How Becoming a Widow in My 20s Taught Me To Make the Most of My Time With My Dog

How the loss of my husband taught me to live in the moment and enjoy every second I get with the constant in my life - my dog Griffey.

Becoming a widow in my 20’s was brutal, to say the least, but I consider myself fortunate that my husband and my efforts to have human offspring did not come to fruition. I was blessed with a less heartbreaking scenario of the lasting companionship of our canine child, Griffey. Our maltese-shitzu had been through all the ups and downs of our 7 years together since puppyhood: marriage, college, multiple apartments, city living, country living, our first home with a “real” backyard, deaths of other family pets, the disappointment of not getting pregnant while our friends did, the ups and downs of marriage, my husband’s first diagnosis with melanoma, and then the terminal diagnosis five years later. Griffey flew back and forth to Los Angeles with us while we lived there for two months during a clinical trial we pinned so much hope on. Griffey slept on the cot with me next to my husband’s bed in the hospital in his last days then curled up in his lap when my husband took his last breaths.

Sweet little Griffey.

My dog is my last link to my relationship with my husband. When everyone else’s lives go on and my relationship with his family changes and grows distant, Griffey is the constant in my life. He’s been through it all with me and sometimes I think he’s the only one who remembers what we went through. He saw how hard it was. Our lives were turned upside down. I don’t know if he remembers his dad or not. I don’t know if he thinks about him or has dreams about him occasionally like I do. But I know if my husband’s cheerful call of “Puppydoo!” rang through the house, Griffey would know it and recognize it, and he’d come running. So even though life has evolved and changed, and the people in my life have changed, Griffey has always remained by my side, the best friend I could ever imagine. We’ve formed a new family with a new “stepdad” in his life who loves him like my husband did. We’ve gone on to form new memories, but Griffey will always be the link that holds all the pieces of my life together.

Memories are forever.

Last year, Griffey turned 12 years old. That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. I get anxiety and tears form in my eyes when I think about a day when Griffey won’t be here or his health may fail him. I don’t know if I can bear to lose him too. Right now he is active and playful and looks as young as he did the first year he came into my life. I made a deal with him that he has to break the World Record for oldest dog ever. I think we’re on track.

The older Griffey gets, the more terrified I become of the day that Griffey leaves me, but I also appreciate the time we have more and more. The last couple years have made me realize how precious our time is, and I live to make those moments, hours, or days count. When I don’t have to be at work, I try to stay home. If I go somewhere, I try to bring him with me. He sleeps more during the day than he used to, but Griffey still has energy to run up and down the golf course fairway in my backyard with me if I encourage him. If I get him riled up, he’ll still attack me and growl at me while we play.

The perfect sidekick.

Every moment counts. Instead of becoming impatient when I take him outside and he sniffs every blade of grass or lies down in the sun instead of going to the bathroom, I speak gently to him and tell him what a good boy he is, instead of rushing him. I snuggle with him at night, I invite him on my lap during a movie, I put him up in his bed on a kitchen chair so he can see me while I cook or do work on the computer, I try to always make sure we’re together. When I travel, pet hotels are no longer an option (and don’t even mention boarding). Griffey stays home where he is comfortable and good friends or family stay here with him. I understand not everyone has this luxury. I am eternally grateful for the friends in my life who are willing to love and care for Griffey.

For as long as Griffey is in my life, I will soak up every ounce of him and shower him with unconditional love, the way he has shown me. He’s done what no one else in my life has been able to do, which is be a constant presence in my every day life, giving me company, comfort, and a purpose. I try to show him a love that can only be rivaled by that of a dog itself.

In loving memory of Mike Carpenter
3/9/1984 – 9/26/2011
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  • Well done Jessica. And well written as always. “Last link…” just about unhinged me. A fitting tribute to the most difficult times and to Mike. I agree with what you – the only anecdote to a future loss is to live in this moment. Namaste.

  • A friend told me just after one of our fur-sons, George the Big Yellow Lab, died a few weeks ago that he thought mourning our pets’ deaths prepares us for the loss of others we love (he was referring to humans). I think you’re right — it can work the other way around.

    I adopted another fur-son, Jeff, shortly before my wife and I adopted George. At the time I adopted Jeff, we’d only just started dating. Now, Jeff has cancer that we’re hoping we can get rid of. Like you, he’s the only one who has been with us through thick-and-thin.

    I’m getting lots of practice at mourning.

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