Sadie Bingham, MSW, LICSW
  • Letting Go of Gracie

    “Whenever there is a meeting, a parting shall follow.” – Happy Mask Salesman
    My beloved Dog Daughter passed away six months ago. Her passing was both tragic & completely unexpected. Having just come off another meditation retreat, what dormant grief I still had left, came flooding back. Below is the passage taken from my journal – somewhat altered (for reader clarity) – as I processed the next stage in my grief: acceptance.

    I am afraid to let go. I am clinging to my sadness & longing because it provides me comfort. When I cry about Gracie, I feel connected to her. I am afraid to move on because what if I forget about her? I am already feeling it happen. I am so angry with Gracie. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her forever. I had been preparing for her death years before it came. I could see Gracie was slowing down. That it took her longer to recover from hikes & that her face was turning white. So, I spent the last few years soaking her in.

    Whenever she was around I acknowledged her. Sometimes that meant a full-body hug, other times a kiss on her long nose. Sometimes a scratch to her ears, just the way she liked it. When I touched her, I felt my nervous system calm. Not only was her fur the softest to touch, but it was hers & she was my refuge.

    And now that she is gone I feel like she broke a sacred pact. That she betrayed a certain agreement about staying with me forever. I am so lonely without her. Some may say she was “just a dog,” some may think I am taking this far too harshly – & there is some truth to that. But I had never come across the unconditional & sacred love that comes from pets & what develops from caretaking.

    Gracie was more than “just a dog” & that was felt by people who took the time to get to know her. She was wise, intuitive & sensitive. When young kids would say hello, occasionally she was taller & would hover over them. Sometimes she was eye to eye with them. She was so gentle with these little humans. She knew their souls were just beginning & that meant giving them latitude to investigate her striking features. That meant she understood that when they crumpled up her fur in their tiny fists, they meant no harm, just simply exploring her.

    I remember bringing her to a skilled nursing facility to let the residents meet her. One lady took so much joy in her, she asked if I could hoist Gracie onto her lap. If anyone knows Gracie, as I do, knows she does not like to be touched against her will. But she allowed me to lug all 63 pounds of her on top of an elderly woman. Gracie didn’t make a peep but her face demonstrated her disapproval of the situation. In that moment she brought that stranger so much happiness. Once again, she knew – that sometimes we put our preferences aside, so that this soul, nearing the end of her life, would get one additional dose of childlike pleasure.

    I remember the time that Matt picked me up from a late shift. It was close to midnight. I crawled into the passenger seat & we chatted on our way home. Eventually, I looked behind & realized there sat Gracie in the backseat! With me, the whole time & I didn’t even realize it. Gracie was attentive, alert & quiet as a mouse back there. She didn’t make her way to greet me when I entered the car but waited until I greeted her. That was Gracie’s way.

    Loving & caring for Gracie was my favorite job. I miss those tasks. One moment that hit me following her death was going to the grocery store. The grocery store was where I hunted down dental products, treats & other dog paraphernalia. I have heard before that it’s the ordinary moments that haunt us the most during grief. This is true for me.

    Gracie was the best of all worlds: she was goofy & regal, she was polite & demanding, she was gentle & sassy, she was dignified & dramatic, she was loving & aloof.

    When we first adopted Hank, it became clear that Gracie was not a fan of her more playful & mischievous younger brother. She walked around the house for weeks with a pitiful expression on her face, coming to terms with the fact that this pup wasn’t leaving. But she turned lemons into lemonade when she realized that this peasant of a pup needed lots of training. This meant lots of training treats – resulting in Gracie passively receiving more treats than she ever knew existed. This new pup also found ways to break out of the doggy gate. So, when we humans locked them up prior to leaving, it was only a matter of time before she would make her way to the forbidden human bed to roach her butt off.

    Gracie had no idea how much delight there would be in torturing this new pup. Every morning at breakfast, Gracie would promptly eat only half of her crunchies, as her younger brother (at the time severely underweight) inhaled his. For the rest of the morning, Gracie would guard her food, snarl, bark & jump at the moment Hank would glance in her bowl’s direction. Hank would whine & whimper – clearly in distress that there was food just lying there, not being eaten. Despite this game, Gracie slowly accepted this inferior dog into her pack.

    We started taking relief in knowing that toward the last years of Gracie’s life she spent with her brother, never alone. That he rightly adored & treated her like royalty. That he both loved, respected & slightly feared her. What more could a diva dog ask for?

    We didn’t know Gracie had bone cancer. Looking back there are signs. She began to limp from soreness after hikes. Instead of roaching in the guest bedroom, she spent the last few weeks retreating in her crate. Her death was sudden & tragic. It was also Gracie’s way to leave us having never known she was sick in the first place. She was spunky until the very end. We were all together when Gracie passed away. Brother Hank had been resting nearby but shot up, sniffed her muzzle & then we knew – she had taken her last breath.

    Grief is infuriating. I don’t feel more connected to Gracie now that she is gone. I don’t feel her around me. Matt & I did not spend the next few months honoring our grief. Instead, we made an incredibly stupid decision: we adopted another dog, the new dog only 1 years old. What happened the following months, I am still recovering from. I am hesitant to say things have settled down – that we have turned a corner – because the pain of realizing that might not be true is too overwhelming.

    In summary, what we thought was helping Hank’s grief, only exacerbated it. What we thought could help with the loss of Gracie, only became blatantly obvious of her absence. Gracie could not be replaced. We could not leapfrog over our grief & I refused to use my spirituality to bypass this pain. Death sucks, it’s tragic & it’s final. Grief is a slow process. You cling to the past because you don’t want to forget & yet it’s the only way you feel connected to that soul.

    When Gracie passed away my mom said that she was making way for new energy to enter our lives. Essentially, saying goodbye to us, so that another little pup could fill up the space. And this newest one (eventually named Indie) is certainly that new energy. If Gracie taught us unconditional love & Hank has taught us about the capacity for transformation – Indie has come to teach us about the virtue of patience. And while in the beginning I resisted loving this little guy, this process has shown me more about the resiliency of the heart. That if we practice time & time again to open to what is painful & to be vulnerable in this human experience, that the nature of this heart can hold it all: the grief, the anger, the resentment, the pain, the joy, the hope, the beginning & ultimately the end.

    I no longer believe that continually obsessing over Gracie’s absence connects me to her. I am starting to believe that she wants me to be present with my newly structured family. And sometimes when the mood is just right, when the lighting hits perfectly – I feel her. Not her absence, but her everlasting spirit.