Saturday, October 22, 2011

Losses and gains

If you would have asked me at the age of 10 what I wanted most in the world, I wouldn’t have said a trip to Disneyland, every toy ever made or every book ever written. I would have told you I wanted a dog. There was a long period where there were no animals at my house. I wanted a pet because pets always loved you, no matter what.

Finally, when I was a junior in high school, my dad decided he’d gone too long without a hunting dog. He picked out a female chocolate lab puppy from a young litter. While waiting for the day when we could bring her home, we talked about what we’d name her. Every time a name was spoken, I’d shake my head. It didn’t sound right.

“Abigail,” I finally said. “Her name is Abby.” My mom, dad and brother unanimously agreed. It just sounded right. And the first time that small squirming bundle was placed in my arms, I knew that’s exactly what we should call her.

I had never dealt with a puppy in the house before. I was told the crying at night was normal and I should ignore it. I couldn’t. It broke my heart that little Abby was all alone in her bed, crying for her mommy. I finally dragged my comforter and a pillow out to the family room and slept on the floor next to her. When she woke up crying, I’d roll over and place a hand on her. She would stop right away. I did this every night for about a week until she figured out that she was safe and she had no reason to cry.

Abby took feisty to a whole new level. She tested every boundary my parents set, even being labeled as stubborn by her trainer. Her energy was endless. If someone came to the house, she’d rush out to the backyard and jump straight into the air repeatedly out of sheer joy. For this reason, some family friends called her The Kangaroo Dog.

Abby did calm down eventually, turning into a very sweet dog who loved to be petted and cuddled. Her stubborn streak remained, however. No one was ever going to tell her it wasn’t OK to beg for food. If you were eating at my parents’ kitchen table, you could expect to feel the nudge of her nose and hear the whack of her tail against the chairs until you caved and gave her a bite of whatever it was you were eating.

I know dogs don’t live forever. I tried to start bracing myself for the heartbreak after her tenth birthday. For the last year, every single time I’ve left my parents’ house I’ve given Abby a hug, looked into those beautiful brown eyes and told her how much I love her, no matter what. She’d lick my hand and lean into me. I wouldn’t leave until I could find my Abby and say goodbye. Still, I couldn’t imagine the thought of losing her.

Last Friday morning, on October 14, we did lose our Abby. She lived almost 13 years and thanks to my parents’ excellent care, they were happy and healthy years. I know that’s all we can ask for when we get a pet—or for anyone in our lives, for that matter. We want them to live long, happy and healthy lives. And even though she did, I’m still going to miss her terribly.

 Abby was the first pet I watched go from birth to death. It had a profound effect on me. And that’s why I allowed myself to go into the bathroom at work, remember how Abby used to greet me so happily when I got home from school, and cry like a baby. Then I wiped away the tears and told myself that she is safe and I have no reason to cry. I will always miss her but I’m grateful for the years we had and grateful my parents took such good care of her.

I headed straight for Portland  after work to visit two of my closest friends. I warned them to expect some possible emotional outbursts over the loss of my Abby. I didn’t cry during the three hour drive, but I did wonder what was awaiting me. The friends I was visiting have been through hell over the last year and it wasn’t quite over for one of them. I hoped that I would find her in a better place.

I walked into my friend’s house and immediately noticed the energy felt different. The place was cleaner than normal, candles were lit and upbeat music was playing. She rushed out from her bedroom and gave me the hug I’d been needing all day. She was smiling and energetic and looked so much more alive than I’d seen her in a long time.

I unpacked the car and freshened up and we headed to a late night happy hour. Over the wine and food she insisted on paying for, we caught up… and I mean we really caught up. I suddenly realized my friend was back, and it was only then that I realized how much she’d been gone.

 I spent the last year and a half watching an illness slowly take my friend from me. And not just any friend. This was the friend who always succeeded at whatever she tried, who had endless energy, who had goals and dreams and was more responsible than most women twice her age. And it was because I held her in such high regard that I underestimated the illness that was keeping her down. I knew she was strong enough to beat it, but I didn’t realize how much of her it would take before she did. But I knew she would get through it and I would love her, no matter what.

I’m sure she got tired of me saying, “You’re back.” But she is. My beautiful, funny, smart friend is better than ever. That weekend was exactly like the kind of weekend we used to have a few years ago. We did hot yoga, we watched movies, we went out and partied until the wee hours, and we talked… really talked, more than we have in a long time. I didn’t cry on the way to Portland, but I cried on the way home. I cried because I didn’t want to leave so soon after I’d gotten there and found my old friend just the way she used to be, only stronger and wiser. Losing Abby was as hard as I imagined it would be, but having my friend back healed my heart.

But now that she’s back, I’m not going to let her leave me again. She changed so slowly that I didn’t even notice. But I notice now, and she’s not going anywhere. The next time I visit will probably be even better than the last because I know that only good things are in store for her now. She’s back, she’s safe and I have no reason to cry.


MOM said...

Your Abby sounds so much like our Jake! Happy and jumping whenever someone stops over and always begging for food. My husband often asks me how I can stand to eat with 3 little beggars eyeballing me at the table. I'm used to! LOL
I'm glad you enjoyed her and loved her as long as you did. They are love at it's purest for sure. I'm so sorry for your loss sweetie!
Now as far as you catching up with your friend and her being better than ever..I am so happy you got to spend that time with her and seemed to enjoy ever minute. Good friends, real friends are hard to find and I'm so glad you have her in your life and your heart.
Big hugs sweetie!

Anonymous said...

I just got choked up. Aww. Hugs.

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