Triggers

The first thing was to hide all the bedding, toys, and food bowls. We did that through streaming tears on the first day, merely to make the house habitable. Couldn’t then and still haven’t actually “dealt with” the paraphernalia, but simply moved it from sight. Those triggers were just too big to endure.

Since then, the triggers are small. Simple. Ordinary.

We drop a piece of food on the kitchen floor while cooking, and no one trots over to clean it up. I look out the kitchen window as I’m washing dishes but there’s no one stretched out sunning on top of the picnic table. Processing a load of laundry leaves the warm sheets in the living room to fold later, but there’s no one to yell at to keep their grubby paws off the clean sheets.

My dogs are gone and they’re never coming back.

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Today, we’re a week into our bereavement. Yuck. Such an inadequate word to hug our devastation to our chests—to encompass the tsunami of tears; the avalanche of tissues; the derecho of splintered heart. Our glasses have been smudged and wet for days and days because our eyes continue to leak and our hugs for one another are tight and desperate and full of snot. We awaken with crusty eyelids because we cry in our sleep.

Triggers accost us at every turn. A squirrel at the feeder doesn’t prompt ear-splitting barking; a deer eating apples in the orchard isn’t answered by 4-legged lightening-streaks down the hill; our return from town isn’t ushered in with “singing” from our bedroom window.

I’ve taken refuge in work: I have had that advantage over Jack, with a job to do that gets me off the property. His work keeps him bumping up against the triggers, all day. Every day.

The gray, foggy weather hasn’t helped. Our first weekend alone in the house, we thought a nice Netflix movie would be a good distraction. But the popcorn made us cry. Jazz and Radar loved catching popcorn puffs tossed in the air. We cannot even snack on dry-roasted peanuts because they always shared with us. Popcorn and peanuts: the only “human food” we allowed our dogs.

Mornings are the worst. In a normal life, I came downstairs with my fleece jacket over my nightshirt and sweat pants under. I put the kettle on the stove, clicked the flame on, and walked outside to release them from their “playpen” below the front porch. Always so happy to see me, they’d stretch and yawn; jump and wag; and lift a leg or squat en route to the kitchen and their breakfast. We’d turn on the radio and settle down to a quiet cuppa for me and a post-breakfast snooze in the warmest, smelliest spots for them. Sometimes, there would be some lap-sitting and snuggling included.

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Now. There’s nothing.

Me, my tea, and Tab O’Neal & Steve Inskeep on the radio. Jack comes down the stairs and we hold each other for everything that was lost.

We got brave and took our first walk around the ponds over the weekend in the drizzling rain and fog. We knew it would be upsetting without them running in the woods, barking up trees, and checking in at a gallop, only to race past and find a new spot to harry. No more water snake harassing. No more snatching catfish food out of the air as we toss it into the pond.

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I discovered that digging their grave was a great way to vent anger, frustration, heartbreak, and self-pity. Using a digging bar to loosen the clay and the inevitable substantial rocks—all the while cussing and crying and kicking dirt clods—was actually therapeutic. Who knew?

I know that, for me, the worst is yet to come. These were my falconry dogs; partners to the redtailed hawk in the hunt; with four and five years of experience behind them. The bird, acquired in 2011, was at long-last “getting” the game we played together—understanding the usefulness of the dogs. The dogs were “getting” the idea that, even though they weren’t allowed to catch the quarry, they could still experience success when the bird actually scored the take-down. It was an enormously talented team, which was admired by everyone who saw them work together.

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Now, in one fell swoop, I’m demoted from falconry chauffeur to rabbit dog. I think the redtail will be sorely disappointed in what I can produce for it to chase, as compared to what Jazz and Radar were able to flush. That will, again, break my heart for all that has been lost.

Jack & I graduated to being able to talk about potential breeders of puppies as we were comforted by friends over the weekend. The images of my dogs that I see in my head are now, rarely of their bodies lying in the road; or as we arranged them in their final resting place, to appear as if they were snuggled together in sleep. I am beginning to see pictures of them as they lived, rather than as they died. Healing is happening.

And, I realize it is important to keep things in perspective. I just heard that a good friend does not, in fact, have cancer. That news is monumentally important to me and I am delighted to hear it and know it in my heart. I rejoice for her and her family and friends. We have received many wonderful expressions of heartfelt understanding from a tremendously wide range of our home community members. So much in our lives could be so much worse.

But for right now, right here, we are assaulted by triggers. And we cannot cleanse the pain with tears.

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