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What Losing My Dog Taught Me About the Duality of Grief and Love

They say pets are good for you. They are there consistently, regardless of what regrettable things you’ve said or horrible things you’ve done. They don’t hold your past sins against you and you don’t have to barter for their love. True, selfless and real love may not come through a partner or a friend, but instead they may have orange sable fur and big brown eyes. They’re eight pounds when they’re supposed to be five, which the vet gets on you for every single visit. They’re afraid of thunderstorms until they can longer hear them due to old age, and their misty eyes remind you of all the times they were there and able to comfort you when everything around you was just too much to handle.

Roxey died July 17, 2020 at 3:08 p.m. and with her passing I was forever changed.

Girl crying with elderly dog in lap

She was so bright and full of life even in her final moments. She smiled at me as I held her close to my chest, sobbing as I thanked her for giving me a reason to live all those times I couldn’t find one, or when the reasons I had just weren’t good enough. She is the reason I am here able to type these words. Without her my life would have ended years ago.

When she died, I told everyone that the sun was shining brighter than ever because she was now the sun, but that’s not the truth. When she left my life it was as if all of the light in the world had been stolen. There was no more warmth. Music had no melody and art no meaning. When she left, she left me to face this world alone, something I hadn’t done since I was 10 years old.

I did my best to push on. I finished my manuscript that is currently being queried. I started practicing my juggling again. I made time for self-care and even talked to my therapist. I promised Roxey that I would be OK and I was doing everything in my power to be OK because I couldn’t let her down. I promised her I wouldn’t waste a single day — that I would fight for love and happiness and everything that was meant for me. But how could I do that when I could barely get out of bed?

There was a day late August where I could no longer pretend I was OK. I made her a promise that I didn’t keep. I said I would be fine when she left, but I was anything but. When she first died I self-medicated with hope and false delusions that I would heal swiftly, and instead there I was, isolating myself away from the world. 

I didn’t want to live, but I promised her I would and so I would live, but just barely– just enough to say I didn’t break that promise.

Grief enveloped me in ways I was not prepared for and I have fought demons for years. I recovered from self-harm years ago. I pulled myself out of that familiar depression hole countless times. Whenever I wanted to drive off the road I did not. I recovered from an eating disorder in the midst of a global pandemic and yet the passing of my dog destroyed me in ways I had never experienced. Self-care tips did not help. I did not want to see my friends. I would live, but I would be nothing more than a ghost amongst those who knew me before she left.

I was screaming for help but also hoping no one would hear me as I started utilizing sleeping aids to sleep a little bit longer and deeper every night. I was careful with my dosage, because I knew I had a promise to keep and if I did nothing else, I was going to keep that bare minimum of a promise. I would live.

My friends knew I wasn’t OK. They watched and did their best to intervene, but being the actor I am I did my best to play down how bad it really was. They had suspicions and maybe one friend truly knew, but what were they to do?

The sun may have shone brighter on July 17, but I haven’t felt the sun’s rays since.

Early September I felt a weird intuitive pull to go look at dogs. Maybe it would give me some form of serotonin, something I lacked more often than not. 

September 7, 2020 I was cold in the hot Florida heat as rain soaked my hair and my pretty blue dress I put on to convince people I had myself together — that I hadn’t broken that promise. I stepped inside and saw dogs lined up and down. A smile tickled the corners of my lips as I watched all of these babies prance around and I was brought back to when I found Roxey. Flooded with flashbacks of young me visiting a dog that wasn’t yet mine for two weeks straight, I did not want to be there looking at dogs in the present tense. I couldn’t take it, not when they all reminded me of her.

That’s when things changed.

A little brown ball of fuzz hid on the side of a cage while all the other dogs played and barked around her. She did not make eye contact as I stared at her for what felt like hours. Finally I asked to see her.

I sat on the floor of the play pen. She crawled over to me like she had known me for years and sat in my lap. Tears — real hot ugly tears rushed down my face as I held this three pound thirteen week mini Australian Shepherd in my lap. Clear as day her name came to me, Callie.

For reasons I do not want to disclose I did not think she would be able to come home with me, but the universe aligned the stars in just the right way and three guardian angels came to my rescue.

Girl smiling with dog on her lap

Callie came home with me September 8, 2020 and it poured down rain the entire drive home. When I parked I looked at her and once again started sobbing.

I didn’t have to be alone anymore. I had a reason to wake up again. I had a purpose.

I shook that night as I watched her sleep, afraid something bad would happen. I was so terrified that this little blessing would be snatched from me and I would be left to my own devices again. 

At no point did I feel that I was cheating on Roxey or that I wasn’t ready for a new baby. Yes, the grief that I was feeling was the sharpest pain I had ever experienced, but I knew that my heart was big enough for more than just grief. I’m reminded of that every time Callie nudges me or whines in the middle of the night.

The heart is such a beautiful and powerful thing for being able to handle the duality of grief and love in such a complex way. I still miss Roxey. She was a soul mate and my best friend. She was as much a bully as she was a sweetheart. She was confident and fun, and represented the best parts of me. I miss Roxey day in and day out and I still find myself triggered by her passing daily. I actually think it is compounding the natural stress and anxiety that comes with being a new dog mom. I hover over Callie as if it is a job, always paranoid, always scared I’ll lose her before I’m ready just like Roxey.

I miss Roxey with every ounce of my being while also loving Callie with just as much fervor and devoted passion. It’s not black and white. It is every shade of gray imaginable. It’s not a beautiful day with perfect skies versus a stormy dark sky with angry winds. It is a sun shower. I can still feel the rain. It still drenches my clothes and runs mascara down my cheeks, but I can also feel the sun heating me up with its warmth teasing clear skies ahead.

I do not know when those clear skies will find me again. They may not ever, but the sun will still shine, hot and happy, not having to beg to be seen, and the rain will still come replenishing and cleansing all that it touches.

I’m better now thanks to Callie and those who have continuously loved on me even when I tried to hide from them. I’m not perfect. I’m not great, but I can breathe again. I’m laughing more than I’m crying. I’m dancing more than I’m walking. I’m in a better position to keep the promise I made July 17, 2020.

I promised I wouldn’t give up and that I would live and love wildly and freely — that I would not waste this second chance she gave me at life and I’m intent to keep it.

To see more from Brittany, visit her site and follow her on Twitter.

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