on the passing of a friend, 2019

on the passing of a friend, 2019

I lost my best friend two mornings ago… this after losing my mom last year and my dad two years before that. I did surprisingly well with the losses of both my parents and started to worry that there was something wrong with me, that I had a stone for a heart… now I know better.

I’ve known a few painful times in my 62 years but losing Jackson Brown eclipses every other painful experience I can remember. We got him when he was just seven weeks old and named him after the singer because I’m a fan of Browne’s music and because chocs are… well, brown. He’s been my constant companion, faithful friend and confidant since then – through a painful divorce, three moves, two jobs and retirement, my ‘lost year’ (a serious bout with depression around the time of my divorce), the end-of-life care and eventual passings of both my parents and my recent happy remarriage. In all this time, he’s always been there for me, patient, understanding, always ready with a never-ending supply of unconditional love… He was the one stable being that I could always count on. He loved going for walks, anytime, anyplace. His goofy antics never failed to make the darkest days less so and his thumping tail and slobbery kisses were always there to celebrate the good times with me. When he had bad days of his own I was there for him too – usually anxious or worried, sometime crying and afraid. He had a terrible problem with lipomas – fatty tumors. He eventually had many of them and some were very big. He weighed about 130 pounds on his last visit to the vet and I’d guess 30 pounds or more of that were those damned tumors. What an unfair world – where such a noble being can be forced to endure such an affliction. But endure it he did – patiently and with good nature, as he did every trial or unpleasantness in his life that we were unable to avoid.

These last few years have been increasingly difficult for me. I’ve watched the clouds gathering on the horizon, knowing that we were living on borrowed time. The average life expectancy for a lab is about twelve years and we’d passed that milestone almost two years ago. Hip dysplasia (a common lab ailment) had put an end to our long walks in the park. Now it was all he could manage to make it down the few steps on the front porch a couple times a day (with help) to ‘do his business’. We had to make up a bed for him downstairs as he was no longer able to make it upstairs to sleep with me, even with my helping him to climb the stairs. His hearing was almost completely gone, and cataracts clouded his brown eyes. He had trouble standing up and would always look to us to help him.

I wasn’t with him Friday morning when he passed, but thankfully my wife was. (He loved her as much as he did me, I think; he always did seem to bond more quickly with women.) He was on his bed in our livingroom as he usually was every morning when we came down. I was sleeping in a little that morning and my wife came up to wake me. When she said “Honey, I think Jackson is gone” I felt sick. I hurried downstairs and discovered that she was right. His old tail wasn’t thumping in greeting, there was no response when I stroked his head… I knew the day I’d been dreading for so long had finally arrived.

I guess you never know how you’ll react to a loss like this. Thankfully, nobody has said anything like “he was ONLY a dog…” People who haven’t experienced this level of attachment to a pet won’t understand. I get it. I’m a peaceful person but I’m afraid I’d lose the thin shred of self-control I have remaining if I heard those words, and I’d say or do something I’d immediately regret. Perhaps you’re nodding your head and choking back a lump in your own throat as you read this – you’ve been through it and understand on a very deep level. For me, it’s really only the third day. The wound is very fresh and very painful. I had hopes that maybe it would have begun to dull by now, maybe even just a little, but instead I find the opposite. Maybe I’ve really been numb so far and it’s only really BEGINNING to hurt…

I feel guilty for this morning’s sobbing fit (mornings REALLY suck… sleep is a place of escape, even if only for a few hours). My wife is compassionate and understanding (she’s a pinnacle of those virtues, as anyone can attest – both for me and for everyone else she comes in contact with) but I still feel guilty for leaning on her as heavily as I am. But I can’t help it. There is no escape from the pain, and sometimes it keeps coming in waves until I’m literally gasping for breath.

I’ve looked for some ‘how to cope’ websites, of course; yours (https://www.rainbowsbridge.com/Grief_Support_Center/Grief_Support_Home.htm) is one that’s  come up. Your ‘suggestions’ page is the most helpful and most understanding thing I’ve read so far, and I beg your indulgence for this long, rambling, unasked-for email in response. As I’m sure you know, it has to come out. 


Writing this is me trying to do that. I’ve read that sleep, exercise and trying to maintain something of a normal routine is helpful. 

I’m trying.

I took my camera out for a long walk in a peaceful place with my wife yesterday and we were able to talk without me sobbing and unable to speak for a little while. I took a couple of half-hearted photos (another coping mechanism) and processed them when we got home.

Home… to a silent, empty house with no furry friend there to greet us. God, that’s so hard. But getting out of the house and spending time in the sunshine – like sleep – is a temporary reprieve and maybe it helps a little. Right now the waves of depression, sadness, loss, grief, helplessness and the sense of disorientation, of not knowing – what I need, what I want to do, where I want to go, what I want to eat… ANYTHING – easily roll right over my feeble attempts to ward them off. 

Today, there are only two things I know: I want the pain to stop. I want to wake up and find this was all just a bad dream and I can still go hug my dog’s neck.