Grief is a snake. It slithers up and down your body, first winding itself around your heart before briefly relenting and moving to your head, where it shakes loose memories at random intervals. It meanders down to your feet, wrapping its body around your legs so tightly it makes walking difficult. It snakes its way to your stomach, releasing battery acid that kills appetite. It moves to your eyes and shuts them, infecting you with fatigue. It manipulates your tear ducts, so you find yourself crying without warning.
After some time, the snake starts to feel familiar enough that you don't fight it the next time you feel your heart beating fast, your stomach tightening, your legs dragging, your eyes closing. There's a comfort to its abuse; facing the silence of absence is too difficult. And so it goes, until one day you realize you don't need to hold onto railings, or bring tissues with you; you can eat a full meal again. The snake is still there, but its attention is elsewhere, as is yours. You convene every once in a while, when the snake wants attention, but most of the time it mercifully leaves you alone. And you're grateful, because when it hits, it's ruthless.
Three weeks ago, I lost my dog suddenly and brutally; she collapsed from a heart attack in the middle of the dog park we attended almost every day for the past four years. I tried reviving her, attempted CPR, and got her to an animal hospital, but I believe she was gone instantly. The only solace I have is that she was living her best life until the very moment her heart gave out.
If you've read one of my reviews over the last four years, or listened to the Android Central Podcast, you know that Zadie, a Great Dane, was an enormous part of my life, physically and emotionally. She was the kid I had before I had a kid; she was my rock, always quietly filling my home with the kind of steadfast commitment and affection I hope everyone has the chance to experience at some point in their lives.
In the hours and days following Zadie's death, I vacillated between the emotion I expected, a sadness so great it bordered on despair, and one I didn't: anger. I was furious at how unprepared I was for her to die so young — she was just four years old and in otherwise perfect health — and how I may not have appreciated her enough in the waning moments of these endless pandemic days, before scratching her soft neck and kissing her goodnight. I was upset with myself for not even considering that an acute illness could suddenly take her from my family, instead of the predictable cadence of canine senility, the indignities of accidents and vet trips, of lumbering assistance down steps and into cars.
The idea that really broke me, though, and the one that still snakes around my heart even today, is that my daughter, now two, probably won't remember Zadie, her sister and perpetual presence on her bed, quietly acquiescing to every possible way an infant, and then a toddler, can menace a good-natured family pet. In the early days after Zadie died, my daughter would walk through the front door, used to her lumbering towards us in beaming greeting, her tail a relentless windshield wiper of joy, and remark, "Zadie's not here," so casually it sent me spinning. I miss Zadie so much, but I miss them together so much more. Seeing them bond and become fast friends was a parent's ultimate privilege.
Zadie wasn't just an incredible companion, but a social animal in the most literal sense; she loved everyone and everything. People, dogs, cats, squirrels, raccoons, skunks (ugh) — she engendered herself to every species by adapting to whatever requirements they had in acclimatizing themselves to a 120-pound supernova of joy.
For small dogs and puppies, she would get down onto all fours and let them climb all over her, thrilled to be perceived as one of them. For cats, she would inch closer, combating their bristling hackles by pretending she wasn't actually interested, all the while trying to get as close as possible. For people, even complete strangers, she would stroll over and stick her giant head underneath their arms as if she wanted them to give her a headlock. After a few attempts, the recipient usually relented and gave her the attention she rightfully earned; if she saw that person again, she would run deer-like towards them and perform a dance I can only describe as circular poetry in motion, before settling in for a lean-in pat.
She made me a happier, more social person. Her insatiable desire to meet people and dogs in the neighborhood made me want the same. She was the genesis for so many meetings with people who eventually became friends, and the formation of a community of dog owners that has held firm even though I no longer visit the park every day. (As an aside, why has there never been a sitcom centered around the people who frequent dog parks? They're fascinating.) Even in death, Zadie continues to give.
Last week, I realized I'd gone a whole day without dwelling on Zadie's absence. The snake slowly released its grip on my insides, which gave me the space to remember her, to appreciate her, to focus on the myriad tiny moments that comprised my love for this incredible animal. The way she would rest her head on my legs as she fell asleep, her giant chest rising and falling in a peaceful, rhythmic cadence, her dog dreams a gentle sigh.
Eventually, I would extricate myself, scratch her soft neck, turn off the lights, and tell her, as I did constantly and without reservation, "Goodnight Zadie. I love you."