Good Grief

By Martha Marcom

My first venture into blogging was about our dog, Lily. That sweet girl died this past week. I’d been steeling myself for her departure. Her litter-mate, Ranger, had passed away in 2009, and I thought at the time Lily might be dying as well. In Ranger’s final weeks, Lily was sleeping all of the time and disinterested in her surroundings. We realized many months later that she had been in mourning. While seemingly unawareness of Ranger’s condition, she was actually deeply cognizant that her sister dog was getting ready to depart the earth, and her grief began then. Lily kept one full year of quiet time before reemerging as her old lively self. We belatedly understood that Lily was deep honoring Ranger’s dearness and their years of lively friendship.

We didn’t always have Ranger, Lily’s litter mate who’d remained with the breeder (my sister!) for her whole puppyhood. Lily made it clear to us that she longed for a dog. She would look out of the windows all day, intent on her self-appointed job of keeping our home safe from any potential marauding squirrels. And when a random dog walked by, she would bark in a way that seemed to say, “Come see—it’s a dog!” If it was a dog she knew, the message was even more excited, “My friend is out there. That’s my friend walking by!” My sister gave us Lily’s sister dog, and they taught each other skills. Lily taught Ranger to overcome her fearfulness and to approach an unknown dog in a playful way, and when Ranger found how rewarding it was to connect with other dogs, she became the ambassador of the pair to meet and greet new dogs.

Lily, Martha, Ranger from early this century

In my mind, I have been preparing for Lily’s passing. She was 108.5 dog years old. I knew the end was near and I’d had it all worked out—playing up the benefits of not having a dog, imagining life without the worry and the growing expense. Clearly, Lily’s body had begun to fail her and, although the pain medication seemed helpful, in death she would be free of her arthritis, her deafness, her dimming vision—all of her limitations.

What I did not anticipate in the preparation for her loss was that my body would react so strongly. The night she was unable to stand on her legs, I became so nauseous that I was useless for a while—through the visit to her vet, her departure, and even now.

The physicality of that dog—her presence in our home, her cheerful company, the intimacy of stroking her beautiful coat, sharing her delight in seeing members of her “pack,” her tremendous appreciation of food and being outside—that physical absence is painful and dizzying. And she was also my yoga dog, a faithful witness to my practice every day for all of those years.

I steeled my mind against her loss, but it seems that a deeper level of my being reacted to it in a more powerful way than I’d planned.

Dogs teach us about both life and death, and are masters of generating love. They are shining examples of living in the moment. They are joyful. They fully inhabit their bodies and use all of their senses. Our dog mourned the loss of her sister with her whole heart and being. She accepted her own deafness and her failing limbs and eyesight with no complaint and with great dignity.

I had attempted to diminish the pain of loss, but as the wisdom of my own sweet dog and my own wise body reminded me, that’s not necessarily the way love and loss works.

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13 Responses to Good Grief
  1. Tom Karl

    Thank you for sharing your loss. Our dog, Rolf, passed away on the winter solstice. Such grief we had never known. Your post yields insight into our grief and tells us we are not alone.

  2. Bill

    Yes Martha, your thoughts of “Dogs teach us about both life and death, and are masters of generating love. They are shining examples of living in the moment” are perfect for what they are and what they can teach us! If only our other teachings were so easy for us to receive…

  3. Amy Jeske

    I am deeply sorry for your loss.

  4. Kim Carter

    Thank you for sharing this moving experience, and your insights into the incredible connection among all sentient beings Truly sorry for your loss.

  5. Bettina

    Thanks for sharing your loss with us. You are so eloquant in speaking about your dog. I agree with you, dogs teach us quite a lot!! I am sorry for your loss Martha.

  6. Kyrsten Kibbey

    Dear Martha, I am so sorry for your loss. My own “Lily” is lying curled up by my side as I read and write this. The special connection between dogs and humans allows us to give and receive love unconditionally. I know that despite your grief, you gave her a wonderful life and home and that she was deeply loved and her suffering is now over.

  7. Sara Hall Phillips

    Thank you for sharing this, Martha. This is a beautiful testament to who Lily was, and to what she and Ranger brought you. I especially love the part where you talk about what dogs teach us — you’re so right, and I have learned similar things from cats! Animals are masters of being in the present, and have so much to teach us. I’m so sorry for your loss, but so pleased to hear about the sweet joy she brought to your life.

  8. Sandy

    Martha my dear teacher and friend, so sorry for your loss. I so feel your pain, we lost our Charlie in August and my heart and soul left me for awhile. I knew I loved him and we had a special connection but i never dreamed i would be so lost. Not only did our youngest son leave for college few weeks before and trying to get used to empty nest, then Charlies passing…was a little much for me to handle. I know they are here to teach and guide us to the knowing animals are spiritual beings and the love they give is unconditional always. I will treasure that teaching and feel much gratitude i was selected to be his keeper. I love and miss you and send you light and peace.

  9. Chris

    Beautiful and touching….. xxoo

  10. Catherine Grow

    What a gorgeous tribute to Lily…and to all such good dogs! You write so exquisitely and exactly about all it means to have such a dear canine companion–how their lives and deaths can affect us so completely. They do teach us, comfort us, and love us–constantly and unconditionally–and their losses are devastating. Anyone who reads your very moving piece who has lost a dear doggy companion will find him/herself nodding in recognition as they read along…and recalling memories while feeling, deeply, your great loss. Even as I watch our Maxwell, a gorgeous, one-year-old Golden we rescued last February, snoozing on his bed nearby, I can feel the spirits of our dear Caleb and Cody close by. Though it’s been a few years since they died, whenever it snows, I shovel a path out to their graves; I expect I always will.
    My deepest condolences in the loss of your dear Lily. The photo of you with Ranger and Lily is beautiful and says it all….

  11. Linda Chun

    thank you for sharing such beautiful words. so sorry about your loss. love to you and jerry.

  12. Angela NIcolosi

    Beautifully written, Martha. Thank you.

  13. Rhonda

    Oh Martha, my heart sank when I read that 2nd sentence. I am so sorry for your loss of that sweet dog, and I will greatly miss our late night walks in the park whenever I have the good fortune to stay at your home. Lily and Ranger were the best!