It’s been a year, on December 27th, since Luke died in my arms. It was time, but the time never seems right to say goodbye to a beloved friend and family member, a faithful protector and comrade, and keeper of secrets. Luke was our golden lab. He was sixteen when he died; we had him for fifteen of those years. I could fill pages telling you what he meant to each family member; I won’t. The relationships were different, because Luke knew what each of us needed.
He was the first pet my husband ever truly loved. Luke ran with him, sat patiently beside him as he worked at the computer, and never acted the fool for my husband. My husband doesn’t tolerate fools, and Luke knew it. To my daughter, who has been gone for so long from our home and isn’t a big pet lover, he was a calm and reasonable temptation. He didn’t pander to her; he loved her on her terms, and she loved him back. For our middle son, he was a solid and beloved buddy. He embraced his adventures, and loved him. For our youngest child, he was the best of best friends. He was his cohort in silliness, his friend when our boy felt down, and his shadow for much of our boy’s life. I believe Luke waited to die, until my youngest came home for winter break. Each of my kids and my husband loved Luke in their own ways, and Luke met them on their terms and loved them with his big, full heart. His loss was huge to all of us.
But I will go out on a limb and say that Luke was mine. I picked him at the pound, before I ever brought the kids and husband to meet him. I was home with him nearly every day of his fifteen+ years with us. I was the one who fed him daily, took him to vet appointments, and helped him as he aged. Even when his seventy-five pound, furry mass had to be lifted in and out of the car, or his legs gave out on our tile, he knew I had his back, just as he had mine for fifteen years. I lifted him, I cleaned him and never made him feel bad about his weakened body.
There were countless blessed moments shared. In his last few years, as my mother died, my children flew from the nest, and I felt my life spinning, he came to me quietly and listened to tears drop on cold tile, to my angst, and then my moments of rising confidence, as I came back around and out of it. He walked on beaches with me too many times to count, grinning as I scolded his smelly escapades. He tolerated my melt-downs, and came over to hug me when I was done. He smiled when I couldn’t. Anyone who ever met Luke, noted his smile; it was infectious and clear as any human’s.
During some very hard times, I often thought that the boy’s fur was constantly wet from my grief. He never turned his back on me, but waited patiently for me to rally. We walked hundreds of miles along trails, as I battled painful memories and demons I needed to purge. He seemed to know that I needed to sit beside streams and watch the bubbles, and he didn’t nudge me to move on, until I was ready. And then he walked right beside me, as I held his petal-soft ear. He loved when I did that.
Today my sister had to say goodbye to her beloved pug, Lottie; she was fifteen. Lottie was a member of our family too, and more than once she stayed with us, and we all were taken by her charming ways, and chided her snorts and funny face. But oh how we all loved that sweet girl. I know the pain my sister is feeling today. As my sister struggles with her own demons and her Huntington’s, Lottie has been every bit the companion that Luke was to me. The text this morning, telling me that they were at the vet–– after Lottie suffered a stroke last night, send a jolt through me. I don’t need reminders to know that I still miss Luke, his loss is still with me most days. Some days I still feel surprised when he doesn’t meet me at the door, after a trip. I see him as a blurry shadow in my kitchen sometimes, where he was always my companion. I know my sister will hear Lottie’s soft snore for a long time. I grieve with her, for the loss of a sweet girl, who touched our lives. Her house will feel a bit emptier, and her heart will ache. It doesn’t pass quickly, when we love and are loved so big.
It’s not fair that we lose these sweet companions so soon. Dog years are too short, in a human heart. Oh to live my life with those fur-babies by my side. To not have to hold them as we end their lives. It was an honor to hold Luke in those last moments, just as it was with our sweet Callie Girl, several years before. But it’s an honor that tears the fabric of our family. A hole remains that can’t be filled, even as we fall in love with new pets. It can’t be filled entirely by time. I imagine that when I’m an old woman, sitting in my chair, I may still wish Luke or Callie were there to cuddle beside me.
We had planned to spread Luke’s ashes in all the places he loved best, just as I did with Callie’s, but I wasn’t ready this summer, when the mountain trails were clear. I could see him dash ahead of me as I hiked this summer, still checking on me, as he always did in life. I couldn’t leave his ashes… yet. They remain in a special box, on ledge in our kitchen, along with his well-worn collar. We will spread some this Christmas, as we remember the anniversary of his passing. I don’t need any reminders. The box of ashes only weighs three pounds, but his weight in our lives, in my life, is immeasurable. A year has nearly passed, and the weight of love anchors me.
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