When I was in first grade, I wrote my first "published" story, for our school's mimeographed weekly publication. It was a memoir actually. It was the story of our family cat, Puss, who had just passed away. It was only relatively recently that the significance of this first piece of writing came clear to me: This was, at that point in my life, a huge, mysterious event. It read, in its entirety, "My cat died. My cat is dead." I hadn't learned to be sentimental. Later that year, I discovered one of my first favorite books, "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney," by Judith Viorst. It was about a boy whose cat dies, and his mother tells him he should think of 10 good things to say about Barney when they have a funeral in their yard.
Today I said goodbye to my oldest dog, Brando. He was 13, more or less an immortal for a dog his size. Over the years he had his share of health concerns, and every time he pulled through, I thought, like a child, "There, he's never going to die after all." I knew this wasn't true. I tried to prepare myself. But that's the difficult thing about losing our loved ones: No matter how much we understand it is time to let go, we are never really ready.
Last night, I brought home an enormous burger for his dinner. He left the lettuce and tomato untouched. Then I lifted him into bed, and while he slept next to me, as he has for over 12 years, I made my list of 10 things. The boy in the book has a difficult time at first, and gets stuck at nine. I had the opposite problem, but I stuck to the limit.
1. Even as a puppy, he looked like no one else.
2. He didn't mind being used as a pillow.
3. He never met an ear he didn't want to clean.
4. Even though I often described him as picky about other dogs, he shared his home with dozens over the years.
5. His fear of puppies didn't stop him from raising one.
6. He loved my parents even more than he loved me. After they died, and their furniture arrived at my house, he seemed to understand everything that delivery could tell him.
7. Although he was a city boy, he learned to appreciate nature.
8. He was an expert cuddler, and coined the term "lean in" long before Sheryl Sandberg.
9. He maintained a pretty good poker face no matter what was thrown at him.
10. He saw me through some of the most difficult times of my life: 9/11, heart problems, Katrina, the deaths of my parents, a mugging, surgery, etc. And yet he made me feel I would happily do it all again, if he was at my side.
It's going to take a while to figure out who I am now that I no longer have him at my side.