Lessons From the Hardest Goodbye
He was never just a dog.
He had the wise eyes and gentle spirit of a Buddhist monk wrapped within the playful guise of a spirited perpetual puppy. His motivation was never food or treats, he seemed to want nothing more than to bring smiles to everyone he ever met.
And he did.
After even the briefest of encounters, people would be changed from their interaction with Tiger. He convinced dog-haters to pet him, inspired those afraid of pit bulls to reconsider their stance, and brought laughter and love to so many. He was the dog of a lifetime – a true companion, friend and family member.
A mere twelve hours after the first symptoms of illness appeared, Brock and I had to kiss our buddy goodbye last Thursday.
And now, with his sudden and premature loss, we are struggling to find the gratitude through the grief and the smiles through the tears. We share pictures and silly stories of him while holding tightly to blankets that still hold the musky scent of his fur. The house is too quiet. We feel it most acutely coming home, when the window is empty and the sounds of nails on the wood floor are agonizingly absent. We feel it at night, when his snores no longer provide the comforting white noise in the background. We feel it when we see other dogs, unable to resist cuddling with them as though they hold some sort of portal back to our boy. And we feel it our hearts, that unmistakable ache and hollowed-out feeling that follows loss.
Because our beloved Tiger was so much more than just a dog. He’s been a confidant, a teacher and a sage for both of us throughout our entire relationship.
Love means letting go of the fear of loss.
I first met Tiger after Brock and I had gone on two dates. After several weeks of limited contact, Brock sent me a picture of the puppy he had just rescued. I was immediately smitten.
At that time, I was still acutely feeling the pain from the demise of my first marriage and the unwanted transfer of my three dogs. I was guarded. Walled off, afraid of being hurt again.
And then I met Tiger. He ignored the downtrodden slant to my shoulders, the desperate aloofness behind my eyes. He simply climbed onto me as I knelt down to greet him, and covered my face in welcoming kisses.
It soon became clear that resistance to his charms was futile. I tried not to get too attached, uncertain as to the trajectory of this nascent relationship, but my attempts were simply met with more acceptance and more kisses. He seemed to be telling me, “Come on already. There’s life to live and love to share. Let’s get to it!”
And who was I to say no to such a wise creature?
Tiger Story #1 – I brought Tiger to the park to keep me company while I graded papers. We were both stretched out on a blanket when a mom approached with her two kids – ages 5 and 2. She asked if they could pet Tiger and as soon as I answered in the affirmative, the older boy began rubbing on the dog and gleefully giggling as Tiger’s tongue tousled his hair. Nervous of the dog that was over twice his size, the toddler held back. Noticing the young boy, Tiger rolled to his flank, reducing his profile so as to make himself appear smaller, and slowly reached out one paw to the hesitant child. He always seem to intuit the needs and emotions of those around him.
Trust comes from letting go of the leash.
Brock is a bit of a dog whisperer. From the beginning, he began training Tiger to be obedient and dependable.
And Tiger began training me how to trust.
He began slowly. He seemed to sense that I was nervous about walking an enormous – and enormously powerful – pit bull on my own on crowded sidewalks and trails. I soon learned that when I was uncertain, he became more anxious. When I was calm and trusting, he behaved amazingly. I learned how to release my grip and relax.
This lesson extended off the trails for me. I learned that trying to control everything was ultimately a losing battle. I began to understand the relationship between the energy I put out and the results I drew back in. Through Tiger, I believed that I could let go and things could still be okay.
Tiger Story #2 – With his job, Brock receives frequent deliveries of packages. Tiger soon began to view the UPS man as his friend who, from his perspective, dropped by the house a few times a weeks to deliver head scratches and butt rubs. One day, the UPS driver was a few blocks away from the house when suddenly he notices a large pit bull, huge grin of his face, walking from the back of the truck up to the cab. Tiger had decided to join his buddy for an impromptu ride.
Happiness comes from delivering joy.
I’ve never met a happier dog than Tiger. And I’ve never met one that brought smiles so readily to others. When boarded at the vet, he was frequently allowed to hang out with the receptionist instead of back in the kennels. When his head was hanging out the car window, traffic would slow and people would exclaim over his goofy grin and hanging tongue. At parties, he was always the center of attention and at the dog park, he would always draw a crowd.
He seemed to believe that his mission in life was to bring happiness to others. He was always so open, so enthusiastic, that he immediately put people at ease. He was so silly, always ready to put on a show and entertain, often seemingly laughing at himself in the process.
Brock had a beautiful idea yesterday. We were having a hard morning, missing our boy, when Brock suddenly said, “Come on. Get up. We’re going to take doughnuts to the vet’s office. They were always so good to him.” He then continued, “Whenever we feel ourselves getting down about Tiger, we need to do something to make somebody else smile. Because that’s what he did – shared love and laughter with others.”
Tiger Story #3 – We were on one of our many family hikes when we encountered a large hiking group (60+ members) walking the opposite way on a narrow trail. We stepped off to the side to allow them to pass. Tiger thought that it was the best thing ever as, one at a time, over five dozen people bent down to greet him. Ever since then, he always seemed a little let down when he didn’t have the doggy equivalent of the paparazzi following him on walks. And I bet those people were a little let down that they never met another Tiger.
There’s so much more I want to say about this amazing dog, but I’m finding it so hard to put thoughts together right now and no words feel adequate. He brought Brock and I together, taught us both how to love and now we’re trying to figure out how to be without him years before we thought we would have to. I feel so empty, yet also so unbelievably grateful that he chose me to be his momma. He was a beacon of joy, an example of the power of acceptance and living in the moment and such a loving soul.
He’s helped me. He’s inspired me. He’s calmed me and kept me company. He’s brought me so many smiles and snuggles and kisses. And, because of him, I have the love of my life.
To Tiger – May we all meet a spirit like him and strive to carry his lessons forward.
I miss you, buddy. Thank you for blessing me with the gift of your years. You will be in our hearts forever.