When Life Takes A Heart-Breaking Turn

This post will have absolutely nothing to do with miles and points.  If that’s the value you get out of my blog, I’m very thankful, but this post won’t help you with any of that.  I was inspired to write this today after watching my good friend Summer (Mommy Points) share a similar story not too long ago as she dealt with the pain of losing her companion.  Writing has always been an outlet for me, whether happy or sad.  It’s a necessary outlet right now.

I remember that day almost 14 years ago when my wife and I decided to get a dog.  Well, in fairness, when I decided to get her a dog in the hopes that I could put off having kids for a while.

We had it in our mind to get a rescue dog and Michelle had narrowed the choices down to a select few.  Oddly, one of them shared the name of my cousin, Serena.  She was the first dog up on our list to see, with 2 choices after.  We never did make it to see any of the other dogs.  My wife had it in her head that if this sub-7 lb abused dog would cast away her shyness and come out from hiding while we were there, she was the right dog for us.

Michelle sat on an ottoman in the house of the rescue worker who was taking care of Serena for quite some time.  My wife, in case you don’t know, has a hidden stubborn streak.  She outlasted Serena and that cute, little dog finally gave in and came to give her a sniff or two.

I had never owned a dog before.  I had a cat growing up, but never considered myself a dog person.  And yet, when we got her home that night and Michelle set a bed up for her on the floor, I queried her on why we just didn’t let the dog up onto the bed to sleep with us.  In for a penny….

I could spend a month chronicling the ups and downs of Serena.  From the kid that she bit on the hand when he tried to climb over our fence to get at our newborn daughter, to the day in “dog court” where Michelle broke down crying because Serena had been labeled a dangerous dog and forced to wear a muzzle in public for 2 years.  I tell this part of the story to include the whole picture, not just the rosy parts.

And yet, anyone who met Serena knew she was all bark (99.9%?) and no bite.  When we first brought her home and I would walk downstairs in the morning she would squat and pee on the floor out of fear, all the while her tail wagging as she was happy to see me.

Heart breaking turn

There was that early moment in the puppy days, in our brand hew house with white berber carpet, the “new construction smell” still present.  Serena grabbed a strawberry off the table, a lush, fresh, juicy strawberry.  She proceeded to toss it up on the air and let it land (splat!) on the carpet, over and over.  We chased her, and it turned into a game for her.  Furious and laughing at the same time, we cleaned up those red spots from the carpet and loved her all the more.

There were days she got along with the kids and days she didn’t, the original first child who felt jealous at times when she couldn’t get our attention.  There was the nickname “Swiper” that our daughter gave her from Dora the Explorer, because of how quickly she could steal food when nobody was looking.

She had severe allergies, so much so that she used to rub her snout on the carpet to stop the itching.  I came home one day and heard her whimpering.  Her collar was stuck on a single strand of carpet.  She easily could have tugged and broken free, but she really was a tender soul and was just sitting there, whimpering, trapped by the thinnest of strands.  After I released her she showered me with love.

Michelle would joke about how Serena loved me more than her.  She reasoned it was because she was the one giving all the tough love, cleaning out her ears when they bothered her, which was a constant.  We would joke about who would get the dog if we ever divorced, as we both loved her fiercely.  I can’t reasonably say that Serena loved any of us more than the other.  She just unconditionally loved, and she captured my heart from the moment we brought her home.

She started out as Michelle’s running buddy when she would train for marathons, running on the trails near our house.  Over time, she expressed her lack of interest in running alongside Michelle, preferring to lounge around the house and bark at the occasional bird she would see on TV (the big picture window in the toy room she would stare through for hours).  But, she’d always come back for a sprint, even as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

She loved to give kisses and snuggle, loved hogging the bed and snored (though not as loud as my wife).  At times, she enjoyed sleeping with both kids, and they with her.  Her hind leg would twitch when you rubbed her belly and she would writhe in glee from the attention.

She let the kids dress her up in various costumes, she chased Charlie when he would run away with a carrot.  She loved carrots almost as much as spare ribs.  And chicken.  And whole loaves of bread.  Bags of marshmallows.  And, pretty much anything else she could get her hands on.

There was the one day we got her to stick her paws in the pool.  She was horrified and never came near it again.  There was the humongous backyard we had in the house we bought a number of years ago so she could run free.  She got stung by a whole bunch of yellowjackets and was scared to leave the deck most days after that.  And, there was the snow.  She LOVED the snow, bounding about in the recent high drifts even though her old legs would betray her from time to time.  She’d wander far and wide in the snow, no matter how cold it was.  This dog who would make me hold an umbrella over her to go to the bathroom in the rain had no problem burying herself in the snow.

Heart breaking turn

 

Heart breaking turn

For 14 years we called her our puppy.  She had the excitement of one as well as the mischief level.  And, when I brought her to the vet this morning because she was exhibiting some weird (but mostly mild) symptoms, I wasn’t expecting the doctor to tell me she had a 50/50 shot of making it.

I wasn’t expecting the phone call less than an hour later so we could come back to “discuss options”.  We chose to pull the kids out of school and let them spend the afternoon saying goodbye to the only pet they’ve ever known.  They laughed and cried, with our 9-year old mostly crying and our 5-year old really not quite grasping the situation.  We fed her dog treats and pizza, a royal combination.  The toughest part of it all was trying to process what should have been weeks or months of grief and decision-making into one condensed session, trying to feel that we were making the right choice when confronted with damning evidence of her slim chances for good health.

There were other choices, but they involved lots of risk and likely lots of pain for our puppy.  So, in the end, we chose the unselfish path and chose to let her go.  When the time came, she went fast.  The kids were gone so my wife and I could cry freely.  And, we did.  The totality of our decision sunk in and there was this fear for me.  Did we make the right decision?  Maybe we should have tried something else?

In the end, those decisions seemed the selfish choice.  While our girl recognized us from time to time in the 8 hours we spent with her lying on that floor, she spent most of the time lightly shaking and not being able to see us that well.  There was the occasional kiss from her, but none of those trademark head nudges that would knock you over.  I’ll miss those incredibly.  I left on my most recent trip covered in dog hair because she wanted to have another marathon head nudging session, grinding her head into my chest so I’d scratch her ears just a little bit more before I left.

Heart breaking turn

I’d be honest with you if I felt at all ashamed at the knowledge that I spent most of the day crying.  Or if I felt ashamed of crying while I wrote this.  I’m not even a little.  I’m happy to hear my daughter playing with her best friend in the other room.  It’s the first time since noon that she isn’t crying.  I’m sure there will be plenty of tears tonight and on many nights in the future.

Catherine summed it up well when we sat with her at the vet today, “Even though she bit me once, I know she loved me so much.  I just can’t live without her.”

In reality, all of us can live without her.  It just doesn’t feel that way now.

It will get better, and there will likely be another dog in our future.

She always knew when I was getting ready to leave on a trip.  She’d start moping a bit, but still followed me around to let me know how much she loved me, peering at me as I headed to the door from wherever she was laying.  When I got home she’d knock me over getting her head nudges in at the same time the kids would tackle me.  There isn’t much more rewarding than that kind of unconditional love.

 

This time I knew that she was the one getting ready to leave on a trip.  I don’t know if she could recognize my crying, my anguish.  I was the one looking for that last head nudge, languishing for one last little kiss from her.

The doctor told us that some folks stayed for the end, others didn’t, that the choice was up to us.  It was never really a choice.  She was always watching me when I left the house, always there when I returned.  It was our turn to see her on her way.

When everyone is asleep tonight, I’ll be looking around the house for her.  I know she’s not coming back, but it doesn’t mean I won’t be hoping.

Heart breaking turn

Heart breaking turn

The post When Life Takes A Heart-Breaking Turn was published first on Pizza in Motion.

About the Author

My goal in life is to fill my family’s passports with stamps, creating buckets of memories along the way. You’ll find me writing about realistic ways for normal people to travel the world, whether you’re on a budget or enjoy luxury. I also enjoy taking us on the occasional detour to explore the inner workings of the travel industry.

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67 Comments

  1. Sorry for your loss, it is heartbreaking when we lose one of our family members. Over the years I have been exactly where you were today. I have loved each and everyone of our girls (all female sheepdogs and polish sheepdogs). I still think about them frequently. They all played a special part in our lives I have great memories of all of them. It is just unfair we have such a short time with them. The positive thought I can share , when it was time to bring another puppy into our family we created new wonderful memories , we bonded with them and found the little quirks they have and loved them as much as the family members we had to say goodbye to.

  2. Sorry for your loss. My husband and I have two beagles and they are our children. Our oldest mopes when my husband leaves for trips too. I’m glad you showed her love when the first people in her life didn’t. 14 years is a great run. She’s head bumping her way over the rainbow bridge.

  3. I’ve always read your posts, but this is what makes a writer different than a blogger. You have a gift! I felt your pain that brought back a similiar experience from 12 years ago. Sorry for your loss. Always cherish the memories!

  4. Sending all the healing love in the world to you and your family. The only good thing about all of this is that it shows us how much love there is in this world, and how lucky we are to share it. Peace and blessings to you, tonight

  5. So sorry for your loss. Dogs are so big-hearted that when they pass of the vaccuum is overwhelming. I am so glad you wrote down all these memories so you will never forget the details of joy.

  6. I remember saying goodbye to my first and only dog when I was 16. It’s so tough. My thoughts are with you and your family today.

  7. “It is better to have loved and lost; than to have never loved at all.”

    I know you and your family are in unbearable pain, Ed. It is heartbreaking. It hurts. Badly…

    …but the problem with life is that the loss of a loved one is inevitable. We all experience it. It cannot be avoided…

    …so keep crying until the grief subsides — nothing about which to be ashamed at all — and although it may not help right now, let’s look at the positive side:

    Your family spent many years with Serena. You have plenty of photographs and — I assume — videos where you can see and hear her anytime you like. Your lives were obviously enriched because of her — imagine if your not being a “dog person” was an impediment to her ever becoming the family pet.

    Most importantly, the suddenness of the death of Serena is actually a good thing. The thought of prolonged suffering with a disease — and the suffering of your family to have witnessed it — is unimaginable.

    Know that you have made as much of a difference to Serena as she has made with you and your family; and even though she is in a better place — on that “final flight”, as you put it — she will always be in the hearts of your family.

    My thoughts are with you and your family, Ed; and if you need anything, you know how to contact me.

    1. Brian, thanks for reaching out. I’m sure there’s a lot of credence to your comments about Serena not suffering. It’s just hard in the moment. She’s sneaking a marshmallow off the counter over the Rainbow bridge right now.

  8. I’m so sorry for your loss. We’ve lost 3 dogs in the last year or so. They all hurt. We basically ran a nursing home for retired Greyhounds for awhile. We are down to a 12 year old retired racer (Greyhound) and a young rescued Lab. Your life will move on but you’ll never forget your friend.

  9. My heart breaks for you and your family. It’s so hard to lose a member of your family who has been by your side, unconditionally, for so long. Sending my warmest thoughts to all of you. How lucky you both were.

  10. Real life is what happens to us when we are not thinking-writing about miles and points and places.

    Nine years ago today March 17 was the first day after I quit my good-paying job to seek a life of travel blogging. I was pissed off five weeks later after our sole cat died and my wife brought home a geriatric rescue cat the next day. I had travel plans now that we were free of pets. Then, I was really mad the next day when I had a luxury travel trip to San Francisco planned for us and she brought a 3-week kitten home.

    I went to San Francisco alone for the weekend luxury hotel stay.

    Our fight is a distant memory. The memory I cherish from that time is spending the next few weeks with a little kitten, Pim, cuddled up in my left hand several hours a day as I typed with my right hand. Or the image of Pim asleep sitting behind my laptop screen with the heated machine air surrounding him. When he was awake he would suckle on my computer cord, which he eventually gnawed his way through in a couple of weeks.

    Pim is turning 9 years old next month. I thought today about how he is our only cat (of three cats currently) that I know will be there to greet me when I walk in the door.

    Animals are all around us and I think it is a blessing when we find ourselves in a relationship with other creatures for any length of time, from seconds to years.

  11. What a touching sad post. You all loved her very much, that is clear.

    Can I offer words of comfort if in any way possible?

    No person or animal lives forever (obviously) if she was gonna have a life, and be in anyones’ lives, it sounds like she was blessed to have it with such a loving family. A lovely animal in a loving home, Im sure she is thankful, in her new place. She loved you too…she wouldn’t want you to be sad, but if possible celebrate her happy life.

    Ironically, I have never really had a pet, but out of the blue developed an incredibly strong affinity and love of animals since I became a father a few years back, and suddenly understood the unconditional love and sweetness of a creature that can’t talk back!

    Now I give monthly to a growing number of animal protection organizations, and sadly sometimes can’t sleep at night worrying for animal cruelty. Could I suggest humbly you make a donation in your wonderful and beautiful dogs memory? Just maybe it would ease the pain knowing you saved another animal’s life.

    My sincere condolences.

  12. Your post was touching and made me cry as well. We lost our 14 year old yorkie three years ago. My kids still go to the spot where she is buried in our backyard and talk to her when they need to. We eventually got a new puppy, but Peyto is still never far from our thoughts. Thinking of you and your family right now.

  13. Thinking of you and your family tonight. Losing a pet is one of the toughest things to go through. You aren’t losing just one person in your life. You’re losing a best friend, a child, a confidant, your constant companion.
    Serena clearly will have a legacy that lives on in all of your family, but also know she is touching other hearts tonight as well as we cry along with you. We should all be so lucky to have a friend like her. Best wishes as your family grieves and heals.

  14. You did a very noble thing rescuing a dog from an unhappy place and turning it into 14 years of happiness for her and your family, and you will have lots of good memories forever. I think the decision to let her go was the best for her and for your family and even if it doesn’t feel that way now, it will be better and less painful for the kids that way, and they will always remember her as the playful dog she was. She lived a happy life. My condolences.
    Michael

    1. Michael, thanks for the kind words. It’s funny, but until people started mentioning how we made a great home for a rescue, all I could think of was how lucky we were to have her in our lives.

  15. I appreciate your post. We lost our dog over three years ago and I still miss him almost every day. We couldn’t imagine being in the house without him and within a couple of months we rented out our home for the upcoming semester and spent five months in Europe. Since then we’ve been away almost half the year. Only now are we beginning to think about staying at home and getting another dog. Losing the dog changed where we wanted to be and how we wanted to live.

    1. Welltravbrit, I can imagine the memory of our dog will have a similar impact on our lives. I don’t think my kids will let us wait that long to get another dog, and I’m sure it will be tough at first to focus on getting a new pet. But, as in most things for me, the happiness and well being of my children will be at the forefront of our decision making.

  16. Beautifully written, straight from the heart. Your puppy was a lucky, lucky soul to have a family like yours. And you were a lucky, lucky family to have her as your beloved pet.

    She’s bouncing around now, chasing bunnies across the Rainbow Bridge, but she will always have one eye on your family…..

  17. First, I’m very sorry for your loss. This was a tough read and honestly I didn’t/couldn’t read much of it. We lost our 14 yo lab/wire hair pointer last August. She was the most incredible pet I’ve ever had. I swear she got me through some very tough times in life and took care of me and the kids much more than I took care of her. I still well up thinking of her or whenever I look at a picture. My take is that these amazing pets touched our lives in very special ways, and we are much better for having had the experience.

  18. Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I’ve lost two dogs over the years and, even though the pain fades a bit, I will never forget the heartbreak. I know that your beloved dog, Serena, is in Heaven. She’ll always be with you in spirit. Hang in there.

  19. Oh man, it’s just an awful hurt saying goodbye to a four legged family member who loved unconditionally, isn’t it? May you be comforted in knowing that she had a wonderful life with you. If you need to let some more tears out, I highly suggest the novel ‘A Dog’s Purpose’… I have a well worn copy I’ve read several times. Wishing you and your family peace and comfort in this sad time.

  20. I know exactly how you feel. Dogs are better than children in most ways, in that they never get mad at you and are always happy to see you. I hope you can find another pup that can fill the hole in your heart.

  21. I am so sorry for your loss. My first ever dog (I’m in my 50’s) is laying on the bed next to me. I can’t imagine losing her, and I can’t umagine what you are feeling right now, but I feel your pain.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of your wonderful companion. I can imagine she will be veto much missed.

  22. Today, we similarly were faced with the choice to say goodbye to a beloved pet my wife had for more than half her life. Imagine my surprise in finding solace for both of us in what would seem like the most unlikely of places: a blog about miles and points. Thank you so much for sharing this today of all days. To say that we felt parallels would be a colossal understatement. We walked this journey with you today and are still struggling with the burden of the day’s pain and decision – right as though it may have logically been, the scar it leaves on the heart hurts just the same. But your beautiful tribute brought some comfort in the knowledge that we didn’t walk that path alone today. Tomorrow, when she isn’t sitting in her usual places, and the muscle memory of the routine of daily care brings us reminders of our pain throughout the day, the tears will inevitably return. When they do, your family will be in our thoughts. When those same tears return for your family, know that you’re not alone. Know that your touching tribute served to do more than help you manage your pain – it helped to ease the pain of two people you’ve never met.

    Thank you again for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  23. So sorry to hear of your lose. Hugs and prayers go out to you and the family. What a wonderful tribute you have write about Serena. I could not stop crying as I read it, but smiled at all the wonderful memories you have to remember her. Our pets are like family and it is heartbreaking to lose one. Having been in your position several times I know how tough it is to get through. You gave her 14 wonderful years and a great life. Time will ease the pain and maybe someday soon you can find it in your heart to rescue another sweat soul like Serena and give a new pet a good home that they may not have without your kindness. You will never forget Serena but a new companion helps to heal that big hole you feel in your heart now and make you laugh once again.

    God Bless.

  24. Hi Ed,
    I’m sorry for your family’s loss. We went through a similar situation with our Bandit last year: he was fine on Friday and gone by Sunday. The funny part is that I was the one who missed him most and cracked first on getting a new dog- the house was just too quiet!

  25. Thanks so much for opening up your heart like this. As the daddy of a 13-year-old Schnauzer, I literally have a moment every single day where I think, “I can’t imagine life without her.” For you, that moment has come, and I’m so incredibly sorry. Still, I keep going back to the beginning of your story, instead of the end–back when Serena was a scared and scarred little thing with lots of issues and not much of a future. You and Michelle chose to love her from that very first day, and that changed her life for the next 14 years, right up until you said goodbye. Thank you for rescuing her and giving her such a great life. If *she* were the one writing this love story, I think she would say it had a happy ending, no matter how sad it seems for you in this moment.

  26. Ed, Michelle, Catherine and Charlie, I was saddened to hear that you were losing Serena, the only “puppy” I ever cared about till Luna. After her initial barking whenever I entered your home, she was so sweet and loving toward me. I am SO sorry that she had to leave you all for puppy heaven. Think of how lucky she was to have been adopted by you and how much she benefitted from the love you four, and the rest of your family and friends, gave to her. Her life was so much improved from the life she lived with her new family. Just know I’m thinking of you during this difficult time and I send you all my love. I wish I could be with you. Hugs to you all, Mom

  27. Beautifully written tribute, Ed — especially that line about Serena’s “trademark head nudges that would knock you over.” I can just see it…Now, even those of us who didn’t know her will remember her fondly. Best, Barbara

  28. My deepest sympathies to you and your family. I’ve been through that several times and it is always awful. Serena knew she was loved and safe; nothing can top that. Your post and photos have made me reach for the Kleenex several times.

  29. I am so sorry for this. It’s very timely for me as the exact situation is occurring to me at the moment with my pet. I took her in for a teeth cleaning and found out that there is a huge issue and a difficult decision to be made. I will say that it makes me feel a little bit better to know that you cried. I only say that because everyone is acting like it’s not a big deal and “she’s just a pet” so it’s nice to know that I am not alone in my reaction to the situation. Again, I am so very sorry.

    1. Beth, not sure what decision you made, but I can assure you it’s a very big deal and your loved one is not just a pet. She’s a part of you with her own unique personality. I’m glad to hear my post may have helped you in some small way. I just hope for your sake that you have the good memories we do and you’re able to find a way to take care of her appropriately.

  30. You and your family are in our thoughts, Ed. We have lost three cats over the years, and we still remember them with love and fond memories. Our “babies” never live long enough. You and your family loved Serena and gave her a perfect doggie life. Thank heavens she found you. It does get better with time. You will never forget her but you will look back and smile.

  31. We went through a very similar experience 7 years ago. One of the most comforting things someone said to me at the time (I think I was outside my kids’ school, sobbing uncontrollably and trying to get control so I could walk in and pick up my kids) was that over time, stories about Josie (our amazing Jack Russell Terrier) would eventually become myths. And he was right. We tell each other those stories all the time. We laugh and we cry, we shake our heads and we are amazed. Josie hasn’t really left us – she has become larger than life. I wish the same for you.

  32. I’m so very sorry for you and your family’s loss. Your tribute to Serena was very touching and moving, and I could feel your anguish. I have been through the same pain more than once, having lost at different times three beloved cats, and all I can tell you is that you do eventually get to a point where you remember them without the ache in your heart. I have never forgotten them, and my husband and I still talk about all of them from time to time. But if our pets did not bring so much to our lives, it would not hurt so much to lose them. You gave Serena a wonderful life; I hope that is some consolation to you.

  33. Very sorry for your loss. It’s so hard, losing a loved one and member of the family. Especially one that loves so unconditionally, and from what it sounds like, chose you and Michelle just as much as you chose her.

  34. I loved your beautiful post. You captured in words so well how I have felt about my furry family members. They truly hold such a special place in our hearts and knowing that we are probably going to outlive them is always the hardest part in deciding to adopt again (although we always do). Thank you!

  35. You’ve got a big heart Ed. Having been through this ordeal three times in the last 2 years, I completely understand. I did the same as you and wrote my heart out after each. I’m glad you’ve found solace in the written word. Remembering all the amazing stuff pets bring to our lives is a great way to celebrate their lives.

  36. All of us who have loved and lost a dog understand your pain. We had a rescue dog also, and eventually she left us. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions.

  37. I’m so sorry for your loss! While reading the story I was torn apart between laughing about all the wonderful memories you have about Serena and crying since I can feel with you how hard it is to let a beloved family member go. I totally understand what you meant with “I’ll be looking around the house for her” because I had the same feeling when our pet went away. It’s heartbreaking but I’m pretty sure that the beautiful memories will help to overcome the pain.
    Thank you for sharing and again…I’m so sorry for your loss!

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