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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Life With Dog: "It's just us, girl."

When she was Tiny Girl

When the Artist left Willcox, Arizona, for the last time, it was in a helicopter after hours spent in the ER at North Cochise Community Hospital while the ER doc scoured the state for a hospital that had a room available and could provide the necessary surgery. I had put a deposit down on the puppy only days before, and now, as the Artist was wheeled out to the helicopter on a gurney into the dark hours past midnight, I told him he had to get through the next ordeal, because “the little girl needs a daddy.” He was amused, knowing I was talking about the puppy. 


As the medical people were getting him situated in the helicopter, though, the pilot asked me curiously, “What is your relationship to Mr. Grath?” Oh, good lord! Did he think I had been referring to myself in the third person as “the little girl” needing “a daddy”? But I just said, “I’m his wife” and stood watching as the helicopter lifted into the night sky – for a flight the Artist described to me afterward as “transcendent.”


I won’t recount all the events that followed (have already done so), but three weeks later my husband was gone forever, and I had to start my much diminished life alone with “the little girl” we thought we would be raising together – the puppy, Sunny Juliet. 


Now I often say to her, “It’s just you and me, girl!” She doesn’t have a clue. 


Other than her first eight baby weeks, a traumatic parting from beloved siblings, and then 10 days with one of my neighbors (while I sat by the Artist’s hospital bedside), life with me is all she has ever known. Here in the ghost town, of course, she has her Auntie Cheryl and Uncle John and Auntie Therese, as well as her dog-buddy and playmate, little Siberian Husky puppy Yogi, but home is the quiet cabin with her dog mom. Or, in Michigan, our quiet farmhouse. Or rides in the car, again just the two of us. Sleeping on my bed at night. But outdoor exercise and adventure and exploration off-leash every morning, these days with Yogi and Auntie Therese as well as the Momma, so she has a pretty good life overall.


Unlike me, she doesn’t know what she’s missing.


Whether here in southern Arizona in winter or back in northern Michigan in summer, the Artist sometimes worried about my outdoor rambles. “There could be bears,” he warned more than once, “and what would you do?” Forget bears! What about a bad fall? I used to urge our dog Sarah to “go find David!” in the house or the yard, reasoning that if she got in the habit, I might be able to send her home for help if I needed help. (“What’s that, Lassie? Timmy’s fallen into the well?”) But never did I consider for one minute giving up the long walks, with or without a dog. And “without” never lasted long because, as the Artist put it to me once, “I need you, and you need a dog, so we need a dog.” 


The last time we had that conversation, it led to the search that led to Sunny Juliet. From the hospital in Chandler, waiting for his system to be clear of blood-thinning medication so he could have surgery, he urged me to bring the puppy home without delay, and then, when I had, he would ask every day, “How’s the little girl? Tell me about the little girl.” All his nurses knew about the puppy!


But he and Sunny Juliet never had a chance to meet, and she has no idea what she’s missing. To her, life must seem complete -- which seems unutterably strange to me when I miss so much of the way life used to be!


(“Lucky dog!” we used to say to each other in moments of envy when I was young.)


I just finished reading, for the first time, A Man Called Ove, and what brought me to tears was Ove missing his late wife’s laugh. The Artist had an irresistible smile, and when he laughed, ah! Who could help laughing happily with him? I miss exploring the world with him, holding hands, our conversations, his smile, his laugh – so much!

So now it’s up to Sunny Juliet to make me smile and laugh. And when she and Yogi are wrestling, tumbling all over each other, or trotting down a cow path side by side, or when they are sitting politely, eagerness and impatience barely holding them still as they wait for treats, what could be more enchanting? So good fortune is mine, in that I have a good and dear little companion, day and night, wherever I am. Also, in both Arizona and in Michigan, I have good friends and neighbors, and my dog and I have beautiful open space to explore, just the two of us or with friends. We have good health, both of us. And we have each other.

Michigan dog play

Arizona dog play

How does anyone face life, day after day, without a dog? The momma loves her little girl!

The momma with Tiny Girl, before she grew big


Karen Casebeer said...

Your thoughts about needing a dog really resonated with me, Pamela. I cannot imagine life without a canine companion.

Angie said...

What a special post. I’m at the end of my Marlee girl’s life, every day/night wondering if this will be THE day/night. This has been a cliff hanger since the beginning of last September, and she’s still with me. So grateful for that. I wonder how I will manage those days, weeks or months, alone after she transitions, whenever that is. Life is still such a very strange place for me even after Randy having been gone for 4 years already. How can that be?? Anyway, this post really resonates with my thoughts and heart. Sunny Juliet is a beautiful big girl!

P. J. Grath said...

And Karen, much as we love them with all our hearts, when we lose one we have to have another!

Angie, my heart goes out to you, dear! I remember so well our Sarah's last days, lying on the floor next to her, assuring her that she was not alone. You will get through it, but it will break your heart again. I don't say that to be cruel but to recognize your love -- and you know it already, anyway. Life IS strange, and death is the deepest mystery. Unfathomable.

Suzy K. said...

When reading through your post I kept thinking about the timing of Sunny's arrival. I wonder how you coped with all that comes with a new puppy after such a devastating loss. My Poppy is sleeping at my feet right now, but when I got her at eight weeks I wasn't prepared for the emotions and the lack of sleep. I had read the books, watched the videos, talked through it all with the vet and those who know and love me. I knew what it meant to have a new puppy. I had done it before.

I didn't know, though, what it meant to have a new puppy after deep, deep loss. It had been two years since I my sweet Gracie girl passed and having a new puppy, while wonderful, almost broke my heat all over, again. I missed my Gracie so much when Poppy came home. Sometimes I still feel pangs when I tell Poppy I love her "bigger than the sky" because that is something I used to say to Gracie. The words are true, though, and she deserves to hear them.

I loved your post and greatly appreciate having the the chance to read about your life with Sunny Juliet. Have you ever read Caroline Knapp's "Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs?" It's the only book I've found that really reflects how I feel as a woman whose main companion is a dog. Knapp writes, "“What makes you feel empty and what makes you feel full? Who, or what, makes you feel connected or soothed or joyful? How much companionship do you need, and how much solitude? What feels right, what feels like enough? We all have to feel our way through those questions in life, and although she cannot provide the answers for me, I have the sense that Lucille is gently leading me toward them. I pick up that leash; I go forward.”

Thank goodness for dogs!

Wishing you and Sunny well...

P. J. Grath said...

Well, Suzy, as you know, I hadn’t envisioned raising the new puppy by myself. I also had not counted on Sunny Juliet’s HIGH!!! energy level! She was unusually demanding even for a puppy (although I know we were spoiled by Sarah, who was the easiest puppy in the world), and dealing with her baby needs and demands, on top of grieving the death of my husband was certainly not easy. One day, in fact, I had a complete meltdown and just sat on the floor and sobbed. But puppy time goes by swiftly in retrospect, and we got through it.

I have read PACK OF TWO, but not for a while, and you are the second person who has mentioned it. I probably would get a lot out of re-reading it, now that it describes my life. And I certainly wish the best to you and Poppy as you go forward together. The thing about dogs is, you just can’t help loving them more and more, the longer you live with them.