As I was planning Warren's funeral the funeral director asked if we had any pets. When I said that we had a dog, she asked if I wanted to bring him to the private viewing before the wake. At the time, I thought it was a weird question and I wish that I had asked her why she asked. Instead, I wasn't thinking and I said no. I envisioned our dog jumping up on to the casket, sniffing Warren profusely and maybe even knocking it over. I also thought of his excitability at new places and how hard it would be to keep him still and stop him from marking his territory all over the funeral home.
It never occurred to me that our dog would grieve the loss of his master. Baron was a Christmas gift to me from Warren a few years after our first dog had passed away. We had enjoyed being pet owners and when I was ready for another dog, I spent time looking for the same breed as our first dog because their temperament and energy level was a good match for our lifestyle. I remember when I first saw Baron's photo on petfinder.com. He had the saddest eyes and it was like they looked right at me. I couldn't stop thinking about him or talking about him for days. Warren said he would be my gift if I was ready to love another dog. I was, and Warren shared the excitement.
Baron was at a shelter about an hour north of our home so we made a visit to see if there was chemistry between the three of us. At first Baron was a little shy, but within a few minutes he was all over us as though he was ours. When we drove away to think about the commitment we were about to make, I watched Baron from the side-view mirror until I could no longer see him. He watched us just as long. It was painful leaving him behind, so a few days later we went back and adopted him.
From day one Warren called him a Mama's Boy. He said that he was more my dog than his because Baron would cry and mope when I left the house. Baron would look from window to window awaiting my return. I assured Warren that he looked from window to window when he left, too, but since Baron didn't cry for him, Warren was convinced the bond was stronger between me and Baron.
That didn't mean that Warren and Baron didn't have their adventures. On a camping trip in Oklahoma Baron got out of his harness and Warren, fresh from a shower, had to chase after him in the humidity and tackle him back into his harness, then into the car so we could pack up and head out. I still chuckle recalling Warren's frustration at the whole episode. You would think he would have learned his lesson, but nope. After swearing that Baron's camping days were over, he brought him along on an all-guys camping weekend with my brother and nephew. Guess who took off in the middle of the night and made Warren chase him through a dark campsite?
At home, Baron's favorite places were are Warren's feet in the living room, and on the floor on my side of the bed in our room. He loved being with either of us, but while he could easily pretend not to hear me when I commanded him to do something, it took one note of Warren's deep voice to get Baron to obey. It was clear that Warren was the leader of Baron's pack. Had I thought about that when he died, perhaps I could have made the transition easier on Baron.
Before Warren died, Baron had separation anxiety that manifested in two incidents of destructive behavior when left alone. On one occasion he chewed himself a doggie door into our room while we were out to dinner. Another time, when left in the car while I ran a errand, he chewed through the back of my driver's side seat. But, other than that, he was the ideal dog. He never growled at the babies in our lives, although they gave him plenty of reasons to. He was always calm when we had guests. He didn't bark incessantly, or make others feel uncomfortable. His one vice was escaping every chance he got, and Warren and I had multiple adventures dealing with his Houdini-like antics.
I don't recall Baron acting any different the day Warren died, not even in the hours when our house was filled with family and friends who came to pay their respects. I have one semi-clear memory of laying in bed, hugging Warren's pillow and Baron keeping me company in the room, while the rest of the house was filled with guests. In the days following, I have no memories of interacting any differently with Baron. It wasn't until the first thunderstorm that I noticed a change in him. He freaked out that night, jumping on the bed (which he's never been allowed on), trembling, breathing heavy and the only place he would sit was on my chest. Baron is sixty-five pounds. His place of solace cut off my air supply. At first I thought it was a fluke, a particularly bad storm he was weirdly reacting to. I was wrong. It happened every time there was thunder and lightning. I reached out to other pet owners and got their advice. I tried white noise, soft music, leaving lights on, a thunder shirt, wrapping him with something that smelled like me, and long walks the eve of an anticipated storm. Nothing soothed him. Finally, I got some tranquilizers from my vet and if given at just the right time before a storm, they allowed us to get some sleep on thunderous nights.
During a widows' support group I happened to mention what was happening with Baron and a few widows shared that they encountered the same thing. They said that it was a manifestation of the dog's grief. It all made sense. From one day to the next Baron lost his pack leader. In times of distress, like during storms, Warren made him feel safe and taken care of. Not knowing what happened to his leader left him vulnerable. In Baron's mind, there was no one in the pack who could protect him. Even though I was trying to be strong, apparently he sensed my weakness and didn't see me as a viable leader who made him feel as secure as Warren had.
To this day Baron has a storm phobia, and a host of other fear-based behaviors that developed after losing Warren. They are manageable and we work through them, but it makes me wish so much that I had been more with it when the funeral director asked about bringing Baron to say goodbye. Had I known how sensitive my sweet dog was to the loss, and how it was going to unleash so many fears, I would have brought him. He, too was loved by Warren and loved him back and I feel like I robbed them both of a final good-bye. I try to live free of regrets, but this one is definitely one that makes me take pause and remember that the power of love and loss is not limited to humans.
An article about love caught my attention, which was a surprise. I am not a sappy person. I don't read romance novels, look for romantic gestures, or prefer romantic comedies. Yet this one had a message that spoke to me deeply. I don't know that I agree with it in its entirety, but it certainly made me think. It said that we get three loves. The first is a puppy love that makes us feel like everything about love is ideal. The second is the love that demonstrates how you don't want to be loved. The third is the love that shows you the strength of it, how love can change you.
As with all people who cross our paths, these loves have a specific purpose. According to the article, the first love is more for show, it is what you think love should be like, even if you're not convinced that it's as great as you make it look. I disagree. I recall my first love. I was in eighth grade, he was in tenth. I had known him for years and not thought much of him until the day he told my neighbor that he was into me. All of a sudden, I liked him and wanted to be his girlfriend. In an unexpected turn of events, my parents allowed me to date him. There were a ton of rules, but we got to know each other and I saw him in a different light. I liked that he was older, that he was into sports, how he tried to impress me whenever he could. Looking back, it was definitely an innocent love. There was no pressure, we focused on spending time together when we could, but had most of our memories in a group with our families, cousins and friends around. It taught me that love doesn't have to be complicated. We broke up when I entered ninth grade and felt torn between spending time with him, and tending to my education. I chose education and learned that I was strong enough to choose myself when it came to matters of the heart. That is a lesson I am grateful to have learned young and with my first love.
My second love, the more toxic one came during college. I went back and forth with a guy that deep down I knew wasn't right for me. We even talked about marriage and a future. While my gut rejected that idea, my smile tried to convince me otherwise. I liked so many things about him, and isn't the plan supposed to be to find a husband in college and get married soon after? That's what I thought I was expected to do. At the same time, I wanted more for myself. I wanted to live on my own, start a career on my terms, live wherever that career took me, and experience living on my own away from family and the safety of a college campus. The fear that I wouldn't get to do all those things drew on the courage of my first love and when graduation came around, I was able to walk away and be true to myself and to him that we did not have a future. It was hard and I missed him. I missed the idea of having someone and sharing all the new things that were happening in my life, and I sometimes doubted my choice, but in time, I knew it was best.
As life often does, my third love came completely unexpectedly when I wasn't looking or even thinking about a man in my life. Warren was my friend for a year before telling me how he felt about me. I was completely taken off guard, but like my first love, once I knew how he felt, I began to feel it, too. We dated for another year, and were engaged for another before we were married. In that time, the love felt worlds different than any other. It was all encompassing. I loved loving him and being loved by him. When we talked about the future it was impossible to think of it without him in it. I didn't want anyone else. I knew with everything in me that this was my ultimate love. It would be the one that permeated all aspects of my life and made me into the woman I wanted to become.
In that love I learned what I want out of a partner. I learned how to intertwine my hopes and dreams with someone else, and how to support theirs without sacrificing mine. It was eye-opening to say the least. Our relationship wasn't perfect by any means, but the love still feels like the perfect love. It is the love I look for in all other loves. By that I am not only talking about romantic love. I want to learn and grow from and love loving all the loves of my life - from family and friends, to my passions and dreams. Loving them fiercely and without shame gives my life gusto. Being loved as I was lifted me to a place where anything seemed possible and I want to give that in return. Having felt that love so purely and all encompassing, I know it's out there. Unlike the article, I am not limiting my life's loves to three. Love is ever-evolving and comes with all kinds of new experiences, people and interests. Looking forward to 2017, it feels like the best time to think about how to let love flow and allow myself to be loved as I know I can be - whether that be by others, or by loving myself.