This morning I got up with a really ancient hymn running through my mind: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”. My thoughts were stuck on just a few words:
“O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down.”
I felt weighed down, and as I researched information about doggie grief, I looked over at Chip, the little Cocker Spaniel laying on a chair across the room from me. Wonder what he is thinking, I asked myself.
I recently lost my dog Cocoa of almost 16 years, and now the other dog in my household, Chip, is grieving over her death. I suddenly realized, “We are in a ‘fix’” as my grandmother would say.
I have read that dogs grieve differently and also show signs of grief at different times. It’s not a cookie cutter process—nothing ever is. Like humans, expressions of grief can come immediately or later or somewhere in-between.
Over the last few weeks, I have watched Chip move from looking for Cocoa at every turn to a kind-of-unacceptance and then to just emptiness as he shuffles through the days.
I have also watched myself move along various emotional tracks. Once I thought I heard Cocoa lay down on the hardwood floor beside me—her collar making that distinctive sound of brass against wood. I looked over at Chip only to see him looking at me. Did we both hear the same thing at the same time and feel the same way? Were we tracking with our emotions? Was time teaching us to cope or was it allowing the feelings of loss to linger?
One thing for sure: losing Cocoa has been huge. I never realized just how large her presence was in my life, in my home, and in my everything. Even when she was not in a room with me, I knew she was some place nearby. I could sense her closeness. She felt the same about me. She watched my every move with precision, and what I now realize is that Chip was watching hers.
She was all he knew for all of his life. Period. I would write that they were like peas and carrots (Forest Gump), but Cocoa was neither a pea nor a carrot. She was Cocoa Joy, and she was my dog. Now, that I think back about it, she never did much without me, and Chip never did much without her doing it first!
If she found a sniff in the yard, he pushed his way in and took the sniff away from her, but only after she found it first. I always knew, baring some accident or freak of nature, Chip would out live Cocoa. But I didn’t know how it would look or feel. It feels lonely.
He’s five years her junior and came into her life after her trainer insisted that Cocoa needed a partner in life. . . . She didn’t, really. I know that now; she was a people dog, who just wanted to be with me. But, in time, she learned to abide faithfully with Chip.
Recently, I wrote a friend saying, “Poor little guy; he has lost the only dog friend he had and now he looks lost in this very large world without her.” Tears filled my eyes as I wrote those words. How do you heal our broken hearts?
I could ask for prayer to know what to do next with all this doggie grief, and I know I would get an array of answers—from indulging Chip with good things like long walks and visits to see (his favorite) cows to getting him a new companion. When it comes to the last suggestion, I’m thinking through that. So, here is where we are: we are healing.
We’ve faced so many moments of loss over these last few months that we are just plain “dog tired.” This pandemic has weighed all of us down, but it has taught me how to be closer to the ones I love, and Cocoa was one of those “loves.”
Now, that love is spilling over to Chip—the little dog I’m seeing with fresh eyes.
Grief and loss of any kind has to be worked through. For now, Chip and I are walking through this journey of healing together.
Once healing has done its work, and our hearts are filled up with good moments and new memories, we’ll see about adding one more back to our pack. For now, we have “a ways” to go. But who knows what the new year will hold!