There’s a beautiful poem that discusses at length that through the pain of losing your dog, there is still the beauty of having them in your life, as they are now merely living, and sleeping, in your heart.
That beauty, however, is hard to grasp, in the moments after you nonchalantly pick up your cell phone one late January afternoon only to hear your dad, choking on his rarely emotion-filled voice, as he manages to tell you that your dog, your furry little sidekick of a semi-person, has left you, as well as this world.
It is hard to find the happiness in living with their wonderful memories of thirteen years, as your twenty-one-year-old self is slumped on your college apartment kitchen floor, sobbing for anything you are worth, over not having a worthy last goodbye to the most loving, unconquerable creature you had known.
You can’t quite understand what a gift you had in loving anything as much as you loved your eighth birthday present, as you instead unexpectedly return home for a funeral, and find yourself incapable of not crying yourself into unconsciousness your first night in a home that no longer hears the padding of paws through its suddenly too silent halls.
And when you find their baby blanket, innocuously tucked into the backseat of your car, you aren’t entirely able to remember the lines of that poem while you hold onto the worn piece of fleece more tightly than you thought yourself able, once again sobbing more painfully than you realized was humanly possible.
There is Rainbow Bridge, and there is Heaven, and somewhere else there is hopefully a warm bed filled with non-squeaky squeaker toys and Bacon Bits, you rationalize, but at the same time, you argue with some unforeseen power that no, no matter how many indestructible toys and endlessly long stretches of grass on which to run, no, despite it all, they should be here with you. They should still be here, driving down Route 4 with you, lapping at the icy December air, and smiling that grin that only dogs know how to smile.
They should not be gone. They should still be with you. They should be with you, and you, and you, and you alone. They should not be gone.
And then, at some point, you wonder if these pleading demands, those hopeless bargaining chips of yours, are fair.
For in reexamining those same thirteen years of love and joy and laughs through your tears, you realize you are doing a discredit to those years, and to the years of a life so joyfully lived.
You wonder if it is fair to cry so frequently over the companion whose sole mission in this world was to love.
Is it right to forgo the moments and days and years filled with laughter over quirks, moments of pet-induced silliness, and unadulterated happiness, as you instead focus on the tangibly physical ache of missing their presence?
As you find yourself tearing up again in a moment where you too poignantly remember your impossible separation, you consider how that takes away from a moment in which you can relive an excited early morning wake up, a lazy afternoon, or the nightly routine of curling into a position that better suited their already sleeping frame in a bed that is truly only built for one.
You wonder if it is fair to have loved a creature so very much, and at the same time, you wonder how it is fair to then have to live a life without them.
But even as you wonder, and cry, and remember, and mourn, the all-encompassing narrative that surrounds these acts is united in the same theme of love, and love, and love.
That wonderful fuzzy semi-person who lived so joyfully, who you so unendingly protected, and who was so fiercely and endlessly loved, was nothing else if not comprised totally of love itself. A tongue-lolling, nap-loving, fur covered person with nothing else to do but love, and to be loved back.
The beauty of loving a pet lives on not only in having them sleeping in your heart, but in the fact that their lives are so wholly marked by love, and create in those lives, a legacy of love.
It is that legacy of love that ultimately leads us to heal, and leads us to loving the sleeping dogs in our hearts. It helps us to recognize and remember, to showcase our constantly remaining love through laughter and no longer tears.
That legacy of love allows us in six days, six months, or six years later, to carry on and embrace a new furry little companion, one who likes to eat underwear this time instead of dinner towels, who hops on two feet in excitement, and who also tries to eat chilly December winds while driving to a sandy, salty beach walk.
The beauty of having a dog sleeping in your heart is that while they may be gone, their love is not. The legacy of love that all of our dogs eventually leave us with is the truly beautiful aspect of these inexplicable relationships, and the most wonderful way to remember them by.
So, while you might not be able to listen to Miranda Lambert’s ‘House That Built Me’ because you too have your favorite dog buried in the yard, and while it still might make your heartstrings twinge every year their birthday passes, it is fair to still miss them.
It is fair to still wish they were with you, even as a new rambunctious pup, who is no less loved, sleeps peacefully in your lap.
And it is more than fair, under any and all circumstances, to still love them every day after which they are gone.
There is no expiration date on love, for any species.
Crying will come easily, once your dog first wanders off to a peaceful new place to sleep. But through the crying, do not forget to remember the endless, selfless love.
The legacy of every dog’s love never dies, and there is nothing more heartbreakingly beautiful, and more wonderful, than having that legacy to remember and to pass on.
So, while it is true that all dogs do definitely go to Heaven, it might just be that Heaven is a little sleepier, and a lot closer, we ever initially realized.