Grieving a Best Friend

It’s hard losing a dog; it’s harder losing one of your best friends.

Not many people know you as intimately as your pet does. Animals have unique intuitions that can be much more expansive and profound than we give them credit for. Abby, my 14-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, understood me better than most of my closest human relationships.

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Research has shown that canines can communicate with their eyes, and we were so in tune with each others’. With just a look, I could tell how she was feeling, and in natural dog fashion, she somehow could tell the same for me.

The way she made eye contact with me across a room full of people oftentimes told me she was uninterested in making new friends, a characteristic she developed as she grew older, and so she would find comfort sitting on my lap– even at the dog park. She would tilt her head back so the tufts of fur on her head grazed my cheek as I scratched behind her ears just how she liked. Abby didn’t nuzzle people often, and my family would remark how much she took to me. Obviously, the feeling was mutual. She shared a special kind of love.

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It’s a common joke that people tend to look similar to their pets, and it would never be a surprise when friends noted how much Abby and I acted alike. We shared that same derpy facial expression, carelessness for cleanliness, and honest yet subtle expressions of love. Our interactions were so in sync despite being completely different species. She was my best adventure buddy– from grocery stores to beaches, she joined me wherever she could.

But we weren’t close for how long we spent with each other. She didn’t explore with me too often past our daily neighborhood walks or brief car rides. The majority of her life, her brother tagged along on every trip. Abby and I weren’t particularly close because we spent an unusual amount of time together. Out of all the pets I’ve had, there was a rarity about my connection with Abby that simply felt different.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.” — Milan Kundera

When my depression was at its worst, she would know when her love was needed. Always arriving at the perfect time, Abby would scale cross our home, climb the steep stairs, and gently scratch at my door. Even when I couldn’t get out of bed, she would keep knocking. At the grasp of the handle, I would find her curled up leaning against the door, patiently waiting for a grateful hug from me.

Even though she couldn’t help me like my therapist did, she understood her presence comforted me in ways nobody else could. I vividly recall one evening after my emotions had calmed, I was lying on my bedroom floor when Abby laid herself down across from me. While Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” played from my laptop, her eyes relaxed mine. Our relationship became immeasurably more strong after that night.

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Leaving her was the hardest part about going to college. I could talk to my friends and family on the phone, but this was one thing I was never certain Abby understood about our relationship. Does she know why I’m leaving? Does she trust that I’m coming back? Does she remember how much I love her?

Dogs are minor angels, and I don’t mean that facetiously. They love unconditionally, forgive immediately, are the truest of friends, willing to do anything that makes us happy, etc. If we attributed some of those qualities to a person we would say they are special. If they had all of them, we would call them angelic.” – Jonathan Carroll

It broke my heart to hear how she would scratch on my door when I was gone. I missed her just as much (probably even more) as she missed me, but I could only hope that she knew that my absence from her wasn’t something I necessarily could control. I would have taken her anywhere if circumstances allowed.

Seeing her when I returned to my parent’s home was my top priority. Every time, I felt reality’s sand drip from our hourglass. I didn’t have much time with her left; she grew noticeably more weak and crotchety each visit. My limited days back home capped my time with her, but it’s hard to show a dog how much you love and have missed them in only a day or two, especially when that feeling encompasses you all other hours. Her body wasn’t able to carry herself up the stairs anymore. She became more sensitive to temperature, so she preferred the cool downstairs tile over my room’s blankets. We couldn’t cuddle as much as we used to, but it warmed my aching heart every time she tried.

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The last time I saw her was in February, two months before her passing, due to an unintentional flight mishap that landed me in California for a couple days. Abby could barely walk and had occasional muscle spasms; seeing her so weak drove me to tears. While my father predicted she still had about six months or so left, my gut told me this was the last time I would see her. That goodbye was hard in its own ways.

I wish I had been able to speak with her during our last moments together. That’s a universally common regret or wish for many in regard to lost loved ones. Imaginably because of this experience, I finally am beginning to understand the pure fragility of life. I’m not quite capable of applying this same truth to my closest family and friends, but this may be the first catalyst toward that consideration. All in all, we deserve to hold each other a little closer.

Perhaps that’s the hardest part about losing a pet: it’s impossible to know how much they know. How many times do I kiss and hug her before she really gets how much I love her? Does she even know what those motions mean, or is she just awkwardly humoring me?

A dog is the only thing on Earth that will love you more than you love yourself.” — Josh Billings

At the same time, in my heart, I know she knew. Abby’s unconditional care was the most innocently simple version of love I’ve experienced so far, thus I have no doubt in my mind that she understands how much I care about her back. She taught me what love actually is, after all.

A relationship with a dog surpasses all words; there is a magic in this companionship that many human connections never get to build. Dogs are angels because they show humans how to live in the present, how to live to the fullest, and how to live honestly in abiding love for others. Canines are inspiring role models for humans because they are insistently joyful, even for the smallest details, and are deeply loyal to those they care for. We can all learn from the humble grace dogs demonstrate; I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Abby’s guidance.

Humans are blessed as the recipients of the pure, unconditional love dogs selflessly give. I am grateful beyond words for the light Abby brought into my world, and I can rest at ease knowing she felt the same, even in her last moments. All the goodness she brought into my life will continue on through my own actions toward others: she taught me how love is truly boundless and blind– even strangers could use a friendly hello.

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So thank you, Abby, for fulfilling a role in my life I didn’t know I needed, and playing the best supporting character I could have ever imagined. Thank you for being an unwaveringly radiant source of zeal, love, and amity. Thank you for always cheering me up, even when you had no idea what was wrong. Thank you for the goofy, quirky snorts every time you got excited because your snout was too short; you were unlike any other dog. This world is a better place because of the joy you gave to it.

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