1. You enter into high anxiety, stress, and worry that something is happening to your loved one. You’re scrambling.
2. You also go in and out of denial. Thinking there’s going to be a way out and a plan, you just have to find it. You try to maintain some semblance of your life because it affirms that everything is going to be okay. You have a hint of selfish thoughts on how this will change things and you beat them back with your better self.
3. Denial gets mixed up with hope. And this helps you to sleep a little.
4. Urgency. You realize that hope is fading and its friend denial is also checking out. You no longer sleep. Food suddenly tastes terrible.
5. You are hit with a ton of bricks. You have rage. You have sorrow. And you have fear. You’re afraid of death, this thing we all try to never think about because it’s incongruous to living.
6. You try to cram in all the love you can. You do this because your loved one has been sick and your relationship has changed the past weeks because sickness simply changes people. You also feel incompetent because you are helpless at stopping their pain.
7. In a healthy moment, you remind yourself that you’ve loved this being for years and you don’t have to cram it in now. All of it exists at the same time. Just help them.
8. I research. I write a lot. I take photos. I make lists. I try to feel like I have control where there is none.
9. You enter into a heightened mode because death is coming. You never access this mode so you feel unfamiliar to yourself. You feel strange and almost fake because death is un-comprehendable, un-acceptable.
10. You try to say the things you need to say to your loved one but it’s mixed with desperation, sincerity, self-observation, meaninglessness, truth, and love. You fail to remember that all those memories with them were mother. fucking. love.
12. Death comes.
13. You are shocked the sun is still shining and people are all still doing their daily routine. Your brain gets confused. No one knows you are carrying this secret event but it feels like they should and you despise them just a little for not.
14. You begin to feel like you’ve landed on another planet. You look down at your hands and expect a different form. You look for signs that maybe you have been transported, perhaps the vase is in a different place or the color of the flowers on the tree outside went from white to pink. And you can say, I knew it!
15. You cry hysterically. You’re overcome with guilt and analyze minutiae of the past weeks, every fail. You are hard on yourself. Harder than you’ve ever been or will be. You fight off regret and come to the unrealistic and unattainable conclusion that you should have loved them every day to the fullest oversaturated capacity and you failed at that so you suck. You go through every detail of every minute of your life with them and measure it against this impossible standard.
16. You then are hit with an enormous wave of numbness and emptiness. All the stress from worrying about your loved one is suddenly removed. You realize how much it was occupying your body. There is a release, like after an orgasm. Muscles unclench. Your brain feels like it’s floating in euphoria.
17. Then, it’s like you’ve just walked through a curtain into another dimension where your loved one doesn’t exist. As though they’ve never existed in this new plane you’re on. You see evidence around of their existence so it doesn’t compute.
18. The evidence sends you into a new pattern of on and off crying and then the numbness again. You’re fucking exhausted. You can show people the evidence (an unfinished drink or marks on the window from their nose) but you can’t produce the body.
19. You write to friends and family letting them know, with the secret agenda that they will say they love you and are thinking of this being you lost – and so many emails come – and it does help. You’re not alone.
20. You get a tiny glimpse into moving on without them. You dip your toe in but not your foot because that feeling just made you want to throw up. You occupy yourself at times but you run back to the sadness, like a child running to hide behind their mom, because you begin to feel the sadness equates to holding onto them.
21. You drench yourself in them. All their photos, videos, stories, and material possessions because of that toe dip your brain took. You know someday you’re going to move past this and have days where they don’t come to mind or you forget what they smelled like. Time will strip them away like fading paint and you know it. You hate it.
22. You continue with an on and off rhythm of drenching yourself with them, stepping away, and then pouring them over you again like walking through a waterfall. You start thinking you’re mourning too much but you’re a rebel and don’t care. BUT with all that drenching, you refocus on their life before the illness and that secretly becomes the key to healing.
23. Eventually, there’s more time in between these visits to the waterfall. You’ll try to conjure the hysterical crying but it’s a little less accessible day by day. You plan some symbolic gesture. Throwing the ashes. Getting a tattoo. Taking a trip. And push away self-destructive thoughts.
24. And one day, they are just a beautiful being that you speak of. That you remember fondly. But the searing pain is removed. Details have faded. And you’ve transferred the love you reserved just for them into other loved ones around you. And it’s a sharper love. More pure than before. The highest grade. The expensive love.
25. And then of course, one day you will go as well. And the process will be the same for your loved ones left behind and you’ll want that. To move forward. To replace and recycle their love for you with more love for others. That good love. That love that’s known loss…
I’ve realized that your first dog is really your dog ambassador. I didn’t know a thing about dogs. Toki watched laughingly at things I tripped up on or didn’t get right, i.e., if he barks at you in a certain way he is probably five minutes from having diarrhea in the house. Don’t say, “why you barking so funny?” or hide on the porch to play a barking game.
I know you see dogs on the street, and in internet videos, and they're cute but, if you haven’t raised one, you aren’t "in the know” on how fucking special they are.
Toki was my dog ambassador. He showed me without fail all the character traits of dogs that make them magical beings. Such as...it does NOT matter how many times you walk through that door (even if you come back 2 minutes later because you forgot your car keys), dogs greet you like you are the best person in the universe. They shower you with love and tail-wagging. Toki use to even pee a little with over-joyment --- then lick it up because he was embarrassed and didn’t want to ruin his dog ambassador reputation.
He let me know that a dog’s tail can helicopter in a circle so powerfully with happiness that they might lift off the ground. He would also speak so much verbally that I almost thought he was going to say words with a Frankenstein clumsiness. And the final stage of hello was gnawing on my arm with the strongest love bites. And all of this was because I just returned to him?!
My dog ambassador also showed me how deep dogs can cuddle. Not like a little cuddle but a deep snugs, making big moans with each stroke of the tummy. And if I was sad, he would kiss my face and stare into my eyes projecting telepathically that he loves me unconditionally.
Toki the dog ambassador also showed me the value of long walks. He could walk forever and sometimes we did. If there was something strange in the sky (balloons, a drone, small plane, butterflies, parrots, model airplanes), he would look at me and say, “Do you see that!!!?? Wow!!” And I would say “Wow” back because it’s true: WoW!
He also, much like a child does, honed some good human character traits within me: responsibility, generosity, selflessness, punctuality, and compromise.
He also reminded me of what family is, or what he’d call a pack. When I’d say, “we’re gonna go see daddy (my doggy co-parent Adam)” he’d get all excited and ready to go. When we’d go for our evening walk, he’d go find where James was in the house and invite him to come with us.
Dog ambassadors are also keen to show you how absurdly goofy dogs are. They mess up on tricks and fall off sofas and run in circles and I am suspecting it was all done for laughs. Toki one time fetched a ball from a garden and came back with the wire garden fence wrapped around his head, ball in the mouth. And all the times he couldn’t catch a single thing in his mouth -- you did that on purpose didn’t you! The internet was basically invented for dog videos! Their ambassadorships have gone viral!
Your dog ambassador is also going to reveal to you that they have the mental capacity of a small child. They will ask for things like more affection, demand your attention, pout, and play just the way kids do (including wanting that baby voice talk). Science has proven it!
They’ve also proven that they lower your blood pressure just by being in the room with you.
To have a being circling my bed in the morning hours, waiting for me to show any signs of being awake, and then jumping into bed to kiss me over and over again is a love that exists nowhere else. To have a being that sits at my feet eternally even when the backyard door is open made loneliness impossible. To have a being who would come up and rest his chin on my thigh and then look up at me and sigh peacefully gave me a sense of comfort I will never know with anything else.
Toki returns to the universe as the most highly decorated dog ambassador, fucking number one with a bullet. And that is why my heart is torn to pieces. I lost my bestest friend. He never judged me (well maybe a few times) and he took his insanely cute fur and floppy ears and made me love him so deeply. My only complaint to the dog management team is that our dog ambassadors leave us; they fill up these holes in us that come from being human and the silence after their departure is almost unbearable.
I love you Toki........until the end of my body’s existence where I hope we meet up again.