It has been two weeks since our family lost Ross The Dog to kidney failure. We were a bit naive to how painful the grieving process would actually be when the time came to say goodbye, and many of the realizations took us by surprise. After spending seven good years with Ross, it wasn’t just the last moments that broke our hearts, it was all the firsts.
The first time I had to come home to an empty house, I stood in the garage, terrified to open the door leading inside. I knew who wouldn’t be on the other side, and so I stood for nearly ten minutes, sobbing and willing myself to have the courage to open the door. When I did, it felt as though a knife had been expertly and cruelly pushed directly into my heart. This was the first of many firsts without Ross. The next day, my husband would encounter this same heartbreak, equally painful, as he realized Ross would never again be there at the door to greet him when he came home from work.
On our first morning without a thumping tail and slobbery kisses to emphasize the alarm, no walk to the back door for a morning constitutional, no dog food and water bowl routine, we didn’t want to even get out of bed. Without a dog to summon the morning, what was the point? I found the house much too lonely after Van went to work and the girls went to school, and would wait to hear the tinkling of Ross’s dog tag on the tile floor. I caught myself looking for him, thinking that a pair of blue jeans thrown on the floor was him just lying down for a nap, then crying when I realized that my brain was playing mean tricks on me. I kept walking to the back door, opening it, and standing there stupidly, waiting for a dog who would never come in or go out.
My husband calls Ross his conscience, says that he must have been mine too; a creature who reflected back to us our very thoughts, hopes, potential, goodness, and joy in simple pleasures. He could just look at us and communicate exactly what we needed to be told in the moment. We didn’t realize how much of a routine we had developed around Ross; he may have trained us better than we trained him! Van’s first time mowing the yard after Ross passed was very emotional for Van because Ross loved to roll in the fresh mowed grass. We had to constantly remind each other that the firsts would be the hardest to overcome, and we leaned on one another more than usual. About two days after Ross died, I felt a presence in our bedroom after we had laid down for the night. The room was dark and quiet, and there was a heaviness near the foot of the bed. It seemed to lean against my legs and warm me with a sensation of peace. I had never given any thought to the idea of a loved one’s energy dispersing from a place after death, but for the first time since Ross passed, I experienced his energy around me, and it was a great comfort.
Van couldn’t wait long before we got a new puppy. I wasn’t sure that it was wise to just get another dog immediately after Ross, but Van made a wonderful choice in Teddy. Theodore Baker, named after Theodore Roosevelt and a bottle of Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, came to us from South Dakota, and stole our hearts. The first time I saw him peering through our front window quizzically, asking to be let into his new home, I knew he was the right dog for us, and it wasn’t too early. He isn’t intended to replace Ross, but to bring joy to our lives and be the new companion that we need. As Van said about Ross, “He was the right dog that we needed at the time, and he did more for us than we can ever repay.” Teddy is the right dog to start a new chapter in our life as a family, and he is in just the right place to continue the legacy begun by Ross the Dog. We are looking forward to all the firsts with Teddy.