We take many good things in our life for granted and only realize the significance of them when they are gone. I still remember that day, a lovely fall day, with a clear sky and bright sun, and seemed that nothing can interrupt its tranquility and peacefulness. My mom, my dog Leo and I went for a morning walk, as we did for the last twelve years. We seemed to know every step ahead of us and anticipated Leo’s reaction on different triggers along our way. The triggers were usually the neighbourhood’s dogs, squirrels and children on skateboards passing by. He was the smartest dog in the world, but who does not have weaknesses? Suddenly, Leo pulled the leash so strong that my mom almost tripped and then he immediately collapsed on his side right on the neighbour’s lawn. “Run quickly home, maybe dad is still there, we need to bring him home,” exclaimed mom giving me a direction to act. I did not ask my usual questions: “What happened? Why? Are you sure?” I listened and ran as quickly as I can, I knew it had to be very fast, I knew it was serious.
Leo was sick for a while. He had a brain tumor and prescribed tons of medications. He always was a good listener, who seemed to understand the people language, he was a human in a dog’s appearance. I don’t remember him being a puppy as he was a year older than me. I grew up with him always feeling him nearby. I was always told by my parents: “Look at Leo, he is so smart, he knows how to do it”, which, probably, implied that I didn’t. My father was about leaving for work, we quickly jumped in the car and found my mom a block away on the same spot next to Leo. He was still breathing. He was also alive when we arrived to the vet emergency and being helped by the clinic’s staff to relocate the dog to the doctor’s office. We went inside, but the last moment I returned to the waiting room. Something told me that we will never be together again, it will never be the same.
I don’t remember anything about what happened then, how long I was sitting in that room, what I was reading or doing. I remember a strong bitter taste of guilt spreading from my mouth to all over my body. I felt guilty that I was not there with him, not there together with my parents. I was weak and selfish, I was a bad friend, I was not there for him. My thoughts were interrupted by my parents slowly approaching me in my refuge. My mom looked very distraught and my dad was crying openly, loudly, not covering his emotions. Mom was driving us home in silence. It was October 10, 2014.
At home for the rest of the day we did not talk about the morning. Everyone pretended to be very busy with their routine. We seemed to keep this routine for many days or weeks. I noticed a few times mom rushed to the spot in the kitchen where the dog’s bowl was before, must have heard the dog asking for water. I’ve seen my dad looking at the hook in the foyer where the dog’s leash was probably missing his walking drills.
I read somewhere about the five stages of grieving. What stage was I in? What stage were my parents in? Did we have to be in the same stage or everyone deals with the grieving on their own? I asked my mom a few times if we will get another dog. “There are no dogs like him”, – was her answer. Or she could say something like “It’s good to be dogless for a while”. Was she serious? Was she grieving? Did I grieve enough and how much is enough? Certainly, it is very personal for everyone and I am sure that the five stage model of grief is working differently for each of us. I went through denial when I wanted to hide away from the news and like an ostrich put my head in the sand defending myself from reality. I never was angry or depressed, but I was sad and lonely, because no one could fill that emptiness that I was experiencing. I learn to accept and let it go as I understood that death is not reversible. We cannot change the cycle of life, but we can cherish every moment of it. Leo and I had so many great years together. He looks at me from every photo that was taken in those days. He was a part of me and he is gone. But I am grateful for every minute that he was with me.