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In Grief, Not Fighting the Feelings

After the death of a spouse, the memories come flooding back. So do the emotions.

Edward and Gracie

We had a fight. A big one. Gracie and me. 

My golden and I have our differences of opinion from time to time. Sometimes she might want to take one path in the woods while I planned on another. Or in the city, where we are now, she might prefer one side of the street while I like the other. In any event, we usually work things out. 

I think I’ve forgotten some of my city dog-walking skills having been away so much, especially being alert to discarded street edibles a dog like Gracie is always on the lookout for. Pizza crusts are a particular favorite, or a napkin someone who had barbeque wiped their hands with and didn’t bother to deposit in a trash bin. Gracie is trained to drop when told to do so, if sad-eyed and reluctantly. There is one exception: chicken bones. 

Walking on West 29th she got to one before I could stop her. “Gracie, drop!” Instead, she turned her back to me so it would be harder for me to get to her jaws. But I did. “Drop!” Total noncompliance. 

It was either a wing or a part of a drumstick, either of which she could choke on or swallow and possibly perforate an intestine. So, I tried to pry her jaws apart but no force on earth was going to make her let go. In the process one of my fingers was lacerated. She didn’t bite me. She would NEVER do that. Besides, that would involve unclenching her jaws and that wasn’t going to happen. I’d simply gotten my finger in the way of her securing the chicken bone.

I howled. My finger was bleeding all over the place including on her muzzle which gave her a particularly fearsome appearance. While she masticated the bone, I used a poop bag to wrap my wound and angrily dragged her home calling her a bad dog all the way, something I never ever say to her. 

Once in the apartment I cleaned and bandaged my finger, waving it in her face. It was her dinnertime, the highlight of her day, but I was in no hurry to feed her. I answered a few emails, puttered around and finally served her dinner with none of the usual fanfare. 

Practically the only piece of furniture in my living room is a large wraparound leather couch. For the duration of the evening Gracie curled up at one end and I slouched at the other, neither of us looking at the other. At bedtime Gracie took to her bed in the living room instead of sleeping on the floor beneath my side of the bed. Be that way, I thought. Lord, I prayed, you know I’m right. 

When my alarm went off in the morning, I hit the snooze button. But I didn’t snooze much. A cold, wet nose nudged my dangling hand. 

Yes, it was time for her breakfast but that wasn’t what this was about. This was my dog being the bigger person and making peace. Me? I’d let the sun go down on my anger. 

After we ate, we walked over to the Hudson and sat on a bench watching the river. This part of the river evokes so many memories for me, of all the time we spent here with Millie, Gracie’s predecessor, especially after Millie got sick. Julee and I would bring her here, where she loved to bark at the big cruise ships steaming past, passengers on deck waving to her and taking pictures. I let all those memories come back to me. I didn’t fight them.  

That night I took Gracie out to dinner at one of the little bistros that have sprung up in our neighborhood. Since the pandemic everyone in Manhattan has outdoor dining space where dogs are allowed. I ordered her favorite, steak frites, and she got a few bites. The waiter brought her a bowl of water and after I paid the check, I slipped a dollar bill under Gracie’s water bowl as a gesture of her appreciation. In the morning we’d head back up to the hills. 

There was no doubt why both Gracie and I were dealing with difficult emotions and maybe not quite ourselves. I knew Gracie forgave me for my anger. I hoped and prayed God did too. 

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