Just writing that title makes my throat clench and my eyes fill with tears. He may have just been a dog, but he was so much more than my pet. He was my best friend for 14 years. Golden retrievers usually have an average life span of 10 years; he lived for 14 amazing years. He was my baby, the little puppy we named Curly because he was born with a little wave on his forehead. He came into my life when I was just 11 years old, was there for me throughout the dark days of my teenage years, and helped to usher me into my 20s and adulthood. How do you say good-bye to someone who has been such a fixture in your life?
I want to be eloquent in my good-bye, but my heart is broken, and I know that nothing I could say will ever truly express how much one 80 pound furball impacted and enriched my life for more than half my life. I want to get into my car, and remember how much he loved sticking his head out of the window; I want to go for a walk and remember how he used to love going on walks, even when they caused him pain. He was so happy. I want to remember all the crazy things he did, all the socks he stole, all the Kleenxes he dug out of the garbage and ripped up to tell us he wasn’t getting enough attention, all those ridiculously sappy looks he gave me, and how he filled my life with unconditional love.
Losing a beloved pet is a heart-wrenching and painful experience, but the joy Curly has given me these past 14 years far outweighs the pain. I repeat this to myself whenever I am overcome with grief and longing. Even in his final days, he was happy to be inside with his humans, lying on the air vent, one of his favorite places in the house during the summer. Even when I had to carry him outside because he could not handle walking on his own, he never, ever, once complained, or whined, or was snippy. Sometimes, he would lie down on the grass, sticking his nose up in the air, looking content with that smile only dogs can smile. I wanted to lie down on the grass with him, and press pause, so that I could capture the moment in my heart forever.
Everything that I do is inundated with memories of him; the jingle of my keys reminds me of how excited he used to get when I said the words, “Car ride?” The clinking of ice in my glass of how ice cubes were one of his favorite treats, and that he would come running whenever he heard that clinking sound. How saying, “Oops,” while in the kitchen sent him running in to see what fell on the floor. The last day he was with me, I was so proud of his brave and gentle soul that my heart filled with so much love that my body could not contain it. I wept.
But losing him only makes me more determined to appreciate life. There is something about experiencing the death of a loved one that makes me realize how much I take for granted in life, and how the simplest things bring the greatest joys. It was a gorgeous day, that day we said goodbye. I lifted my head into the breeze, letting the wind ruffle my hair the way it used to ruffle his. This is how I want to mourn him, by taking pleasure in what I normally ignore, or what I forget about under the weight of responsibilities and never-ending to-do lists. I let my memories of him wash over me, and somehow I find myself smiling rather than crying. He was the best. My best friend.
And I will miss him. Goodbye Curly, I will always love you.