Came home from work yesterday. Got a call from my sister in Vancouver. The family dog, Belle, died.
She was old, Belle was, so my sister was under strict instruction not to call me at work if she dies. I knew I would blubber like a baby when she died. Which I did. Most of the evening. See, Belle and I were close.
When I lived in Vancouver and would come over for a visit to my sister’s family, Belle was always the one to greet me at the door. And she was always so excited! Then she would come and snuggle up next to me on the sofa. It was perfect.
So of course, I spent a good part of the evening yesterday wondering why she meant so much to me and why my reaction was so strong. I am not a pet person. Anytime my own family has tried to do the dog thing we’ve ended up passing them on to another family because inevitably the responsibility for the animal would fall on me. And I am NOT one who likes to walk a dog in January, in the dark, at -20 Celsius. And since my kids were potty trained, I’ve been done with cleaning up poop too.
But back to Belle… She was warm-hearted, snuggly, affectionate. And I of course love all that stuff. Hug me and tell me to have a good day and I’m good ‘til evening. Greet me excitedly at the door like you haven’t seen me in a month and you’ve got me.
Anybody getting the obvious parallels here?
I’ve been single and middle-aged for a while now, and Belle did a lot to assuage the more intense aspects of that status, with very simple things, like licking my face. But G-d am I really becoming the pet lady? Stories of elderly cat ladies scare me to death! Please, never let me become that, I say as I’m staring at the ceiling…. Make sure your life is full Sandy, be busy, be active. Keep caring about everything that matters to you. And DO NOT start buying animals!
I’ve learned in the last several years that you have to remain open. Open to the people who are loving you now and open to letting go of the ones who cannot. But to avoid becoming the pet lady I have to stay open to the prospect of another affectionate, snuggly human being coming along too. And there’s the rub. That unconditional love that dogs offer is limited because it isn’t mutual. Sure, people love their pets. I can even say I loved Belle. But the reality is that it’s easy. She didn’t expect much from me. I could pat her on the head and sneak her people-food from my sister’s dinner table and she was happy. She never disagreed with me, never argued with me, and never drained me.
People require more effort. If I expect to be loved unconditionally then I better make sure I’m capable of offering the same. Belle in all her innocent sweetness reminds me… there’s a big part of all of us that needs to know we are loved. There’s this well in us that needs to be filled, and to meet the fullness of who we are, it needs to be drawn from too. Being drained is a requirement for being filled up.
All this from the death of a dog. My sister and I were talking about how we’ve entered another transition phase of life. Kids are growing up and leaving home. We’re burying parents, a few friends, and pets. My mother died in 2013. And Belle just yesterday. I already know I’m sick of death. But that’s for another blog post….
In the meantime, and through all of it, stay open Sandy. Stay open. Snuggles are on their way. Be on the lookout.