Empty Collars

November 7, 2017

A big soft teddy bear: That’s what she felt like. Fuzzy and warm, she was always at my feet, or even under them. Her eyes were always on me, keeping track of where I was in the house. Following me upstairs, down to the basement, or in the bathroom, the foot of the bed or beside the couch, she was always within arm’s reach.

Until she wasn’t.

I had been preparing the boys – we had no idea how many days we had left with Gwynny. She was about to turn 14, so we had no promise of tomorrow. She had been healthy, but I wanted them to know that it was a possibility that at any time, she could leave us. I just didn’t think it would be that soon.

“Oh yeah, she’ll make it to 14,” I had said only a month or so earlier.

And then we walked away with an empty collar and shattered hearts.

Her absence fills the house. It is so painfully obvious with each dropped piece of food that she won’t clean up, or the silence as we walk in the door. My hand falls to the side of the couch to pet her, but comes up empty. The jingle of her collar, and her footsteps following me to put the boys to bed- all vanished.

My whole adult life has had paw prints and dog hair and wet noses on glass doors. First it was Annie, my college puppy, silly and happy. She moved countless times with me, and ended up buried at my parents’ country home. Mama dog Gretchen was next, and losing her crushed us. She symbolized the young, carefree days of college and the young love between my husband Stefan and me. As our family grew, she let them in and loved them. When we had to watch her leave this world, it took a long time to recover. I still randomly cry for her 4 years later.

But Gwynny. Beautiful, silly, gross, stubborn, wonderful Gwynny. It’s not that I loved her any more than the others, but that she was the last. Because losing her was the last string cut, there are no more. She was my girl in a house of boys, my companion. This loss has gutted me. See, with Annie and Gretchen, I only had one broken heart. With Gwynny, I feel three. The loss of all three dogs at once, but also the weight of two little boy broken hearts. Gavin was younger than even Lincoln is now when Gretchen died, and Zachary was only 2 ½ . Dealing with the grief of a 5 ½ year and almost 7 year olds is quite different. I can feel my own pain, multiplied with theirs.

We let the boys see her before she died, to say goodbye. We wanted them to understand she wasn’t coming home with us and for them to have closure. It was torture to watch them grieve and mourn, but we felt it was crucial for them to learn how to do those things in a healthy way.

We’ve cried, made drawings, created a Gwynny Lego, made a picture book, written about her, laughed at funny memories, and cried more. I’ve let them see my broken heart so they know it’s okay. I wish I could protect their hearts from pain like this, but I know I cannot. I can only show them ways to grieve, and to lay it all at the feet of Jesus.

I have let myself be sick, and sad, and lonely. But I cannot stay in this place. I have cried within myself, in my own pain and lost in my own heart. While I still long for her, and for the days of being a dog mama, I reach for the hand of my Savior.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the Lord

and put their trust in him.” ~Psalm 40:1-3

I heard this verse quoted from a great author and fellow mom Wendy Speake. The words called to me and reminded me that no matter what the muck is- grief, parenting woes, anger- God can pull us out of any of it. Not only does he pull us out, but he gives us a song. And that song can encourage others to trust in the Lord.

I focus on the life in this house. The crazy, loud, sweet, rambunctious life of three little boys and a husband who loves the Lord. I know my heart will hurt less and less as time moves on. And, as with dealing with any loss, there will still be days of overwhelming grief. But I must choose to live, and love, and serve my Savior with every breath. I will remember her beautiful golden, tan, fluffy coat with white spots on her feet. Her loyalty to me, being with me through everything. Her love for her boys, and how she let them take over her house. Her eyes locked on me as I drove her to the Vet that last time.

The sweet love of a dog has grown my heart. The collars may be empty now, but because of them, our lives were full.

Miss you, Gwynny-Bear.

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