Meet The New Puppy: A Lesson In Loving After Loss

When my beloved eight year old Bichon Frise pup Grendel died unexpectedly, my heart was broken. I cried almost all day, every day, for over a week, feeling as if the pain would never end. I woke up in the middle of the night with my pillow wet with tears. I prayed the whole thing was a nightmare. I wished I could turn back time, if only for a few minutes, so I could hold Grendel just a few more moments, treasure her just a little while longer.  When you’re rolling in grief, you wonder if you’ll ever come out the other side. The pain is visceral. The void is palpable.  It hurts so much you pray you’ll never have to feel it again. In fact, you feel like you’d do almost anything to avoid such abject misery.

But as I told Siena when she was mourning her friend Vivien, who had to return to Chicago after an extended visit, and as I warned her when she took in two baby rat-coons who died soon after, when we fall in love – whether it’s with pets, parents, lovers, or dear friends – we must give those we love permission to break our hearts. Otherwise, we can’t really fully experience the gifts of love and life.

Permission To Break My Heart

When I married Kirk at 24 – and we later divorced – I felt so lost, so hurt, so profoundly alone and woefully unlovable that I found myself tempted to shut down, to close my heart, to make myself less vulnerable, to protect myself from ever feeling so much pain again.

Then when I took a chance, opening my heart and marrying rebellious, tattooed, sexy bad boy Paul at 30, I once again gave a man permission to break my heart. This time, when the relationship ended in the worst possible way and I decided to walk away from the marriage, the heartbreak was even more traumatic. I’ll never forget sobbing on the dock of the marina where we kept our boat, after Paul stopped coming to our marriage counseling session and I realized the marriage was over, feeling the jagged jolts of raw nerve exposed in every body part. After that divorce, the temptation to lock the doors of my heart was even greater.

Then Matt came along, with his wild tenderness and exceptional emotional availability, right as I was ready to write off men for good. Somehow, he managed to pry open the creaky closing doors of my heart, and I took an even greater risk, not only marrying him, but choosing to have a child with him – the ultimate exercise in giving someone permission to break your heart.

As if marriage doesn’t feel risky enough, the minute you become a parent, you also become profoundly aware of how much you have to lose. The idea of having your child die before you becomes impossible to even conceptualize, much less indulge. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life as when they handed me my baby girl in the recovery room after my C-section.

Matt and I have now been together for ten years, and yet, even still, I know nothing in life is guaranteed. He could stop loving me. He could leave me. He could even die.

So could Siena.

But it’s a risk I know I have to take.

Giving My Heart Away – Again

As an exercise in heart opening, I have also just brought into my family’s life a new puppy. For over a year, we have been searching animal shelters, trying to find a hypoallergenic rescue dog (Siena and I are both allergic to some breeds) to bring into our home, first as a companion for Grendel, and then after Grendel died, as a new dog to bring light and love to our home. But we have been unsuccessful in finding an older dog that needs a home. The local shelters tell us that cute little poodles, bichons, malteses, yorkies, and other such fur-free, hypoallergenic pets simply get swooped up the minute they show up, on the rare occasion when they show up at all.

So since Siena and I have been summering in Ohio with my family, when we met an Ohio puppy who walked right into our wide open, still grieving hearts, we decided to take a risk – to bring home another dog and, knowing we will probably outlive her, give her permission to break our hearts.


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