at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

Grief and Joy: Part 1

This past Christmas was a hard one for us. We had to say goodbye to one of our best friends and companions -- our dog, Happy Gilmore. It was all the harder because it was a sudden and unexpected death. Happy was a well trained and good mannered dog. He wasn't a bolter by nature, but he was a hunter. He had a very strong hunt / chase instinct and his prey drive was the one thing we could not train out of him. You can't really train out an instinct. He had made progress, but deer were still his kryptonite. On the 22nd of December, I stood in my sun room in front of the open door doing what any other normal person would be doing -- throwing the rest of my fall gourds into my garden. Happy approached, and as I tried to shoo him back, he must have caught sight of a deer in the field because he suddenly bolted for the backyard. I grabbed for his collar, which he was not wearing, and he slipped right through my arms. I called after him, but he was deaf to the world, going full bore after that deer. That was the last time I saw him alive. By the time I put my boots on, he was already out of sight. He was so fast. I called Tom to come home from his errands and we scoured the woods and the neighborhood looking for him. I finally posted "lost dog" online on a few sites, and it wasn't long before someone cross published a post about a found dog. A dog found dead. On the side of the road. A half mile from where we live. I knew it had to be him. I called Tom sobbing and he went and found him. He had been hit by a car, and from what we could tell likely died very quickly. Tom quietly picked up our lifeless dog and brought him home. It was one of the worst moments of my life.

He was not around for Christmas, but Happy tolerated one last Santa hat photo earlier in December.

Happy was not a person, but he was more than a dog. He was part of our family, our constant companion, part of our ka-tet. Our days revolved around his schedule and he went with us wherever we could take him -- including hiking, camping, and even to Canada! He was a dog dog, full of life and personality. He lived each moment to the full, with unmatched enthusiasm. He loved everybody and every dog. He played full force until he was utterly exhausted. He was smart. Really smart. He learned lots of cool tricks and had more in the works (my largest ambitions being to teach him how to play tic-tac-toe and how to do the Cha Cha Slide). He was my snuggle pup and loved to curl up with us on the couch with a blanket. Saturday morning family snuggles were the best. Happy lived up to his name and, though not without his share of stubbornness and challenges, was the best dog I ever met.

Happy lived up to his name!

I was always an animal person. We had pets in our family as I grew up, and I loved playing with them. But somehow, after I moved off on my own, I managed to go 10 years without pets. I couldn't have pets in college, and then Tom was allergic to cats, and we were on the go so much we said we didn't have time for a dog. Then, one day, something changed. Tom turned to me one Saturday afternoon and simply said, "The Humane Society is open until 4 today." He didn't have to twist my arm. And thus began our search for a dog. It took a few weeks, but we found Happy at a shelter about an hour away. We pretty much knew from from first sight that he belonged with us. And he did.

My favorite author, C.S. Lewis, takes an interesting view on animals and their 'self':

"Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beast, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by Divine right. The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only ‘natural’ animal—the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy, and it is on the tame animal that we must base all our doctrine of beasts. Now it will be seen that, in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirely to its master. If a good sheepdog seems 'almost human' that is because a good shepherd has made it seems possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters...the man will know his dog: the dog will know his master and, in knowing him, will be himself." -- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Like Lewis indicated, I truly believe that Happy took on a little bit of each of us in himself. I've never known a dog with so much personality, and as he became a part of our family, I think he truly became the fullest version of himself. Perhaps it is for this reason that losing him was so difficult. Tom and I both took his death very hard. I didn't know I could love an animal that much. It was like losing a part of ourselves. The house didn't feel right. My routine was all wrong. A part of my life was missing. And so suddenly and so tragically. Happy was only three and a half years old. We were looking forward to many more years of adventure together. Our time was cut short.

Amidst the sadness, we are grateful for the times that we had together. We had Happy for nearly three years, and he taught us so much. He taught us about patience and love and joy. He taught us about being goofy and silly and enjoying the little things in life. And, honestly, I think he was a great blessing on our marriage. Without kids, Happy was our first thing we had to love and care for together. Working together to train him, teach him, love him, take care of him, and play with him was also a great way to build up our own relationship. And even now, he is teaching us: about loss and grief and to be grateful for each and every moment, because we don't ever know what lies ahead.

The loss of Happy triggered in us the desire to be more involved with dogs. We signed up as soon as we could to start volunteering with the Humane Society by helping out with their special adoption events. Of course, a trip to the Human Society necessitated a visit to the dog kennels to see who the currently adoptable dogs were. And, yes, it happened. We fell in love again. I watched Tom interacting with this beautiful brindle dog through the kennel fencing. They looked at each other, and there was a spark there. We left the Humane Society, not feeling ready for another dog yet. Or, were we?

No dog could ever replace Happy. He was unique and completely irreplaceable. But, I was reminded of a conversation with a friend about grief and loss and joy. A new joy never compensates or makes better a prior loss or grief. But new joys can still be had. It doesn't fill the hole, but it does expand the heart in new and unique ways. And, so, a few days later, we made our way back to the Humane Society -- just to "look" -- of course. But, this sweet, loving dog made his way into our hearts and we took him home that very night. And, so, I introduce you now to the newest furry member of our family: Copernicus "Copper" Symons.

We still miss Happy very much, but Copernicus has been lots of fun! Look for Part 2 of this blog post, all about Copernicus and the joys of a new dog. For now, I leave you with a bit more of Happy.

Our friends had this amazing pencil drawing done of Happy! He is framed in our sun room.

Happy loved drinking out of the faucet! Spoiled puppy...

Happy's last fall portrait.

Just messin' around

K-9 Explorer!
My last selfie with Happy. He had just discovered the joys of a saucer sled -- or, as he saw it, a giant frisbee!

Happy's birthday hot dog! One of his greatest joys in life.

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!