My husband and I check the dog rescue listings just to see the cute puppy faces but we weren't really expecting to get a dog, we were done with that long ago. I had gone to the rescue a month before and was signed up to get an older dog but as I watched a little boy holding and playing with him, I told the shelter that they belonged together, I didn't have a son any longer to love a dog like that.
I drove out of the parking out and burst into tears, tears that just wouldn't stop. The tears can come quickly now and on some days they just don't stop, I could cry the whole day. Losing a child too soon does that and at 29, it was too soon. He should still be here.
This time though there was an 8-week-old puppy that was just too adorable not to go take a look. She had a white fuzzy belly and a baby bear face so in my arms she went and home she came. Ella was listed as a retriever mix so I was expecting her to get large and fluffy but as she grew she became just funny looking, her head is small, her back is swayed, her legs are skinny and she looks more deer than dog. She is quiet and gentle but smart and wise, wiser then us. She kisses my tears away and settles down at my feet and stays with me until I am ready to get up. She wakes me up so I have to get out of bed and she asks for breakfast and dinner so I have to think of eating myself. She brings me toys so I have to play and she needs to walk so I am forced to get out of my house.
It took her three months to get me into a new routine but as I listened to her, I also became aware that I was slowly draining her of her puppy days. Others said that she had a job, she was taking care of me and that was her role. I didn't see it that way, my burden was too much for this little one and it wasn't fair.
In the evening, she falls asleep at my feet and my husband just looks at her in silence. I have heard him crying in despair, after all the man has lost a son. I know that she has comforted him as well and tries to take care of us both, but her job is me, she is my dog. I never allowed our family dog upstairs or on the couch but now when my husband goes out of town on business, Ella sleeps with me.
As I noticed how over attached she became, I started to drop her off at doggie daycare more often. On the days that I didn't have the energy to do anything, I didn't want her sitting next to me for hours as I stared into space. This wasn't how you are supposed to rescue a dog, she needs to relax and be a happy dog.
When Ella was six months, my husband and I went by the pet store when the rescue dogs were there. We said we're just looking but I asked to see a little black lab puppy, held her close and then quickly put her back. I just couldn't decide if I wanted to add another puppy to our quiet household. Ella had finally stopped chewing, was housetrained, got the morning paper and walked just perfect on the leash. Then, my husband asked to see this barking 2-year-old Jack Russell mix and walked him around on the sidewalk. His name was Rango and I just shook my head, what a horrible name for this beautiful, ugly bat like creature. The picture of this big burly man with an animal at the end of a leash was so comical that I laughed so hard that tears rolled down my face, good happy tears. My son would think this dog was a riot and he would have brought him home, so Rango ended up in our car and out of the parking lot we went. We had no idea what Ella would do so we followed their advice to introduce Ella to him at the dog park first and if they didn't get along to bring him back.
Rango's name was quickly changed to Eddie and from first sight Eddie and Ella became a pair. They share the same toys, sleep in the same dog bed and chase the yard for squirrels. He grooms Ella's eyes and ears and has become her personal protector. As Ella has grown her coat is shiny and bright and although still gentle and shy, she is not timid, her body has become relaxed. She can roughhouse with Eddie for hours and need reminders to stop barking. Their pictures grace our phones and give us something to talk and smile about. Together, they are bringing a little love back into our hearts and noise back into the house.
It has been over three years since my son passed away and as they say a new normal has set in. It doesn't get easier and the tears still come but you have no choice, the days pass whether you want them to or not. You seek out care from professionals, throw yourself into activities to keep you sane and wait for nighttime to come or not come. You try to talk to one another and some days you sit near, but other times more distance is needed and work becomes your escape. The awkward couple silence comes and goes.
Our relationship has forever changed, we are careful what to say to each other, we are more patient with each other and we overlook things that we would have argued about before, the energy to do that is just not there. New people we meet say that is why we have been married for over thirty-five years, my husband and I know better. We are clinging to each other over the loss of your son. Others will say that is a positive, we have learned to appreciate each other. We would rather have our son here.
Now, when my husband goes out of town on business, both Eddie and Ella sleep with me; it has become a calming nighttime routine. Yes, this strange creature has saved my Ella, broken the death silence in our home and allowed us to laugh and love just a bit. It is the new normal, more gentle and understanding but with a permanent hole in our hearts.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at email@example.com.