We learned on April 15th that my sweet dog Henry had a large, cancerous tumor in his chest that was pressing on his heart and lungs. He was having seizures / collapsing episodes and bleeding internally, so he was severely anemic. He was four years old.

It unfolded quickly and was shocking. I’ve never been so heartbroken, devastated and bereft. I did not think Henry was going to die! I knew he was under the weather, but I thought whatever was wrong would be an easy fix or would resolve itself. I didn’t even realize he was that bad off until April 14th, the day before we had to put him down.

I loved him so much. He touched my heart like no other being has. He comforted me many times a day, with his soft body curling up in my lap. No matter where I was or where I was sitting, he would curl up behind the back of the chair and my bottom or sit in my lap. He always wanted to know where I was and would wake up to follow me from room to room. I kind of tried to pretend I wasn’t a crazy dog lady, but I really was.

When Henry was younger, he was a huge challenge. As the dog trainer said, “He’s full of it.” This made our bond even stronger as I took him for multiple walks a day. I also took him to day care religiously. Every day I needed to make sure his exercise needs were met, which I mostly enjoyed. When he ran, it was like he had been shot out of a cannon. He was that fast. A few times he ran away in the rain in Sioux Falls and scared me so much. But he would always show up at the front door, soaked, panting and smiling. We joked that he had probably toured the tri-state area in the 30 minutes while he was gone.

Henry, happily wearing his prong collar and electronic collar.

Henry, happily wearing his prong collar and electronic collar.

This winter, maybe even last summer, he was less energetic. I attributed it to him getting older. Also, the past couple of months he seemed depressed, which I thought was because he was empathizing with my feelings of grief. But it was much more serious than that. We had no idea. I had no idea. If I had taken him to the vet sooner, I’m not sure they would have uncovered it either. They would have found out about his anemia, but this wouldn’t have necessarily lead to the cancer discovery. Even if it had, perhaps we would have done more tests and chemo, but I’m not sure that would have been best for Henry. Unwittingly, we had let nature take its course.

At times, I have felt guilty and wondered if I should have taken him to vet sooner. I realize that unknowingly we had provided him with hospice care the last couple of months. I babied him a lot, shortened our walks, held him, tried different foods and carried him when he seemed too tired to walk. I even took him on field trips to his favorite places! I talked to him a lot. But nothing seemed to work – I couldn’t get him to run or play. He just didn’t feel well. Luckily, I accepted it and didn’t force him to do too much.

His kindness, attention and sweetness touched me in a very important way. He was there for me after my mom died. Many times I had said to Joe, “At least I still have Henry.” And, “I don’t know what I’d do without Henry.” He got me over the most intense pain of losing my mom.

I have new sympathy for others who lose a pet. I have new understanding for everyone who loses a parent. I now know I can’t imagine the depth of pain of losing a child or spouse. But I do know that we heal somehow. Even in the almost five months since my mom’s passing, I’ve seen my grief diminish. It’s been two months since Henry died and the pain is so much less severe.

I now appreciate people more than I ever have. Both Henry and my mom passed away rather suddenly. And now that they are gone, I’ve appreciated both of them in a deeper way. Now I want to appreciate those I love in such a deep way while they are alive. I want to listen to them more, tell them I appreciate them, love them more and spend more time with them. I have an overwhelming gratitude for Joe. He is such a special person and I’m unbelievably lucky to be able to share my life with him.

On the tennis court about a week after Henry died, I started to wonder if this time in my life might be a transformative one. I might really let go of senseless anxiety and nerves. I might be able to enjoy myself more. I can compete less and play more. In fact, maybe I can quit competing altogether. I also feel a new willingness to let go. Compared to death, not much else is a problem.

Henry was a master teacher for me. He knew where my tender parts were. I learned how much I love a cuddly dog, how much I can love a being and how important to me that love and nurturing is. I like having a buddy that can come along with me to places, go on walks, go on field trips, etc.

I want to think that Henry is in the breeze and touching my face. I want to think that we are together in spirit, just like we were when he was alive.

This summer, I have started working at a desk in our living room, instead of downstairs in my office. Outside of the window near me, a black-faced bird now perches on the ledge and stares inside at me for hours at a time. Henry, who had a black face, wasn’t allowed in our bedroom or bathroom and when I was in there, he would stand at the doorway, staring, patiently waiting for me. We have named the bird, “Henry, the black-faced bird.”

Henry, the black-faced bird.

Henry, the black-faced bird.

We are going to get another new dog. He won’t be Henry, but as we go through the challenges of raising a puppy, I will know with certainty that the effort is worth it. Henry taught me that.