At first there just wasn't time. The minute we were in the door, shaking off the day's travels and dropping our luggage on the floor at one in the morning, it was as if we were on. Last get-togethers with departing friends, heavy-hearted goodbyes, and then scurrying to get something together for a reading event downtown with the Writer's Group. I'm glad to say it all went off without a hitch; the Wisneskis made their train, and after, their flight, and I managed to read outside my typical zone without passing out in front of a room full of people.
Then we took a breath.
Friends have asked when they can expect to read about New Zealand and Hong Kong, this amazing trip from which Chris and I have recently returned. My brother has pleaded for pictures; my top ten per day, at least! But as tends to be true of the things that don't get done, I haven't made the time to begin. And part of that is because I've known that the first one has to be for her.
Heidi came home today, and I decided it was time to take another step toward saying goodbye.
She lived for sixteen years and three weeks. Born in Alabama, but a Florida Gator through and through, she grew up in central Florida, spending three of those years at the University of Florida. Well, Gainesville, anyway. Who knew this American girl would go on to live in beautiful Tuscany for five years, and then Germany for another two and a half. While living in the land from whence her name comes, she visited both the Alsace region of France and Prague, accompanying her people to wine tastings and get-togethers with friends. Wherever we went, people were shocked at her age, which is probably why in the end, she seemed to age so very suddenly to me.
I've gone back and forth in my mind about what exactly to share in this blog. A few weeks ago I was ready to write every detail of what's been going on in my mind and heart since she passed, but now I realize how very personal grief is, and that it's not all for sharing. Some of it is just mine.
What I will share are parts of a letter I wrote to her the day she left us. Yes, I wrote a letter to my dog - we were far away and she was going without us; it was all I could do. Sitting on the bed in a Bed&Breakfast in Kaikoura, New Zealand with a notebook in my lap, these are some of the things I wanted to say to her:
...Thank you for being all mine when I lacked for a feeling of uncritical acceptance. Thank you for keeping me grounded when my college days could have brought me trouble. Thank you for being my comfort and my company, my piece of home when I was newly married, far from home, and lonely, trying to find my place in this new life... I will miss scooping you up and forcing snuggles upon you, ignoring your protests and harmless snarls. I will miss waking up too early to let you out, and I will miss your Death Breath. I will remember how high you used to jump, how much you hated to be brushed, how easily annoyed you were when bothered at bedtime, how well you got along with any and every other animal, your three overnight escapes and returns home, and games of hide and seek around the house...
There are so many memories you've given me, so many happinesses I hope I was able to give back. As the moment nears, I hope your mind will wander to the sunny, carefree days we've had together and surround you with love as you fall asleep one last time.
I love you so very much.
Since we've been home many people have heard about Heidi and have stopped me to say how sorry they are. This inevitably begins a sharing session of every pet every person in the room has ever lost, which generally stretches on long after I've had to leave the room to get back to work. I appreciate very much that people care, and understand that we all have this need to connect over a loss. My grief has been strange, though, and it's difficult to understand.
When someone dies, we mourn them and remember the time we spent together. Although I've had to say goodbye to too many people already, none of them had been such a daily fixture in my life for so many years like she was. I think this is why Heidi's death has been so weird and so hard. From fourteen, through high-school and college, to newlywed life and moving far from home until last month, she was my consistency. An ever-forgiving and loving companion aside, she was a piece of my youth, my growing up, my becoming who I am right now. Her passing brings with it a kind of goodbye to the me I once was, and the life I once had. Ready or not, here I go into the next major chapter of life. And I will always think of her with a smile, though my eyes may tear.
Because in this life there will be few treasured experiences that truly belong to me, but having her and loving her, and now missing her do. They are mine, and so was she. And I am grateful.
April 20, 1995 - May 13, 2011