Grief is complicated.
It’s all of the emotions all at the same time. It’s sadness and joy and guilt and relief.
It’s saying goodbye when you know in your head it’s not a forever goodbye, just a for right now goodbye. But yet it still stings. Because even though it’s not forever, it’s still an absence. An absence to the typical routine. To the day to day you have known for the last 10 years.
Today we are grieving our dog.
But not in the way you might think.
In our house we say we are sending our beloved Winni dog to college.
What this really means is today we sent our first “baby,” our puppy of 10 years to go live her next big adventure with her Uncle Sam in Colorado.
This is a story of dog parenting but it is most certainly not far from parenting the human kind as well.
We have had to make some difficult decisions this year about our dog.
From the beginning we have known she was quirky. She has always been quick to feel anxious. We say it’s because she is too smart. She understands when something is slightly different, alarming, unexpected, and she reacts quickly and defensively. Her loyalty to her family is fierce. But it also comes with a big responsibility in her mind. The responsibility to protect, particularly from things that alarm her. We worked through this with her for years. But eventually as we added more family members, her responsibility grew larger. And so did ours.
Without going into all the details, there have been a handful of times in the last few years when our sweet dog 98% of the time reacted more like the animal that she is. That can be scary. It causes you to be more guarded, more protective, more in a constant state of anxiety.
At some point in being an adult you have to make decisions bigger than yourself. You have to make decisions about your family members, both people and dog, that go beyond your own selfish desires. Selfishly, we wanted Winni in our home forever. She is a wonderful dog. She is obedient, and loving, and for most of the day, the kind of dog that is happiest just to sit next to you doing nothing. She is exactly what you ask of a companion. And yet still, in our lives with the chaos of children and the in and out of new little friends and all the uncertainty from a dog’s perspective that comes from that, there are challenges bigger than the love. And we realized with counseling and prayer and careful thought, our dog would be happier and safer away from this environment that comes along with our lifestyle.
So when my brother announced he was starting a new adventure in Colorado and needed a co-pilot, it only made sense to sign Winni up. There is no better companion for an adventure like that. And there is certainly no other person we would trust more with our dog than my brother with his fierce love of animals and promised opportunity for future visits and dog kisses.
Today she jumped in his Subaru packed with all of his belongings, and all of hers, and took the path on this next adventure.
And today we are feeling all of the feels.
We are heartbroken she won’t jump up in bed with us in the morning giving everyone kisses. So sad we won’t see her tail wagging at the door each time we come home. (And if I’m being honest, a little disappointed to lose my trusty crumbs on the floor cleaner.)
We are unfortunately feeling that inevitable guilt that comes along with being human and feeling like you didn’t give enough, do enough, try hard enough.
But we are also relieved. Relieved to let go of the worry, for her and our family.
And we are over joyed that she gets to continue to live a life of adventure, and get to fulfill exactly what she was born to do, being a companion to someone when they need it most.
Caring for others is complicated. You don’t have to be a dog parent or even a human parent to understand this. Life comes with decisions clouded with so many emotions, and you choose to move beyond what “others might think” and do what is right for you and those involved.
I am feeling another feeling today. Pride. Pride that we could make a courageous choice and teach our children how to love and let go all at the same time. Pride that we can teach them that sadness and joy can be felt all at the same time. Pride that we are showing big decision making sometimes begins with complicated grief. And that is both okay and life-giving.
To Winni, our dear sweet dog, from the moment you first crawled into my lap to every adventure along the way, from the camping trips to the ball throwing sessions, from every day we brought home a new baby to every new city we introduced to you, you have been an ever present delight to this family. We wish you all the peace and contentment and love every dog deserves. As we navigate this complicated grief today, we know we are feeling that feeling because we were lucky enough to love a dog like you. Here’s to the next big adventure, Winni dog! Don’t forget to write!
(And now cue “This is your life!” Slideshow.)