A letter to my cocker spaniel:
Last week, as my 8-week-old daughter lay on the floor cooing and stretching, I caught a glimpse of you, Lilly dog, that I hadnít seen in a while. Perhaps itís because, at 13, you are deaf and half blind, an old lady of a dog. Perhaps itís the arthritis that makes it hard to jump on the couch or play with the same vigor that you used to. Perhaps itís just the golden years of your life that make it easier to plop in a corner and observe the chaos of our household from a distance.
But I took note as you came up to the baby, tail wagging and sniffed her, then laid protectively nearby. Youíve always known that our children belong.
It seems like just yesterday I brought you home as a puppy, wrapped in a towel in the front seat of my old Civic with your big brown eyes staring at me questioningly. The first year wasnít easy ó there was the incident with a chewed-up coffee table and difficulty with house training. You had a penchant for tearing up toilet paper, chewing up pens and getting into the trash ó bad habits youíve carried through most of your life. You loved walks and had a passion for chasing squirrels and birds. You enjoyed barking at other dogs, but you never seemed to realize that you are one yourself. You are all bark and no bite, as you never met a human you didnít like.
Lilly dog, youíve always been by my side. You were with me as I finished college and grad school, with me through break-ups and new starts. You were with me as I started my career, and the day I met my husband. Just as you welcomed him into our little family, you did the same with each of our three kids.
When we brought our first baby home, you eagerly sniffed her all over, tail wagging. Iíll always remember how you protectively watched over her in the swing and would guard her nursery door when she slept inside. You were there when she first rolled over. When she first began to crawl and took her first step, you were there with us, nervously looking on. Even in your old age, you watched, seemingly unfazed that you didnít quite get as much attention as you used to.
Youíve been with me, Lilly, for my entire adult life. Youíve always been there, which makes the absence even worse, now that you are not. We buried you on Friday morning shortly after dawn, before the kids woke up. We laid you to rest in the backyard, not too far from the swing set. I figured youíd like it that way, always close to the kids, within view.
There is an inescapable void youíve left behind. I still expect to hear the swinging flap of the doggy door, the clacking of your nails across the hardwood floor and the jingling of your collar. Each evening, as I clear off the dishes, I still turn to your dog dish to give you a scrap. Only, the dog bowls have been put away.
A few days ago, our oldest daughter, now 6, sat quietly on the back deck looking out toward where you are buried, her cheeks streaked with tears. We talked about what a great dog you were and how much you loved us. But loss is hard for anyone, especially when itís your first.
Lilly, I hope we gave you a good life, because you sure made ours better. We miss you.
Lydia Seabol Avant is a columnist for The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News.