May 18, 2021

Loss, Grief, Recovery

I have studied loss and grief just like any other physician, including the classic works of Kubler-Ross’ grief stages of death and dying.

All very academic, all very clinical, until it happens to you.

In Kubler-Ross it is your own death and dying – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – all about how you feel about your own demise.

Not how you feel about others, your spouse, your mom and dad, your brothers and sisters, your children, your colleagues – and certainly not how you feel about your dog.

April 1, 2021 at 2:17 we lost our dog. I know it was 2:17 because my cell phone rang when he was dying. I wondered if it was dog heaven on the line letting him know he had direct admission, no need to pass go. Alas it was Rex OR seeing if I was around to look at a patient, in one of the few times in my life I called them back later and told them I wasn’t available. 

We lost our dog because we loved him so much, that we wanted to stop any pain or suffering, and certainly prevent it getting worse. To do so we needed to actively call in our vet and comfort him and hold him while his life forces left his body. 

I’ve never done anything harder in my life. Nothing in my professional or personal life prepared me to face the onslaught of raw emotion, grief, guilt, and pain this produced. Thank God I have my wife Randi to share with and to support me.

Jak, Jak, Jak, Jak, Jak.

My wonder boy, acquired from Eastern Europe as a trained protection dog for my wife and family, for our home. And over 10 years (he came at 2 years old, died at 12.5) he did his duty without fail. No breaches, no slights. 24/7/365. We didn’t need an alarm system, we had Jak. We even paid more in homeowners’ insurance due to Jak, as a liability bite rider, of which he in a few instances demonstrated the need. Nothing too bad, a nip here and a nip there, mostly because we weren’t controlling him well enough. 

Jak commanded and received respect. if Jak loved you, and he loved many, you could rest well at night.

He had a stroke to his hind leg, he hopped going up stairs and dragged that leg. He developed a cancer, became very old and lethargic, sleeping almost all day and not rousing to your presence, couldn’t stand to eat and drink but rather lied down to drink and took food by hand rather than his dish. It had been months since he was in his favorite chair, jumping up. Instead we made him a bed on the floor out of foam and blankets. 

It was doggie nursing home, and then doggie hospice, and then …

I have honored Jak not only with this blog but also with letters, addressed to him, perhaps he will read them one day. 

Our friends and colleagues have been amazing in acknowledging our grief. We are so thankful.

I personally have decided to fully embrace my grief, not to ignore or compartmentalize it. I have found that I have the full capacity to cry and wail and grieve.

Slowly the smiles have appeared, but not fully. I still tear up at times thinking of him, perhaps I always will, and if so what’s that to you? I think it affirms that I can and do love and feel deeply. 

A yellow monarch butterfly flew by our back porch that fateful afternoon, and then reappeared about 10 days after his death.  I’m sure it was Jak’s spirit flying off to heaven, and then back again to check on us. I’m sure every yellow monarch will remind me of Jak, because it’s not just a butterfly, it’s Jak, simply in a different form. 

Randi so loved Jak, he was her study buddy during her online AuD program, spending many hours by her side at the computer. Jak, honorary canine AuD. I should have a certificate printed.

But she didn’t like that she couldn’t control his brute force, or that strangers in the house were at risk. Still she cared for him like her own child, and after his death was still influenced by the routine of needing to get home to let Jak out or making sure he had food and water before she left. When I am reincarnated, I want to come back as Randi’s dog.

Jak is irreplaceable. But our hearts are empty without a canine, specifically a shepherd, GSD. So serendipitously we found Riley. A five-year-old female who lost his owner to illness. Riley needed a home. We have always provided a home to those in need, be they canine or human.

So Riley and Randi and I will all heal together.  Showing each other love and love and love.

Tomorrow Jak’s ashes will come home. R, R, and I will welcome him home and place his ashes in a place of honor on our fireplace in our living room, near the ashes of Kojak, Oakley, and Lexi. Home again.

That mystical place called home – where we live, love and die; and the survivors grieve and hopefully recover. I guess death is a part of life, but if so why is it so hard? I think it’s so hard because our loved ones are just that, so loved and loved and loved.  And the hole in our hearts will never close. But because of them, our hearts are that much larger and can take on so much more.

I know that I am so very much more in touch with my heart, and can much more easily feel the pain and emptiness of others. May I always take that as a gift from Jak. And continue to honor him by feeling, and sensing, and connecting with my friends, family, colleagues, and total strangers – much as he would, except the strangers of course. I mean come on, he was a GSD protector!!!