Forgive me for writing a lot about my dog this week. She was a close member of the family, a sweet soul full of love. And words are the way I cope with life; stories are the window through which I experience and analyze the world. I imagine that if I could write a beautiful enough prose, I would somehow feel alright about this loss and others.
So here’s Josie’s story…or at least her origin story. It’s necessarily also a story of my mother, because their lives have been so closely intertwined for the past 15 years. Especially after my sister and I moved out on our own, Josie has been my mother’s constant companion, her fuzzy shadow.
My mother’s father died almost sixteen years ago. On the day he died, after receiving the call, my mother decided she needed something from the grocery store. Wary of leaving her alone on such a day, I insisted on tagging along. I was, at that age (and possibly still today), quite oblivious to and, frankly, uninterested in human emotions, and yet somehow I sensed that this was not a time which she should spend alone.
On the drive over, I watched her out of the side of my eye; tears were running down her cheeks, but she was not speaking.
She told me to stay in the car while she ran in quickly to get something. This was normal for us, so I pulled out my book (I almost always was glued to a book at that age) and settled my misanthropic preteen self into the front seat to wait.
It seemed that I had only barely begun to immerse myself in the novel when, to my surprise, my door opened and my mother dropped something warm, black, and furry into my lap.
“What is this!?” I sputtered, shocked out of my daydream.
My mother got in the driver’s side of the car, “It’s a dog,” she said brusquely and began to drive. There were no tears on her cheeks now. She looked forward with her mouth set in a determined, almost fierce, expression. Her hands were tight on the wheel.
I looked down at my lap to see big, wet brown eyes and a shiny black nose. At the time, we didn’t know that Josie was extremely prone to car sickness. Her main way of responding to car trips was to produce ungodly amounts of drool, which immediately began to spill out of her tiny fuzzy cheeks and onto my lap and book.
I smoothed her ears down and stroked her long nose and she wobbily settled her head down.
Josie had been one of a litter of pups that a family was giving away outside the grocery store. She was a mutt…the best kind: dumb and smart at the same time and gorgeous from the blend of black lab, husky, and German shepherd. The man who gave her away told my mother that she was a male, and so the dog was named after my late grandfather, Joseph. My mother said his spirit was in the dog. It was only after we got her home that we found, upon closer examination, that she should be a Josephine.
It is so strange to have a love whose life span is so much shorter than our own. I watched Josie grow from a lap sized pup to a rambunctious and trouble making juvenile. In her prime, she easily ran ten miles with me, and was a fearsome, muscular black wolf. In her older age, she was a favourite of small children, who pulled on her ears and tail and only received gentle kisses in return.
She was a large part of my adolescence but even more important to my mother when the house became empty. When my sister and I left, the house suddenly seemed too big. But Josie was always there with a wagging tail and big goofy smile.
Josie was always adored…even strangers would stop us on the sidewalk to tell her how beautiful she was. She loved and was loved by everyone. My mother used to threaten to punish her with cuddles. “You better watch out or I will snuggle you!” she would shout. And indeed, when the dog misbehaved by eating and subsequently vomiting 20 dollar bills or devouring my homework, she would be covered in kisses and hugs. (It never seemed to deter her from misbehaving, strangely.)
I know that Josie had a great life, the best probably! She was pampered and spoiled her entire life and died peacefully in her sleep after going for a walk. She lived a long time, mostly free of ailments. She loved being outside and she loved family.
Still, it’s difficult not to be sad…her seemingly short life leaves a pungent aftertaste of mortality. Everything starts to seem very fragile. I often wonder whether it is worth it to love, but I think that from a quantitative perspective Josie gave us so much happiness that even with the depth of this sadness, we had an overall net gain in happiness.
I worry mostly now about my mother. I want to be there for her and support her…this is a difficult time. She has lost her closest companion and her mother is dying from lung cancer at the same time. It’s difficult to know how to support her best…I’ve offered to drive down to spend time with her, or have her come up to stay with me for a while, but as she points out, I can’t ride around in the back of the car or lie at her feet while she works on the computer.
How did we live without Josie before? She seems like such an integral part that has been removed.
But, as I’ve always said of life: It’s a little about life, a lot about death, and all about love.