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I am struggling with some anticipatory grief as I watch my beloved 15-year-old Pekingese Seamus fade away in front of my eyes. I don’t know how long he has left; we’ve got a vet appointment scheduled to bring more clarity to the timeline, but I know it’s not long.
I wanted to write something else this week but my heart has its own agenda, so here we are…
Some girls visualize and plan their weddings for years before they’re even in a relationship. I know because I’ve seen some of my friends’ secret Pinterest boards... 👀
I was that way with dogs. I waited patiently until the circumstances in my life were dog-appropriate while creeping on celebrity dog Instagram accounts and hanging out at the dog park for dopamine hits.
The stars finally aligned in June 2017 for my dog-ownership dreams to come true. I never intended to adopt two elderly dogs at the same time, but when I saw Halford & Seamus’ goofy grins on the Rancho Coastal Humane Society’s website, I knew they were weird enough to be mine. They were 11-years-old when my ex and I agreed to provide a proper retirement home for two old men.
Seamus has an underbite with just three tiny teeth and a tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth. He’s a drama king with a lion’s mane and a swooshy, feather-duster tail that could clear a coffee table. Larger than life, even at just 15 pounds, Seamus sucks the oxygen out of every room he enters. The Washington Post captured his essence well in a story earlier this summer.
Seamus’ brother Halford was an earnest-looking Ewok with a mile-long tongue and a perpetual shit-eating grin. He died on February 2, 2019, of cancer at 13-years-old. Halford was the true definition of a “good boy.” He was the funniest kind of ‘dodo,’ and what he lacked in smarts, he made up for in heart. He taught me so much about life. I might even go as far as saying that he was one of my great spiritual teachers.
Halford loved everything and everyone. He loved you no matter what you looked like or how much money you had. He loved you just for being alive. He was an adventurer — like a proper Sagittarius. Riding on an airplane was the adventure of his life — I’ve never seen him so happy. He found joy in simple things and always stayed in the present moment. He didn’t need much to be happy — just his people and maybe a couple of blueberries.
We should all be a little more like Halford.
A bullish Aries, Seamus was the perfect foil for Halford.
On his better days, Seamus struts with a swagger and his chest puffed out — but underneath all that bravado is a sweet, gooey center. For all his attitude and flair, I always expected him to be more ‘difficult,’ but he’s actually a lover and not a fighter.
I don’t mind sharing my grief with you because many of us are grieving.
The deaths of more than 700,000 Americans from COVID-19 have left millions in mourning. Health experts have warned that the number of people with prolonged grief in the near future and beyond could be substantial because of the pandemic. A March 2021 poll from the Associated Press–NORC (AP-NORC) Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 20 percent of people surveyed in the U.S. had lost a relative or close friend to COVID. That’s a potential bereaved population of about 65 million. And despite these large numbers, the pandemic has not resulted in the same kind of visible mourning that occurred after past national tragedies, such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.
According to Christy Denckla, a research associate in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, mourning and grief occur in groups.
Denckla would like to see a concerted public health response to the nation’s grief. “I think the first thing to do is…to acknowledge the loss, to acknowledge the grief, to acknowledge the pain,” she said, noting that public validation and acknowledgment of losses “can set a foundation for starting to mourn and to grieve and to heal.”
Sustained grief is particularly disturbing in a culture that offers a quick fix for any pain, and in a climate where it is stigmatized or even shamed. We are socialized to feel shame when our grief lingers. Like a clothing stain, it marks us as imperfect, flawed.
As I mentioned, I lost Seamus’ brother Halford in February 2019 and my stepdad John died from ALS in February 2020, so grief is a familiar bedfellow.
I know that intense grief, like the kind many Americans are currently experiencing, can impact daily functioning. Indeed, America has PTSD and needs a healing if we ever hope to Build Back Better.
Seamus came into my life right when I needed him the most. He helped nurse me back to health after I nearly died of a traumatic brain injury. He stayed with me in Ohio for months when I helped my family as my stepdad was dying of ALS. He was always there to rest his paw on my knee or lick my cheek or make me laugh during some of the most challenging days of my life.
As I prepare to say goodbye to Seamus, it gives me comfort to remember that grief is the price we pay for love. And love is what makes us feel truly alive.