I had never thought much about the afterlife before, but after losing a close companion, I now believe in the idea of heaven–an idea that brings me comfort and peace.
Last year, my family and I made the difficult decision to put down our dog, Tony. I cried for an entire week, but drew strength from teaching and continuing with my daily routine. The avalanche of tears emerged–every morning in my car as I drove to work, shopping, waking up in the middle of the night…And, though I didn’t often show it when surrounded by the people I knew, inside, I felt profound sadness and panic about the grim reality of our situation. Even now, I picture his face in my mind and I start to miss him all over again.
For eleven years, we would go jogging together nearly every day, regardless of the cold or heat. He would always be there to greet me when I drove up to the house. He would hang out by the pool when I swam during the summer. And when he turned eighty in dog years and lacked the vigor to do the same activities, I cared for him even more. I gave him medicine and made sure that his life was still worth living. I thought that if I took good care of him, he would live forever. Logically, the idea was false but, in my heart, I believed I could keep him around for as long as I wanted to.
Each month I would discover more signs of his faltering health, and each month I cried all over again. I could not deny how much weaker his body had become. Yet, I clung to the hope that he would make it through a few more seasons. But, finally, when his hips failed and he spent the whole day dragging himself around the yard and whimpering constantly, we made the agonizing decision to put him down and end his suffering.
My vision was blurred by incessant tears as I said good-bye to him for the last time. I kept saying his name over and over again to reassure him–and myself–that he would be okay. My father and brother gave him a warm bath and wrapped him in a blanket like a baby. I reminded them to keep his leash and collar for I needed a physical reminder of his presence. He seemed to have no awareness of our heavy hearts, or the strength it took us to remove him from his place of refuge.
Even after all this time, I can still hear the pitter-patter of his four paws as he scurried across the garage. I can see his cute, perky ears and how his spotted tongue would stick out when he smiled at me. I have to stop myself from filling up his water dish or sneaking some leftovers into his food dish. Each time I open the door, I expect to see him waiting for me, but he will never be. I have to accept that he really is gone.
I am comforted by the belief that Tony is no longer ill or suffering. I imagine him frolicking with other dogs amongst the green pastures of heaven. And I imagine that someday we will be lying next to each other and we will go jogging around the park again. I will be able to touch him and tell him how much I have missed him and loved him all these years. The fond memories from the thirteen years that we spent together will always remind me of our unwavering bond. It was these thoughts that allowed me to heal and seek solace and peace as I grieved for my loyal companion.