I recently lost a member of my family.
I don’t tell people my dog died because though Ishy was a dog, it was not a pet shaped hole he left in our lives.
A quick search for pet on Merriam-Webster gave me this:
1. A pampered and usually spoiled child.
2. A person who is treated with unusual kindness or consideration : Darling
3. A domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility.
It doesn’t capture the magnitude of the loss, or how empty my home is now. The word “pet” doesn’t encompass how on my way home from the hospital, after I’d held him and kissed him, and said goodbye, my airway swelled and I had to get out my emergency meds—not because of his fur, or dander, but because my body was too small to hold my grief.
I took the week off. Writing fiction at that time was impossible, but I couldn’t stop writing. I sat down and wrote letter after letter to my Ishy. I wrote the things I wanted to say to him. I wrote down everything I could remember about him, terrified that at some future time I would forget how he’d climb onto my chest and fall asleep, or how much he loved apples and snow, and how he hated water.
Eventually, as I wrote, I knew that at some point I would take these letters and turn them into an essay.
This is not that essay.
The urge to create in the midst of grief is strong. It is, I think, the impulse to see an ending emerge into a new kind of beginning, to give meaning to something that seems so senseless.
We’ve put a small case on our mantel. On one side is his picture, on the other a plaster cast of his paw. I don’t look at it much because the pain is still too great, but I find the idea of his paw print comforting, a solid piece of evidence on his existence.
I am still grieving, but I’m not quite as lost as I was. I imagine the words I put down here, and in the letters to him are also a type of footprint, creating a map of my journey through this pain. Through them I know I will find my way to solid land again, and when I’m strong enough, I know I will never have to fear losing my way back to him.