever. I can say that for me hearing Alec’s name causes quite an opposite reaction; it makes me happy. You might say this is because a year has passed and I am in a different place in the landscape of my grief. While this is demonstrably true, things were no different in this regard early on. Then, my tears were almost constant; even when I was not crying on the outside, I was bawling on the inside. Talking about Alec helped. It did not make the pain worse. At that time there was nothing that could have made the pain worse for me, honestly. His going, his dying, was as bad as that was going to get.

Far worse is when people do not mention the deceased, as if they never existed. It almost compounds the loss in that sense. Not only is the loved one’s physical presence gone, but their representation in the world of words is gone as well. Where did they go? Not being able to speak of the loved one does two things simultaneously. It foments the sense of confusion that often accompanies a profound loss, because talking is an important part of processing, and eventually healing. At the same time, the aggressive eradication of the loved one from the shared realm of conversation can bury the loss too quickly, a superficial covering over that will not last. In other words, efforts to spare the griever pain by not mentioning the loved one’s name (let alone venturing deeper into meaningful discourse) can have the opposite effect.

With regard to the well-intentioned desire to avoid reminding the griever of his or her loss by mentioning the deceased, well, I only have one thing to say about that: they don’t need reminding. What I mean is the loss is likely always on their mind, especially in the early stages, sometimes front and center, sometimes lingering toward the back, sometimes scurrying back and forth in the wings, but trust me, you are not making them remember something they had forgotten. So try it. If it is the wrong time, they will let you know by changing the subject…or hey, maybe dissolving into tears! If you try this and that happens, I’m sorry! I can only speak from my own (somewhat unique, somewhat universal) experience and I know that I cried *all the damn time* but the ferocity of the outbursts and intensity of the breakdowns really had nothing to do with hearing or not hearing his name. The few times I did feel better for a moment were after talking about it, about him, I can tell you that. But everyone is different. I might be really weird in this regard!

Talking about absent loved ones is a way to keep them close, to keep them with us always. Words can be bridges. They can even be conduits. Sometimes when I am writing I almost feel Alec running through me, buzzing in my fingers, over the keys, and onto the screen. It’s pretty neat. Words are powerful. Names most of all. And one is like the beauty and promise and inspiration of all my favorite songs melted and poured into two little syllables:


Filed under Grief and loss

Alec, Teagan, and Me.

I just wrote this post for the Animal Legal Defense Fund blog. It was originally published here.

My German shepherd Alec was many things to me: best friend, partner, dependent, roommate, constant companion, apple of my eye, cherished family member, wonder dog and inspiration. Most of all, he was my soul mate. Alec was the love of my life. When he died last year, I wasn’t sure I could go on without him, even if I wanted to. To some that may sound extreme, but Alec and I shared a special bond and had been through an intense journey together.

Nicole and Alec

It is a long story and I have a blog if you want to read more: But here is the extremely truncated version! When Alec was seven years old, a disc ruptured in his back and my hale, hearty and playful friend was suddenly paralyzed and given a poor prognosis that he would ever walk again. After he recuperated from two spinal surgeries, I had him fitted him for a mobility cart (doggie wheelchair), to which he adjusted quickly, and Alec was soon able to go on walks again. I took him swimming to make up for his not being able to run and fetch on land. I learned all I could about caring for a large paraplegic dog. I monitored him closely for signs of depression, but Alec was a happy dog, even with his new physical limitations. To cut to the chase, I did physical therapy with Alec from the start and, amazingly, he beat the odds. One year after he was given that poor prognosis, Alec began walking again. I had started my blog originally to keep friends and family updated, but I soon learned that Alec’s story had given others in similar situations hope that with consistent therapy, patience, time, and love their dogs too might recover, at least partially, from devastating neurological injuries.

Our happy ending was fated to be short-lived, however. After being out of his wheelchair only a year, Alec was diagnosed with a very aggressive and terminal cancer of the blood cells, hemangiosarcoma, which is nearly impossible to detect until it is already too late. But we had already faced down tremendous odds, and I wasn’t going to give up hope. I did everything in my power to save him, but it was not enough. Nothing worked – not chemotherapy, not herbs and holistic supplements, not prayer, not love. Alec died within a few short months.

Alec swimming

After all he had been through, I was devastated. He was only nine and seemingly healthy. I thought we had much more time to enjoy our relationship. While close before, our bond had deepened and further blossomed after his paralysis upended our lives. After that, we truly became a team. We trusted each other and worked well together. His well-being had always been paramount to me, but when he became disabled Alec became the center of my world. He was my sunshine. In a very real way I revolved around him. Not in a bad way. In the way that happens when you are a caretaker for a dependent being who has special needs. When he died, I was lost, in every possible meaning of the word. It was as if gravity itself had deserted me. I was drifting through ether, no weight, no compass, no purpose, nobody home, nobody to go home to.

His absence not only left a void where a cherished relationship and our physical closeness had been, but it also threw me into an existential tailspin, from which it was difficult to recover. My entire world view was shaken. I felt unsafe in a fundamental way. I knew life was unfair, or I thought I did. Yet I couldn’t get over how unfair it all was, how after all he had already been through Alec did not deserve to be stricken dead by cancer before he had a chance to become an old lazy shepherd and enjoy some well-deserved, stress-free golden years. Who said life was fair? I chastised myself for being surprised, nay shattered, by this obvious fact of life. Alas, it is one thing to know something intellectually and something else to experience it. I had to struggle mightily with the question of meaning. I am still wrestling with that one. I was a complete and utter wreck. Anyone who has suffered a profound loss will recognize some of these feelings, which only barely begin to sort of hint at the teeny tiny tip of the hulking iceberg that is grief over losing a cherished love one. Just like the iceberg, there are many surprises lurking beneath the surface, ready to sink your already shaky ship. The bottom line is that I was devastated. I had lost dogs before, but they were old. I could not get over the fact that Alec had worked so hard to overcome paralysis only to be struck down by cancer. I had tried so hard to keep him safe and healthy. Despite my best efforts, I failed.

When Alec died, I vowed I would never adopt another dog. The pain of losing him was too great, too total. It was cataclysmic. I felt like I was gone with him – not just a piece, but the whole me. This is the price, they say, for having loved deeply. It was too high. And besides, I had no interest. I didn’t want another dog, ever. I wanted him. I wanted Alec. I railed against the finality of his leaving, of him not coming back. It. Could. Not. Be. It was a thing that could not be. Predictably, this line of thinking did not work out so well for me. But maybe it did after all.

Because I loved him too much to lose him, I decided I wouldn’t. I had to redefine our relationship, and develop some new beliefs to get me through, but ultimately what enabled me to move forward was the idea that he was coming with me even though our relationship had changed. I am in good company. Many of the best grief books, or at least the ones that helped me (for what it’s worth, I was most helped by reading books about losing family members such as a spouse or a child – not pet loss books specifically, though those can be helpful too), conceptualize successful grieving as forging a new relationship with the deceased, one that exists in the absence of his or her physical presence. This spoke to me intuitively. It felt true. When Alec was sick I told him (and myself) repeatedly that our bond could not be broken, that we would stay connected forever and always. I don’t logically know how that could be, but as I am fond of saying, there was a time when we thought we’d fall off the edge of the world and get eaten by sea monsters if we sailed too far out into the great blue ocean. The point being we just don’t know everything. So I don’t have to know how it works to decide to believe in something.

Mythical sea monsters notwithstanding, grief can lead to some interesting places. People will talk about needy dogs finding them when they thought they weren’t ready to adopt, and things like that. My colleague Tom had a stray dog run in front of his car on the highway exit ramp not long after his beloved dog Cassie had died at seven years old – even younger than Alec. He and his wife adopted that lucky dog, who seemed to know exactly which car to hurl himself in front of to ensure the best possible outcome. That didn’t happen to me, but a synchronistic series of events led me to learning about a little German shepherd named Teagan, who had survived horrific abuse at the hands of what many would deem a real monster (as opposed to the mythical sea ones), the type of depraved people ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program staff (god bless them) have to hear about every single day.

Teagan immediately after her rescue
Teagan was shot at close range and left for dead in Mississippi. When she was found she was gravely injured, starving, and riddled with parasites. Her front leg was trapped in her collar up to the armpit. With every painful step, the collar cut deeper into her flesh; when she was found, the gash went almost to the bone. Someone most likely deliberately looped her leg through her collar, and then held her down to shoot her. They were probably trying to hit her heart, but they missed. The bullet traveled up her throat and through her jaw, smashing several teeth along the way, before it exited out her eye, which was destroyed and had to be removed. In addition to the gunshot related trauma, she showed obvious signs of neglect. Her legs were crooked and bent, most likely from being kept in a crate that was too small, and her skin was flaking off. Upon rescue, she was severely emaciated and weighed only 15 lbs. Now at a healthy weight of 39 lbs. she is still tiny for a German shepherd. Vets theorized that her growth may have been stunted from early malnutrition and neglect.

Unfortunately, whoever did this to Teagan, a sweet gentle dog who despite everything still loves and trusts people, will never be found. But Teagan was lucky to be found by an animal lover. Although this person could not care for her, and local shelters were reluctant to take her because of the extent of her injuries, little Teagan got lucky for the second time when Janice Wolf of Rocky Ridge Refuge in Arkansas agreed to take her and start the emotional and expensive journey of saving the dog whose life someone tried to extinguish with a bullet.

It was a long road to recovery, and Teagan was at Rocky Ridge Refuge for a year and a half. But now she is healthy and ready for adoption. Oh, did I mention I am adopting her? Yup, me…the same person who swore she would never want another dog after losing Alec. But as it sometimes happens, when I heard Teagan’s story and saw her picture, I just knew: yes, I would adopt this dog. There was no hesitation. I would give her the best home she could ever want. Significantly for me, I know Alec would have loved her.

Teagan playing in the snow

I was supposed to adopt Teagan last October, but a few days before she was to make the trip from Arkansas to Oregon, she became deathly ill with a resistant infection that stumped the veterinarians. She received different medications and began to recover but no one is sure what was wrong with her. It could be that something was carried in with the bullet, fragments of which still remain inside her body because they could not all be removed. I waited eight months for her to be deemed healthy enough to be adopted and that has day finally arrived…almost! As I type this, Teagan is riding in a special transport van through California on her way to me in Portland, Ore. She was picked up in Arkansas on Saturday and has been traveling across the country for the last five days. She is supposed to arrive tomorrow morning and I could not be more excited to finally meet her!

Because of everything Teagan has been through, and all that I have recently lost, I know people are worried about me. My dad cryptically says only: “good luck.” A colleague said she hopes I don’t get my heart broken. What I didn’t tell her was that my heart is already broken. It broke forever when Alec died. But maybe being broken is not a bad thing. Maybe being broken creates cracks that need to be filled, spaces for more love to seep in. Love that would never have found its way to you had you remained whole, had you not suffered. Another thing I knew (as in, hello…obvious!) but had not experienced firsthand was that we never know how much time we have with our loved ones. Not only that, but we cannot know how long we will be here ourselves. One of my grief books said something that I found interesting. It said that while we may pine for the past and grieve for a future without our loved one in it, the truth is we don’t even know if we will be around for these imagined future events. So true! Today is all we have. And if all I have is one day with Teagan, I am going to try my hardest to make it the very best day of her life. I want every day to be wonderful for her. That’s what Alec did for me. I would like to share that. His presence filled my days with joy and happiness. Loving him made ordinary moments transcendent. Alec showed me the fathomless depth of love I was capable of, a love that strikes me dumb in its enormity, even now as I contemplate it. What a shame if I closed down and never shared my love again. As with compassion, we don’t have finite amounts of love, and Alec left me with so much of it. I love Alec still, so much. Even after his death, my love for him has changed and grown in ways I never could have predicted. He is still very much a part of my world; he is woven into the tapestry of my thoughts and feelings, of my deepest hopes and wishes. He will be there with me and Teagan. I don’t know how I know this. I just know there will be three of us.

It is frustrating to know there are so many animals out there who need homes; all are deserving, whether they have been abused or not. But although I cannot save them all, I can definitely make a big difference in one animal’s life, even as Alec still profoundly influences mine. My relationship with him keeps changing, keeps evolving, and a new chapter is about to begin. Teagan and I start our new lives together tomorrow. And it is going to be a very good day.

Posted in ALDF Blog


  1. Posted by susan on July 20th, 2011

    Beautifully written, Nicole. Thanks so much for sharing, and may you and Tegan have many happy years together.

  2. Posted by Elaine P on July 20th, 2011

    Brought a tear to my eye here at work… Please write again and keep us posted about your new adventures with Teagan.

  3. Posted by J. Biondo on July 20th, 2011

    I read your story and it brought tears to my eyes. I am an avid animal lover and I too lost the love of my life, CJ, last summer to feline leukemia. CJ was 3 when he passed away. His death effected me in ways I could never imagine. People would say to me, “It was a cat, stop it”. To me, CJ was not just a cat, he was my child, my best friend and my life. When CJ was diagnosed with Feline Leukemia when he was 6 weeks old, the Vet told me I should euthanize him immediately. I said NO WAY! Right now he is a healthy little kitten and I have hope that he will fight this horrific disease. The Vet then told me that CJ would have a life span of a maximum of two years and on some occasions, maybe longer, which was rare. I chose to walk out of the Vet that day making the best decision of my life because God gave me a blessing that day. CJ lived for 3 years, and 1 and 1/2 months with me and my fiance until he passed on July 11, 2010. I never cried so hard in my life and still cry until this day. He was very special. He was an angel and I truly believe that. I took care of him to the best of my ability. I wouldn’t let anyone touch him in fear of germs with a compromised immune system. The day he passed I felt my heart sink. I never cried like that before in my life and today my heart still remains broken. I think of him always. All day, every day. Sleeping without him is sometimes still very hard. We slept together EVERY NIGHT…with him on my pillow with his neck buried in mine. We had a special bond. A few weeks after he passed, my fiance and I adopted a kitten, I can say, adopting helped with my grief because I knew 1) CJ would have adored her, 2) the kitten helped me to cope with my grief and 3) I was giving a kitten a home who needed one. I took solace in that. Adopting does help with the grieving period but NEVER replaces your lost friend. Thank you for sharing your story. I am glad that you were also blessed with a forever friend.

  4. Posted by SP on July 20th, 2011

    I know exactly how you felt when you lost your beloved Alec. I’ve experienced this several times throughout my life with much loved dogs who have come and gone as time marches on, but none more so than my little mini doxie, Bourbon. All of my pets (dogs and kitties alike) were and are loved and cherished deeply but Bourbon held a special place. He was my constant, my “Bourb” and I loved him more than I thought possible. When I lost him suddenly in 2006 I felt all the same things you did. Reading your story was like reading about myself. Bourb’s death came just a few months after a painful divorce so losing my “constant”, my beloved, wonderful little dog and friend was beyond devastating. I was quite lost, like you, and didn’t know what to do with myself. Unlike you though, I’ve always been a multi-pet household, so I had other furbabies to comfort me as best they could. It still didn’t mend my shattered heart that still aches for my little Bourb from time to time. I suspect it always will. What you did for your beloved Alec was amazing. He was truly blessed to have you as well as you were him. Good Luck with your new friend, Teagan. She looks like a beautiful spirit!

  5. Posted by Janice Wolf on July 20th, 2011


  6. Posted by Dawn D on July 20th, 2011

    I love this so much! It definitely made me cry as I can totally relate to the author’s grief, sorrow, love, loyalty, and compassion. I lost two of my most beloved companions almost 2 years ago this September and the grief I felt was insurmountable, surreal and life changing. I am still heartbroken. Since then, I have adopted two more dogs that were in life or death situations and needed to be rescued immediately. With so many out there in these same circumstances, somehow these were the two that crossed my path and came into my life, and they most certainly rescued me as well. I still mourn for my babies (16 yr. old German Shepherd, Sheba & 14 yr old Pittie mix, Fats), as they were truly my soul mates – and like the author states – they are still with me and have taught me so much more about love, faithfulness and loyalty. Her statement “…being broken creates cracks that need to be filled, spaces for more love to seep in. Love that would never have found its way to you had you remained whole, had you not suffered.” Is so true, as I love my dear Sasha and Delilah, and I am so glad that I was able to provide a loving home for two beautiful souls that deserve so much!

  7. Posted by Dee VH on July 20th, 2011

    I felt the same way when my first cat died, I thought my world ended. I vowed to never have another cat ever. My Mother told me that it was selfish of me, when there were so many other cats out there who needed a loving home. Needless to say that now between my Mother & myself we have 23 cats!

  8. Posted by Dogsense Boutique on July 20th, 2011

    Beautifuly said, i know the depts of your love and pain and wish you and your new friend all the very best.

  9. Posted by Carole Walters on July 20th, 2011

    As I sit here crying my eyes out, I must say that I can relate to what you are going thru. Being a woman who was never able to have children, I replaced the void in my life with dogs. They filled the empty house with joy and made my life complete. After the loss of each one, I would grieve deeply, fill the house with their pictures, so as to keep them close to me, and get another precious life to love & cherish. It is devastating to lose each one, as they are my “children”, but they will always be with me in my heart. The love that they have given me is beyond anything that money could ever buy, and the memories that I have are priceless gems in the crown of my life. If I were a wealthy woman, I would adopt as many dogs as I could, but unfortunately, I can only afford two at the moment. Two of the most precious beings on this earth, as far as I’m concerned. We share every aspect of life, and I cherish every day that we have together, for I know that their time here on earth is much too short. Give thanks for the time that you have with them, and know that you gave Alex the best life possible and as much love as you had to give. It doesn’t take away the pain of losing them, but eventually that excruciating pain becomes just a dull ache, and eventually you will be able to think of him with a smile instead of a tear.

  10. Posted by Jane on July 20th, 2011

    Thank you for sharing b/c all those emotions I have felt on some level. My dog Jake was just diagnosed w/ hemangiosarcoma and every second of my day is thinking about Jake. I haven’t stopped crying since Friday nor do I sleep. I am always looking at Jake seeing if he’s ok…is he eating, drinking, breathing. His life since I got him as a pup has been flashing through my brain. This situation I call an “elephant” nobody wants to talk about it. It is extremely hard and I am just taking one day at a time 😦

  11. Posted by Maira on July 20th, 2011

    Teagan is lucky! And you are a great women! Wish all the best for u 2!!

  12. Posted by Terri Abplanalp on July 20th, 2011

    I made the mistake of reading this at work and I KNEW I shouldn’t ;(…I have lost dogs to illness and to cancer, and I have to say that I can relate on every level…to say it is heartbreaking is to inadequately describe the sense of loss and pain…but you are so right about the capacity to love being so great, and there being so many dogs out there deserving of it. Your blog is beautifully written and really captures so much of what is in my heart. I thank both you and Janice for your unwavering belief in beautiful Teagan. Janice is a goddess in my mind and I know that Teagan now has someone equally as great to spoil her and love her FOREVER….not just in “this” life, but forever.

  13. Posted by Juana Molina Sage on July 20th, 2011

    I truly can say I know exactly what you have gone through and how you felt and feel now. It was almost as tho you were telling my story. I lost my Saint Bernard this past March to cancer just 3 months after her getting the bloat which with the surgery had made it through. We also thought we had more time and thanked God for letting her stay with us, then just 3 months later the bone cancer took her away so fast I didn’t even have time to come to terms with her even having the cancer and she was gone. I do know the love and bond that is at the heart and it doesn’t stop just because life does. They do truly take our hearts to levels we never knew were there. i too adopted another Saint Bernard, i told Lily if there was another baby out there who needed us just like she did to send that baby to me, and low and behold another Saint needed rescuing. You have been truly blessed with your 4 legged babies and so have I . ❤

  14. Posted by nancy on July 20th, 2011

    I’ve been down that road too. My first dog I had for 18 years before I had to put her down. She was my furry soulmate! Keep us posted with all your new found adventures with Teegan.

  15. Posted by Mary on July 21st, 2011

    What a beautiful story, it brought tears to my eyes ! Yes, there are monsters who will do evil things to animals (I hope karma AND the law gets them) but there are also people like you, Nicole, this is why many of these precious creatures still trust humans after all they have been through. I hope you will write more & let us know what happens with Teagan.

  16. Posted by Sarah Luick on July 21st, 2011

    Who among us who have had a special dog in their life (mine was “Saint” Rex), are not touched by your remembrances of your connections with Alec, and the pure love and devotion you gave to the relationship. I hope you have met Teagan by now. What a lucky doggie life awaits her. The rescue group must feel blessed you came to help Teagan. And, as you know, Alec will be in your heart as you enter your relationship with Teagan. Your blog says so much about what is good about human animals – guiding principles that you and your colleagues at ALDF all possess in abundance.

  17. Posted by Reagan on July 21st, 2011

    YAY. Can’t wait to follow this new chapter of your life!!

  18. Posted by Karol on July 21st, 2011

    Nicole, you are a hero. I can only imagine how your heart broke at losing your beloved German Shepard. Sometimes the only way to fill the hole in your heart is by getting another dog. Bless you, you wonderful girl.

  19. Posted by Stephanie Atwood on July 21st, 2011

    Thank you, thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I am so happy for the place that you are now – still with Alec, an sharing your heart again with someone who can really use some love. I cried through this whole post, and my own little family of 3 rescue terriers snuggled up and kissed my tears away. This is a story I will forever remember.

  20. Posted by Jeanette Holmgren on July 22nd, 2011

    That was so heartbreaking and yet so wonderful. I know what it is like to loose a loved one and having to learn to live with the pain, loss, sorrow and deep wounds in ones heart. And yet we can’t stop being alive, because there are so many innocent souls out there who need our help. Even though a few animals get loving homes and a better life, I still can’t stop feeling sad because they even had to go through it at all. All people who help and adopt dogs in need are such wonderful humans. May the two of you have a long and happy life together.

  21. Posted by Patricia on July 22nd, 2011

    It is so wonderful to know there are people in the world like you Nicole. My beautiful sweet “Buddy” was murdered in May and the unbelievable hurt and anger is with me still every day. After being shot, he drug his poor body home before he finally lost his battle,after surgery to try to prepare the damage. I have had many animals that I’ve recused and have lost to old age, but this horrific act is with me every day and I know the anger for the person who took Buddy’s life will never go away. I lost my 16 yr old shihtzu Rhett 2 weeks later. Rhett’s sister Scarlett was diagnosed with Vestibular disease a month later..a middle ear infection that has devastating side effects…I have a pet cemetery in my back yard and believe that they all will be there to greet me on the “other side”. I love what you said about the cracks in the broken heart being there so more love can enter..I will never stop welcoming those precious angels into my life no matter how many times my heart has to break…and now I feel better knowing that there is even more room now for more love for another…Thank you Nicole

  22. Posted by Joanne on July 22nd, 2011

    Thanks so much for sharing this story. I, too, am facing a devastating tragedy….at the hands of a Vet. She overdosed my dog with anesthesia and spent the next two weeks being syringe fed and couldn’t swallow. I had to let him go with whatever dignity he had left. Your story, your grief, everything you said struck a chord with me. Losing a special needs pet is one of the hardest things to go thru. I applaud you for having the courage and love to continue on and help another animal. I hope someday I can do the same…right now the pain is unbearable.

  23. Posted by Victoria on July 22nd, 2011

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can identify with it for I lost my beloved doxie. Very unexpected, I asked God to take me with him. Depressed , house bound etc. I don’t think that I will ever recover completely. Since then I have rescued two more doxie, and love them dearly, but…..I am still waiting to be with my Scooter.

  24. Posted by vickie on July 24th, 2011

    I know how you feel …grieving takes awhile to go through all the steps…you worked your way out…I had to keep going because I had many more animals to care for…I hope your new dog spends the best days of his life with you..Take comfort in that….

  25. Posted by S.K. on July 25th, 2011

    Absolutely beautiful story…thank you so very much for sharing it!! In addition to the love you possess, I am in awe of your lyrical writing ability. Spellbinding use of words. Your story truly brought tears to my eyes.

  26. Posted by Tom on July 27th, 2011

    Beautiful blog Nicole. Absolutely beautiful.

  27. Posted by Carla (Sage) Benoist on August 10th, 2011

    Very beautiful blog entry Nicole. My heart is .. nourished by the beautiful way that you loved and love Alec and by the breadth of understanding you gained through loving him and since you lost his physical presence. Really rings so true to me — thank you for sharing! I’ve been adopting and sharing my life with Greyhounds for many years, having adopted my first Greyhound, Harley Stardancer in part as a companion to my little German Shepherd, Joanna Darkwind. He saved her life and remade my life and consciousness and together they will always be my heart and soul, for eternity. I have found that a new adoption never, ever replaces the ones who have gone before — rather it’s a tribute to those who are with you in spirit. I think that sharing your life with Teagan is a perfect, wonderful tribute to Alec and exactly the right step as you continue to love and grow. I will look forward to hearing about your journey. Walk in Beauty, both of you. Blessings!

  28. Posted by Linda MacDonald Glenn on August 23rd, 2011

    I have felt that same grief that you have, Nicole — like walking around with huge hole in your heart, and feeling like you will never ever recover from this. I couldn’t imagine life without Oscar. Like you, eventually I found the emotional room to adopt a few rescues. Although there is and always will be a special place in my heart for my first four-legged furry ‘child’, the ones that have followed have given me great joy — and contributed significantly to meaning & purpose in my life. Thank you for sharing this…and bless your generous soul.

  29. Posted by Linda MacDonald Glenn on August 23rd, 2011

    I have felt that same grief that you have, Nicole — like walking around with huge hole in your heart, and feeling like you will never ever recover from this. I couldn’t imagine life without Oscar. Like you, eventually I found the emotional room to adopt a few rescues. Although there is and always will be a special place in my heart for my first four-legged furry ‘child’, the ones that have followed have given me great joy — and contributed significantly to meaning & purpose in my life. Thank you for sharing this…and bless your generous soul.

  30. Posted by Steven on August 23rd, 2011

    Hi Nicole, You are awesome. Live long and prosper!! Steven

  31. Posted by Lisa Levesque on August 23rd, 2011

    In June of 2009, I lost the love of my life ~ Emma. Emma was a beautiful mantle marked Great Dane, and she was my life. I still recall the day I brought her to meet my parents, and my Mom answered the door. I was holding my 9 week old bundle of 21 pounds on my hip toddler style, and my Mom exclaimed, “You could not be glowing any more, if you have given birth to that puppy yourself!” I absolutely adored her, every thing was about her, for her, and no decision was made without thought to Emma’s wishes. I had Emma’s love for 9 years, and the final year we battled her Lymphoma. Her oncologist told me that we amy win many battles, but the gfinal one would be lost…one year was what we likely had. Emma did very well on chemo…never a sick day…, and she seemed almost to revert back to a young puppy. Every day was about quality of life, so I monitored her very carefully. When she came out of remission after about 8 1/2 months on chemo, the oncologist told me that we had 3 months at best. I had a hard time getting my head around the reality that my most precious gift was going away far too soon. We had only 10 short weeks and I had to let her go. I sat on the floor with her lying in my lap, and I felt her heart beat its last. Truth be told, if I could ahve willed myself to die at that moment I would have gladly, as I could not imagine life without her. I still miss her every day, and at times I feel as if her spirit is paying me a visit (I know some might frown on that, but I believe it is so). Emma will always be in my heart.

  32. Posted by diane lindsay on August 23rd, 2011

    Thank you so much!

  33. Posted by Pat Bryan, Southern Pines on August 23rd, 2011

    I am so glad you have found another animal that needs you. You obviously have a great deal of love to give. I have lost so many, but I honor them by getting another abused or abandoned animal from a shelter and giving it a good home. It is not called “replacing,” as one cannot replace a beloved pet. That’s why I call it “honoring,” because I think that’s what the pet I lost would want me to do.

  34. Posted by Janet in Cambridge on August 23rd, 2011

    It is quite a common response to vow never to have another animal again. Fortunately for us animal lovers, it’s also virtually impossible to live without a companion. I’m so glad you were able to see that Teagan needed you. That allowed you to help her and help yourself. The heart has so much room for love that we can share that love many creatures in our lives. Loving a new creature does not diminish the love you had for any other creature in your life. It only adds. For me, the joy comes from being able to think back on how wonderful my companions were, how they made me laugh, how they got me through all the tough times, how good their lives were, how much I was able to love them, and I smile. I would never have not wanted them in my life to avoid the pain of losing them. “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

  35. Posted by jenny on August 23rd, 2011

    you have just described the way i was feeling when i lost one of my greyhounds back in may. i was heart broken i sobbed and sobbed i still miss her i always will. its so upsetting

  36. Posted by Maria on August 23rd, 2011

    Thank you Nicole for writing this… you can see you’ve touched many people with your story. I am about to enter into the most devastating time I can imagine. Soon, I’ll have to let the love of my life, Ellie, go and I cannot imagine what my life will be, without her here with me. Your words give me hope as I’m about to enter a time of no hope. I will try to remember your thoughts and experiences during this devastating time soon to come. Thank you again for sharing this with all of us. I’ll be thinking of you and Teagan;-)

  37. Posted by Melinda Shaw on August 23rd, 2011

    Please keep us posted about Teagan. I certainly empathize with Nicole about the loss of her sweet boy. I really wanted to die when my Lab died precipitously from hemolytic anemia: we couldn’t figure out why she got it and we couldn’t control it. The grief never really leaves. Bless you for giving your heart to your new girl.

  38. Posted by lyn on August 23rd, 2011

    Thank you for your sharing your story, I couldn’t stop crying. I too lost a very special dog Jack a couple of years ago and to this day I still choke up. I have other animals, all very special and loved, however Jack was just my little pal/ Than after about 6 mos. I went onto a website to virtually foster dogs. And there they were with a BIG captioned heading ABOUT TO DIE. A breeder in Missouri had just dropped off to the local shelter a litter of puppies and the mama because the market had dropped off. And the shelter was about to euthanize them. Well to make a long story short. I called the shelter and started the adoption proceedings and not a moment too soon. The little mama was to be euthanized the next day. It took me about 3 months to finally get her because she was halfway across the country. She has been a great addition to my family and is really coming out of shy shell ( she lived in a cage all of her life.)I know that my Jack would have liked her and is happy we are helping another dog out of a sad situation as we did with him.And she has helped me, she makes me laugh again. I won’t say good luck. Because it sounds negative. I will say I hope you have a great life with your new companion Teagen and you are an inspiration to us all.

  39. Posted by Kerin McCurdy on August 23rd, 2011

    I am so sorry for your loss!!! I have a Shepard, Lab mix named Elmer and he is my soul mate, angel, and best friend too. Your article was written so beautifully, I cried the whole way through. Please remember that your Alec will always be with you in your heart and in the many wonderful memories you made together, never forget that!!! God Bless you both.

  40. Posted by KIM HARKIN on August 23rd, 2011

    WOW…..God has graced you with another german shepard to love and you have opened your heart to receive her…..I dont know whether to cry happy tears or do the happy dance. God bless you journey together. I started fostering this year….3 dogs and 2 kittens so far. The MOST important work I have ever done….(Although I was the Tax Director, CPA for a billion dollar SEC company…..never a fulfilling as my new job!) Best of luck to you. You are an amazing woman!

  41. Posted by Sandra Guillot on August 23rd, 2011

    That was a beautiful story and well written. I had lost a cat that I had since a kitten, so I know how you felt. God bless you both. Sandy

  42. Posted by Lori on August 24th, 2011

    I followed Teagan’s story at Rocky Ridge! So happy to learn who the person is that’s adopting her 🙂

  43. Posted by M. Gail Laub on August 24th, 2011

    Your story is the first I’ve ever read that echoed so completely my heartache, grief, and utter sense of loss when my beloved cat died after struggling with a brain tumor for 8 months. My life was so wrapped up with taking care of her that after she died I was lost as to what to do with the evening when I came home from work. Weekends were horrible. I was heart broken and hollow, and had no one who understood my grief. “How can you be so upset about a cat?” Enduring your anguish in silence to avoid ridicule is a crushing extra burden. How can you explain? For all of our 13 years together, Faux Pas’s nightly ritual was to step her front feet up onto my left thigh and then turn around and lie down with her body practically fused to my leg. Looking into her eyes, you saw intelligence almost human. She helped me raise my son, showing him that animals understand an apology for an inadvertent tread on a tail or foot, how to think of the welfare and happiness of others besides yourself, and the wonderful rewards of accepting an animal into your life because of its needs, not your own convenience. She was brought to me as a tiny kitten covered in tar and fleas, with raw footpads from walking on hot pavement. “Thanks a lot!” I told my “friends.” I had just taken in a cat two weeks before, an absolutely beautiful one that had been abandoned by her divorcing owners when they left. This kitten could not have compared more unfavorably. I had never seen a homelier or more aggravating animal. I named her Faux Pas because she was certainly someone’s big mistake. It took weeks to trim the tar off of her as her fur grew out and she was destructive enough for ten kittens. She shredded my living room sheers and ate my plants (no poisonous ones in the house) and was just generally a pain in the neck. I tried to find another home for her several times but the prospective takers would take one look at her and say she was not exactly what they had in mind. Thank goodness! By the time I’d had her a year, I was shocked to realize I wouldn’t have given her up for a million dollars. It’s been twenty years since she died but her name is part of my email address. She’ll never be just a memory. I’ve always had pets since then, some who were endearing in their own way and others that I loved just because I love animals. I’ve never gone out and chosen a pet…..they find me. There must be a sign in my yard, visible only to cats, that says, “If you’re lost, sick, or injured, and especially if you need some really expensive vet care, come to this lady’s house.” I can’t say no when I’m sure I’m probably their only hope of rescue. I still had a fractured heart though. Then three years ago I found another tiny kitten, so young she thinks I’m her mother. I adore this precious cat that talks to me all the time and thinks she belongs wherever I am. She moved into my heart lock, stock, and barrel without usurping anyone else’s place. The wonderful thing about love is that it can expand to encircle the new without replacing the old.

  44. Posted by Judy on August 24th, 2011

    I just read your story yesterday on the ALDF e-letter. It really is a heartwarming story, although it did bring tears to my eyes. I remember reading about Teagan a few months back when her story first came to light. I couldn’t believe what I was reading—-the savage cruelty to an innocent animal. I don’t think Teagan could have found a better forever home. My current and last two rescues were wrecks of animals. Belle, my current furkid, and the last two are perpetually at the vet. One time, when I was waiting to see the vet, the one tech said to me “God knows who to send the sick and broken ones to.” Looking back at all the furkids we’ve been guardians to, and reading your story, the only thing I can say is there is a lot of truth in that statement.

  45. Posted by Dominick on August 24th, 2011

    Hi Nicole…Thanks for sharing your story..all I want to say is it takes a special person to do all you did for Alec..Teagan is a lucky dog to have you..would love to be able to read how Teagan does!

  46. Posted by Lee Ann on August 25th, 2011

    So beautifully written. I too believe, that all of the “souls” that have left before us are always with us. Their lessons are forever ingrained in our lives. Let Alec guide you and I have no doubt you and Teagan will continue his courageous & loving legacy. Bless you all ! Keep us posted on your new “love”. It goes without saying – treasure it, for their lives are so short. You are so fortunate to have found each other !

  47. Posted by Jane Kyser on August 25th, 2011

    Thank you for articulating the feelings we share so beautifully. I truly believe that the spirit in Alec’s form will always be with you. Cherish the memories you create everyday…..

  48. Posted by Sharyn Shubert on August 25th, 2011

    I have been exactly where you have been and are. You are blessed to have such wonderful dog friends in your life. Enjoy every moment, for they are all precious. Bless you for saving another dog in need. Alex would surely approve.

  49. Posted by Stefani Olsen on August 25th, 2011

    Thank you for your very beautiful article. Many people don’t understand that an animal can truly be the love of our lives, but I do know, because my Toonces was the love of mine. After a negligent vet left him with his son who overdosed my cat with insulin, he was left brain damaged. I tried hard to nurse him back, hoping his brain would regrow neurons. But he only got so far. It was the most heartbreaking experience of my life, and it made me realize how many veterinarians really are callous and also opened my eyes to animal cruelty in so many ways. I did a website to tell his story ( I too have tried to figure out how to continue our relationship. He is a daily inspiration to me, and my love for him has taught me what is really important.

  50. Posted by Janice on August 26th, 2011

    What a beautiful tribute to Alec and that the love you had for him was so massive you were able to channel that overflow for Teagan and show her love as it should be shown to all precious furbabies..i see her smiling in that picture with her one eye..I am so glad you and Alec’s spirit found her…All of my furbabies that have passed on remain in my heart and will be there til i take my last breath..

  51. Posted by SusanD on August 27th, 2011

    Wow. This is the very first article I have ever read that truly reflects the depth of grief that I felt when the love of my life, my feline soulmate, my beloved cat, Champy, passed away at age 16 over fourteen years ago. I heard the usual cliches, “he’s at the Bridge,” “it was his time,” “you’ll get over it” — I never did, never will. Fourteen years. Yesterday. An eternity. In the blink of an eye, he went from a tiny, abandoned, sickly bundle of bones and fur to a beautiful specimen of feline physical perfection to an elderly gentleman with multiple health issues. I thought he would be okay, he had to be, it was unthinkable that he could leave without me one day. That horrible day came on April 14, 1997, when he passed away at the local Veterinary Emergency Clinic. Four days later, his lifelong kitty companion, Brandy, also passed away. Although her kidneys were failing, we believe she sensed that something terrible had happened to her dear friend and didn’t want to live without him, either, so abruptly followed him. Without the support of my special husband, family and friends, I don’t believe I could have survived this long. Although we have three cats now, two wonderful shelter rescues and a beautiful black cat rescued from the now-closed St. Louis pound and who is my pride and joy, my beloved Champy was, is and always will be, the one and only love of my life. Bless Alec. His story will continue to inspire and help others cope with devastating loss.

  52. Posted by Rhonda Hodgman on August 30th, 2011

    So heartwretching beautiful … tears well as I look at all the urns of my beloved furrbabies sitting by their pictures and collars on the wall unit … I still cry and it has been almost 12 years since the first. It seems I can’t stop tho, tonight I am picking up another throwaway that I re-homed almost a year ago, he just isn’t working out for the family and I need to work with him, don’t know if he’ll be re-homed or stay…one day at a time. I also feel your grief and anxiety regarding an animal with cancer, my beautiful girl, Mescal, was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma in 1/10, she is still with me and fighting, we fight together as I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 10/10. We will never stop loving even tho it hurts so bad sometimes.

  53. Posted by Hank on September 4th, 2011

    Enjoy your new friend. She is lucky to have you and you her. It is a sad world, but I keep the faith. May God forgive those who are cruel in this world. Bless!

  54. Posted by Ulla on September 5th, 2011

    Bless you – BEAUTIFUL! People like you shines like stars of hope in the dark night of horror. I wish you the best of luck with Teagan. She will give back to you tenfold for all that you give her – as Alec did. The animals are the true masters of showing us humans what´s really important in life. Your empathy and grand heart is a signpost for us all.

  55. Posted by linden method review on September 18th, 2011

    Sad to hear that your dog died and how painful life was after that. It’s not always easy to lose a pet that was everything for you for long.

  56. Posted by Stephanie on September 28th, 2011

    Nicole, your story brought me to tears but at the same time it inspired me…Alec was a beautiful dog and I know exactly what you are saying in your blog…our animals are our children and the unconditional love is what makes it that way…Your pain is felt with the loss of your pretty boy Alec but knowing that Teagan has a loving mommy such as yourself she is a lucky girl…My oldest dog Abby is 13 and may possibly be facing liver problems and/or gall bladder cancer…I have spent a lot of my money on keeping her as healthy as possible with liver meds and prescription food for her bladder stones…when I was told that she may have gall bladder cancer I asked “how will I know when she is dying” and my vet said that her eyes will turn yellow and she will not eat right and start losing weight…as you are, I am a big animal lover and my beloved Abby is still with us but the day she leaves me I will be tore up for a long time as you were with Alec…I am hoping this is a misdiagnosis but its no guarantee…you have inspired me and just know that your feelings for Alec are genuinely felt by me cause I feel the same for my Abby…she is a min. schnauzer and I have had her since she was 7 wks old..I just dont think I can bear to lose her…I am trying to prepare myself but I dont think it will totally prepare me for the day I will never see her again…I have decided to have her cremated when she does die so that I can have her with me forever…Bless your heart and enjoy your baby girl Teagan…I hope she brings you joy as I am sure she will…if you have any tips for me on healing from a beloved pets death please friend me on facebook at stephaniedeoperehouston or email me….Love and Hugs, Stephanie

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Filed under Grief and loss, Teagan

Cookies from heaven?

Something kind of weird happened the other day. I was hanging up a skirt in my closet when one of Ali’s cookies fell onto the floor. I was shocked as I always am by some unexpected reminder of my former life, a life where my pockets were always full of dog biscuits and little crumbs, but instead of crying my immediate reaction was puzzlement. I couldn’t figure out where it had dropped from. I probably looked pretty comical standing there with my mouth hanging open looking around the closet. The skirt had no pockets, and the other skirt sharing its hanger I had not worn in a long time and could not remember ever having worn to walk Ali, though it’s possible. But I also have moved twice since Alec died, both times leaving my clothes on hangers and tossing them haphazardly into the back of my van, so I would think even if I had a cookie in there it would have shaken loose by now. Plus I didn’t even really touch it, the other skirt with the pockets I mean, so even if there was something wedged in there I don’t see how it came loose just then. I didn’t think I had touched anything, other than lightly draping my little stretchy skirt over the hanger. And nothing else on the nearby hangers had pockets. It was just bizarre.

Wherever it dropped from, it made me smile, and I picked it up and put it on the table next to my magic words collage. But even weirder, when I went back into the closet later that afternoon a second cookie appeared on the floor. Very strange! I left this one where it was (it’s still on the floor in there) and took a photo of it.

Mystery cookie

Something else that made me smile this week (see, my posts aren’t always super duper depressing!) was this card I came across in the grocery store. So I plunked down five dollars and bought it for myself. I really like it. I also propped it up next to my Ali collage.

I love you Ali.


Filed under Grief and loss, LOVE, Love after death

The light.

Dear Alec,

In some ways, everything reminds me of you. I remember driving home one Saturday afternoon a couple months ago and the sunlight filtering through the trees was so gorgeous that it punched me in the gut with how much I missed you, and I started crying. I know, that sounds like a John Denver song. When you were here, sunshine didn’t make me cry. But things are different now. The point is sad things, happy things, unrelated things, relevant things…all remind me of you. Sometimes more starkly than others but it is always there. You are always there. And on that drive I guarantee you were already on my mind, but the golden sunlight triggered a flood of emotions. I don’t know why. I just kept thinking how beautiful it was, and that thought led me directly to you.

The sun: formerly non tear-inducing phenomenon.

Beautiful things, sad things. You are everywhere, in my air, my breath, tangled in my hair and in my dreams at night. Sometimes I picture you walking next to me. You don’t limp anymore. You’re like you were when your body worked perfectly. I don’t need to look at pictures. I can see you. I mean, I pretend.

The way I miss you reminds me of the way I heard grief conceptualized once that stuck with me. It was grief as music: sometimes a symphony and other times background music, but always playing. This metaphor is akin to acute and subtle grief (intense distress vs. the relative calm moments in between). So it is with these reminders. It’s like I’m always thinking of you in the back of my mind. Sometimes it just overpowers me more than at other times. I have also heard grief described as an ocean with waves of different sizes, ebbing and flowing, changing but always there. In and out. Beauty and sadness. Life and death. Love and loss. Me and you.

Everything I say is you in parentheses. I don’t know what that means. But I wrote it down a while ago and it felt true.

When daylight savings time happened in March, I became (more) depressed (than usual). It took me a minute to recognize that the longer days had triggered this more pronounced sense of melancholy. This is when we were supposed to start swimming again after work. The longer days signified all the things I had looked forward to doing with you, but never would again. Triggers come from the strangest places (daylight savings time? this is what throws me over the edge?), but they aren’t really that strange. Nothing is strange in grief. Because everything is strange, unfamiliar, wrong. I’m so tired of crying. I’m so tired of me without you.

It’s a funny coincidence, just last night I read in one of my books (Grieving Mindfully – highly recommended, especially for people with busy brains who feel everything too deeply, like me) that changes in the length of the days can re-trigger grief. So once again, I find I am not alone in my experiences, as bewildering as they may seem; others have been there before and others will be after. We just don’t always talk about it.

Truthfully, after a brief hopeful period around when I did my “magic words” collage and imagined connecting with you, I have been feeling so depressed. Then I thought about the calendar. This time last year was the happy calm before the storm. No wonder I am anxious and feeling sadder than usual. I know the calendar is an arbitrary timekeeper, but does something inside remind us of what we were doing 365 days ago? Do our cells remember when the light changes? I don’t know. But March of last year was the last time I was truly happy. Everything changed in early April. Then I had a brief, all too brief, period of happiness, of elation in fact, when I got the news that it wasn’t cancer. I would learn in May that was not true. A false diagnosis. The lab results had missed a cancer so aggressive it didn’t need any help taking hold, let alone that six-week head start during which we could have started treatment. A mistake. Oops. This month. One year ago. Everything fell apart. Just a calendar. But the light reminds us when we try to forget.

Alec, it’s funny that the almost overwhelming urge to write to you came over me today, out of the blue. I understand people doing that with dead people, but we never talked, not in words, when you were alive, because well, you’re a dog. So why do I want to write to you, as if you could read? I don’t know. Of course I always wished we could communicate better. I always wished I could perfectly understand you, and you, me. Is that why? Is it that my blog feels unfocused, rambling, too sad, with no audience? Maybe with you as my imaginary audience I can gain some of the focus I lamented losing in the magic words post, one of the many things I lost in the fire of your death. These are called secondary losses, and there were so many that came with losing you. Parts of myself burned away, gone like smoke. Whole pieces of my soul gone missing. Important ones.

That’s all for now. If I have any hope to keep writing, and I feel I must, that it’s important somehow, then I must stop over-editing and second guessing myself and just write, let it be raw and unfocused, at least for now. Perhaps out of chaos will come clarity. I have time to see if that’s true, I suppose. With you gone, sweetie, there is not much else that’s really been pressing.

Theme song for this post is “The Light, pt. 2” by Mason Jennings:

Across the gardens, across the schoolyards
Across the chapels where lovers have leapt
Across the table in our old kitchen
Across the cities where our future slept
It’s the light that’s changing
It’s the light that’s changing
It’s the light that’s changing
It’s only the light


Filed under Grief and loss, Love after death