Originally published December 6, 2010 at 9:58 a.m., updated December 6, 2010 at 9:58 a.m.
I stand on the back porch, look up at the russet leaves floating down and breathe in the comforting scents of their season. The birdbath is full, fresh sunflower seeds wait in small piles. A faint breeze blows.
I love autumn, but this one is melancholy.
Will you write about it? my friends ask, and I shake my head. No, I say. It’s too personal. It was just between me and each of them.
As I watch, a bird swoops in and lands on the feeder. Squirrels now dash fearlessly across my back yard, which is otherwise silent.
My dogs are gone.
They and my cat, Cassie. I lost them all within eight weeks, and the pain is so intense that sometimes I’m certain I won’t be able to bear it.
Their ghosts float and echo through my house, and sometimes I can catch them out of the corner of my eye, but they disappear as quickly as I can look.
Jack was first, at the end of August, and his decline happened so quickly — quite literally in two days — that I felt I couldn’t even process it properly. His big red body was there, taking up so much room, yapping his demands for a good butt-rub, and suddenly my living room was open and empty.
The life was drained from it.
Cassie, with that horrible cancer in her mouth, was three weeks to the day later.
I lay in bed that first night, waiting for her to come up to my pillow and bang her head hard into my nose to ask for a snuggle. She had done that right up to her last evening with me.
My bed was now empty.
And then, four weeks and four days after that, my beloved Bailey told me that she was tired of the fight.
With her went just about everything else I had left in me.
For days I clutched her favorite teddy bear and carried her collar around with me. I touched the big dark spot on the wall that she always rubbed as she circled before lying down. Now I bring her picture up on my computer each morning, so I can look at her, see her gentle brown eyes and the long hair flowing from the edges of her ears.
I know it’s all part of the process. It was all inevitable. That’s how life goes. But still, I’m left here, and how do I pick up all the pieces?
Eating isn’t fun anymore without two big noses asking me what I’ve got and can they have some?
I don’t want to sit on the sofa. That was Jack’s place.
And why does the office chair look so empty and barren without a little black fur ball snoozing on it?
I still listen, when I step out of the car in the garage, for the babyish, high-pitched yelp that came out of that big ol’ Doberman, telling me he had heard me pull in and to hurry into the house.
I glance down the hall, waiting to see a tri-color face peak around the corner, checking to see whether I’m looking back.
You have to get another dog, friends tell me.
I get on the computer, open PetFinder, and with each picture I see, I ask,
“Could it be you? Could I love you as much? What little habits do you have that I would learn about, that make you you?”
I reject the border collie — too much like Bailey. The yellow lab isn’t right either. Not enough like Jack.
I close the computer. It’s just too soon. I go into the bedroom, touch the canisters that hold their ashes, tell them I still love them. Then I call my friends.
“May I come over and play with your dogs?”
It’s a perfect temperature outside this morning. Bailey loved cold weather as much as Jack hated it, but today ... today they would have agreed upon, and if I had chosen today to work in the yard, they would have followed me around lazily, flopping down in the grass, rolling, sniffing at the air.
I sweep some leaves from the porch and think about getting ready for work. My two remaining cats wait for me when I step inside. Benton rubs against the side of the pantry, asking whether I’ll open a can of food for him for breakfast instead of waiting until dinner. Deena is on her perch, lying on her side, reaching out to me with one paw. I smile and scratch her head.
My life is totally changed, and yet, I realize, one thing remains the same: I will always have companion animals. There will be more dogs. Maybe not today. Maybe not even before the holidays. But there will be more.
And that may be the finest testament to my dear departed friends.