February 2, 2010

Goodbye Friend Leo

Leo, the dog, is a neighbor of mine and a friend. Today the cancer claimed his body and he is off to his next adventure. Yes, I am one of those dog-centric types and I have called many dogs friend. Indeed dogs have been some of this man’s best friends.

Leo was a bright buoyant spirits always up for digging into the enjoyment of being alive; always bounding up to see you with an enthusiastic greeting. He was one of those beings that was joyful in a simple, uncomplicated and consistent way. (To those of you that are not dog-centric: while this is more common in dogs than us humans, it is still somewhat rare and is truly a gift.)

After the high of yesterday’s good news, here I am back mucking in the tougher emotions of life. Leo was a regular, although not central, part of my life and he will be missed. He is close enough for me to feel it, but removed enough that I can have some perspective (believe me if it was one of mine I would be an incoherent mess).

In these circumstances we meet grief head-on for, what I believe are, the right reasons.  If you don’t love, you don’t grieve. It is a natural part of the process, and the comparatively short life spans of our four legged friends give us the opportunity to confront this kind of loss more frequently than we would otherwise (and much more frequently than we would like). It forces us to get up close with mortality often before we have to let go of a two legged friend, and certainly before it is our own turn to let go of our own lives.

Don’t take this as being maudlin, it’s not. I’ve lost enough four footed and two legged loved ones to accept the reality of my mortality and theirs (OK, well “accept” may be too strong a word, let’s say I get it intellectually, but emotionally it’s still sometimes challenging). Letting go is never easy, but by embracing the reality we can allow their passing to be more bearable and their time with us more sweet.

We all deal with grief differently; some ways are constructive, some ways are destructive. It is good to understand how you experience and express grief, and channel it, as much as possible, into the constructive.  I have found that I seem deal with it through writing. I pour it into stories (or in this case a blog post). Last year when a friend of mine died suddenly and traumatically I had no choice but to sit down and write (after the shock had worn off). Much to my surprise, I ended up drafting and entire novel, something I didn’t know I was capable of. Years ago when a dog of mine died I built a shed and then a few years later wrote a story. For me I have found that grief requires expression, and once an adequate expression is found things get a bit better. I still miss my friends, but the expression, when I have found it, made it much more bearable.

Other constructive expressions I have seen (and sometimes used) are: intense physical activity, telling stories and remembering, starting a non-profit, changing professions, going back to school, getting busy living, and helping others.

My wife and I had the opportunity to go over and say good bye shortly before the vet arrived to afford Leo a compassionate and gentle passage. It was bitter-sweet.

Today my heart goes out to Leo’s family (his two legged parents and is four legged best friend Bonnie). I took a few pictures of him recently during our week of snow. He had just come through a tough patch and was feeling well enough to dig in and really enjoy it.

Goodbye Friend Leo.

Just Hang'n in the Snow
Leo and Bonnie

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Robert J. McCarter

Robert J. McCarter is the author of more than ten novels and over a hundred short stories...... learn more

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