What do you do with a grief that steals your breath and weighs down your every movement? How do you bear a loss so great that it seeps into the very marrow of your bones? What can be done about the dreams that wake you in the night, leaving you confused and alone? To these questions, I am seeking answers. To these questions, I fear answers cannot be found for there is no instruction manual for those of us who grieve.
She was born on December 15, 2003. Eighteen months later, I met her for the first time. Half lab and half golden retriever, she walked proudly by my side until the summer of 2012.
Another is by my side now. Another guides my steps, keeping me safe from passing cars, overhanging branches, and all other obstacles that are in my path. He is not as confident as she was, not as assertive, not as self-assured. Very simply, he is not Caroline. I've felt her loss every day since I officially retired her. In some ways, I've been grieving since late July. Now though, my grief is so much more than I ever thought it could be.
On the twentieth of February, she drew her last breath. No one could tell me why. She hadn't been ill. Her vet visit had yielded nothing out of the ordinary. She was a perfectly healthy nine-year-old dog. Even so, she died in the early morning.
One week later, I do not fully remember that day. It comes to me in bits and pieces, everything clouded in a strange kind of fog. I remember kneeling by her side, my hands in her fur, my body convulsed with sobs. Talk of cremation, of cleaning the carpet where she had died, of other inconsequential things all runs together in my head. I heard it then, probably even answered, but now, it just rushes over me, an ocean of indistinguishable sound.
Sometimes, I stop whatever I'm doing and wonder how I'll manage without her. With Caroline by my side, I became more than I ever thought I could be. I felt so little fear as she guided me, and, for me, so prone to anxiety, lack of fear is truly a priceless gift. She gave that to me, that and so very much more. With her, I came as close as I probably ever will to becoming a professional opera singer. She became accustomed to curtain calls and even learned to bow on stage. Some nights, I think the curtain rose and fell for my retrievador more than it did for me. Quite the diva was Miss Caroline.
For her, I wished every happiness in retirement. I wished I could make her understand that she hadn't been replaced, that my love for her was solid and deep as it had ever been. Sadly though, I doubt she understood these things. She learned to enjoy retirement, but a part of her always yearned for the harness.
As I sit here, one week to the day after her passing, I find myself struggling to find words for what I am feeling. Usually, words come easily, but I just don't know how to describe this incredible loss and the grief that has come close to crippling me. I feel as powerless today as I did last Wednesday. Despite what people wish, my grief has not lessened. In fact, there are times when it seems to have strengthened, for I'm no longer quite so enveloped by the fog that protected me right after her passing. I am forced to go through each day with the knowledge that she will not greet me at the door. I am forced to remember that I am responsible for the care of only one, rather than two, black dogs. Above all, I know she's gone, and I wonder if the loss will break me. I'm told that it won't, but I can't honestly say I believe that yet. Someday, I might come to realize the truth of those words, but that simply isn't where I'm at now. At this moment, my grief is strong and all-consuming. My days are measured in minutes, for one minute at a time is all I can manage.