It all started with Buddy. He was the first step in a long journey to becoming a pet loss and grief therapist.
Buddy was the first dog I ever owned. When I adopted this little guy at 8 months he was all black, not a white hair on him. Over time I learned to love his "white mask" and sprinkles of white hairs throughout his short, shiny black coat.
Buddy was my first true experience with unconditional love. We did EVERYTHING together. I carried him everywhere - I had Buddy before doggie carries were a thing. Buddy wasn't just a dog, he was my best friend, biggest supporter and love of my life.
Buddy is one of the major reasons I am alive and can smile today. He held my hand through the worst day of my life and the traumatic years that followed. My 28 year old brother passed away, unexpectedly, and my world completely collapsed. One month later, while driving on the Long Island Expressway, I was hit by a truck and hospitalized for a week in intensive care. I had become septic from an infection and the outlook wasn't good. I knew I had to fight because no one could take care of Buddy like me, his mom.
Buddy kept me afloat through all the physical, emotional and mental pain that had become my life. I was blessed with Buddy for 15 amazing years. As Buddy aged he began showing increasing signs of dementia and on my wedding night (yes, you read that correctly, my wedding night!) I got the call, "You need to come home, Buddy isn't doing well. Meet us at the emergency room."
My new husband and I tore off our wedding attire and with a tiara still bobby-pinned to my head we rushed to the ER. Buddy was so restless and scared, wrapped in his tan blanket with white paw prints. I couldn't comfort him. It was time but I wasn't ready. Instantly, 15 years felt like an incredibly short period of time. But I owed him this. When I was at my worst I used to whisper in Buddy's ear, "Don't you leave me" and he didn't.Now it was my turn to be the strong one. I pulled myself together and held Buddy close to my chest, constantly repeating my love and gratitude for him.Then I did it. I bent down and whispered in Buddy's ear one more time, but this time I whispered, "It's ok to to leave me now. I will be ok. I promise." As I made my promise, Buddy closed his eyes and peacefully went to sleep in my arms.
As we made arrangements for his cremation and return to us, everything seemed like it was in slow motion. Did this really just happen? Is my best friend of 15 years really dead? And on my wedding night? The car ride home was silent except for the sound of weeping. My heart was completely broken. I sobbed as I tried to keep myself grounded by pulling bobby pins from my tightly coiffed hair.
Neither of us slept that night and the next day we were in a fog, aimlessly walking around town, just going through the motions of life. In and out of stores, pretending to be ok as we sought honeymoon trinkets.I did find one trinket worth mentioning. A handmade set of desert bells. I thought they would be a nice reminder of Buddy's whimsical nature. When we returned from our honeymoon I pinned the bells to the cork board in the kitchen, price tag and artisan information still attached. I didn't care enough to take the time to remove them.
I couldn't think straight for months, the house felt so empty. Our remaining dog, Sam, a Golden Retriever, was a senior now and spent most of his time sleeping. The silence hurt my ears. I cried until I had no tears left. As a therapist I understood that I was going through the grieving process but as a dog mom I felt alone and isolated. Buddy's loss sparked a thought. If I, a trained therapist, was struggling so much, how were other pet loss families feeling?
When people learn that Buddy died on my wedding night they are usually horrified and speechless and yet curious and brave enough to ask if the happiest day of my life was ruined. My answer has always been a softly uttered "No." Buddy took care of me for 15 years, always by my side. On my wedding night, he passed the baton to my husband.
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