Compartmentalized Grief

Well, we’re nearly three weeks into 2010 and I’ve finally made a resolution. I’m going to be nicer to the dog, Norah. It seems like that should be easy. She is a golden retriever, after all.

But you see, Emily was the dog-love of my life. She was a beautiful, bold, mean, brown, shelter-dog that had a bad habit of biting people. She licked the back of my bald head while I napped on the couch in my chemo days. She slept under my desk while I wrote my book. She read my mind. I loved her too much and I knew it. Emily died in July.

My Girl

Emily had only been gone for two days, and I was hoping to get a little sleep without the assistance of my good friend Ambien, when Paul climbs into bed and says he’s been to the pet shelter site and seen a lab-mix that is “good with children.” What what?

I’ve been known to battle insomnia from time to time and I have a rule that there is no talk of taxes or attorneys in bed. Paul seems to need to unpack things at the end of a long day or he needs to tell me before he forgets. I need to push things aside and hope they go away. I’d never thought to add dog acquisition to the list.

I say (or perhaps screech so loud that only dogs can hear) something like – we can’t have a dog for like five years because I can’t deal with a puppy and a toddler and we can’t train another shelter dog! Have you lost your mind?

He says something like, sorry babe, but that’s not going to work for me. I’m a dog person. I need a dog.

Goodbye night’s sleep…

A few days later, my mother, sister and I are sitting on the deck and when I tell them this story my mother says she knows just what I need. A breeder’s dog! A 2 to 4 year-old, trained, nice, momma dog that’s done having puppies.

I wave my hands and shake my head, no, see, in fact, I don’t need any dog at all. I love dogs but with the kid, there are days when I just don’t feel I have any more love to give. A few minutes later, amid the chaos of three toddlers preparing for dinner, my mother slips away to email her dog breeder/friend.

I have an email from the breeder and photos of the perfect dog by the next morning. Do you see where this is going?

A few nights later, Paul and I have a date night. Really? I ask. A dog? What about Emily? Won’t you think about her every time you see this dog? Won’t you be comparing her to Emily?

He says it’s not about replacing Emily. It’s about getting another dog. Our grief will be the same.


My life is better with a dog in it, he says. I want a dog.

I’ve got nothing. I can’t argue with that. The truth is that Paul rarely makes proclamations or mandates. Our marriage is more of a… collaboration (perhaps that’s code for: I’m a controlling bitch). This time he’s really insisting. Two weeks later we agree to watch Norah for the weekend. Of course she’s great.

I mean she’s fine. Norah’s a fine dog. Not many bad habits. Sweet. Small for a golden. Great with Josie. She doesn’t bite people. She doesn’t eat bananas (peel and all) off the counter. She doesn’t steal soap from the shower. She doesn’t leap over six foot fences to eat the sandwich sitting in the new neighbor’s moving truck and then drink all the water from their bird bath. She doesn’t steal tortilla chips from my hand while they’re on their way to my mouth.

Instead of a big brown mutt, there is this ethereal, waifish, golden dog who ghosts around the house. I hardly hear her but every time I turn around she’s there (boo!) with her paw under my foot or her nose hovering centimeters from my leg. I do not really know her but I do know that she’s no Emily and in 2010, I’ll try to forgive her for that and maybe love her just a little because of it.

Norah and Her Evil Twin, Ruby

7 thoughts on “Compartmentalized Grief

  1. Barb

    I love this story. Good luck. As someone who has witnessed it with other mommies of small children and is currently going through it as the mother of a toddler myself, I understand. Toddlers are exhausting. Exhausting in a good way, but some days it takes every ounce of patience and tolerance you have to just make it to their bedtime. And sometimes it can take as little as a needy animal under foot for me to scream. When I had to put my 15-year-old Samoyed Sitka to sleep a year before Sam was born, it was, in some ways, a blessing. I still have a relatively independent 12-year-old cat, but some days I want to lock him in the garage because I don’t have anything more to give.

    Hang on. Just a few more years and it will all get easier. Or so I’m told.

  2. Mom

    You have got to stop making me cry. I miss Em too. I still have not thrown out the “beware of dog” sign for the back fence. I always fancied that it kept bad guys away. Until they meet Ruby of course. Mom

  3. Tami

    Oh, sigh. I wish I was a dog person. So do my two dogs, I expect. Emily was so lucky to have found you two. So is Norah.

  4. shannon lorraine

    I love this-it brought up every emotion I have ever felt about my pets. Perfectly touching and hilarious. Please keep sending these to me, Tami.

    I desperately want a dog! but not in nyc….

  5. Heidi

    This makes me sad. I remember running into you at Metropolitan Market the day Emily went to Doggie Heaven. You were like a sad zombie. But Norah sounds wonderful–your resolution is a good one. Having a toddler and a dog is not a bad thing. I find that what my toddler takes out of me, my dog gives me back. There is no question he gets less attention than he used to, but I think he prefers it that way. Now he is free to be a dog.

  6. admin Post author

    Oh, so true, Heidi. ‘Now he is free to be a dog.’ So true. Every now and then I talk to someone about training Norah and I think, why? Who cares? She’s fine. Can’t I just let her be a dog? I don’t think I felt that way before Josie, but now, I don’t really care what the dog does. My energy is focused elsewhere.

  7. Elizabeth

    Louise’s class room got a fish, as a result the are talking about pets a lot. This week their pet/animal of the week was a dog. At circle time they went around the room and asked each 3 year old if they had a dog. Living in the city, no one did (can you imagine – out of 18 kids, no dogs? anyway…) Some had fish. Some had cats. When they got to Louise, she said that no… she did not have a dog. but, she added that she had “a Bivian.” Do you think that when Vivian starts to talk Louise won’t think of her little sister as a pet?

    I want a dog.

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