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Grief. One small word, one short syllable. Unfortunately, there’s nothing small or short about it. When it hits you, it’s the 18-wheeler you didn’t see coming in your blind spot that slams you so hard, you’re careened off your path before you even have a chance to comprehend what happened.
Grief. In a blink of an eye, it puts you in a tailspin that has you clawing at the ground hoping to find balance while you grasp for air as its essence settles over you like the net of a black widow spider. It’s colorless, odorless and otherwise benign—until it lands on you and attacks every sensory faculty you have.
Friday, April 6, I boarded a plane for a trip of a lifetime to Florence and Venice, Italy. Saturday, April 14, after having the most extraordinary eight days of my life and being happier than I can remember being in many, many years, I arrived back home to find that by the time I had landed in Florence on Saturday, April 7, my beloved dog Boris had passed away. Grief had come to pay a visit.
One look at my mother’s face when I walked in the door braced me for the 18-wheeler, but even still, there was no stopping the jarring impact of grief as she grabbed for my hands and the words “we lost Boris” fell from her lips. How? Why? When? What? A twister of questions, a funnel of answers, but nothing coming through because of the howling wind swirling around me so that I couldn’t see, hear or breath.
His stomach bloated and flipped. It happened in seconds in the middle of the night. All attempts were made to save him but it just wasn’t possible. It was nobody’s fault. It just happened.
But could I have saved him? If I would have been in New Jersey and not in Italy, could I have saved him? Three vets, including the one who performed the emergency surgery on him, have told me no. Bloat is the second leading cause of death in dogs. I’d never heard of it until it took mine. What kind of dog owner am I not to have known about this? I worried about Boris getting hit by a car, worried about him getting cancer, or getting lost or stolen. He had just turned nine and started showing signs of hip arthritis. I worried about his future and how we’d manage his hips. Stomach bloat? Never heard of it. Grief that I can’t even explain.
Everyone says their dog is the best, brightest, smartest, cutest, and they are probably right. Boris was all of those too but he was also different. From the start, he made it clear to me that he was not going to be owned. If I was going to accept him into my life, it was going to have to be as a partner. We struggled with that for a while but once I clued in; he became a kind of partner to me that will never be replaced.
Boris was meant to be in my life. Of that I have no doubt. He was born outside of Chicago in what I believe to be a puppy mill and too quickly sold to an irresponsible family in Kentucky who thought that keeping a puppy in the garage in a crate was a good idea. Thankfully, Boris, then called Buddy, fought back at some point, making him in their eyes, an unsuitable dog.
He was handed over to Samoyed rescue at seven-months-old and flown to his third home in Maryland. The day his picture was put on Petfinder, I was in Washington, DC and on the way home to New Jersey, I stopped by his foster home to check him out. There were five or six dogs in the house. I walked in, sat on the floor and Boris climbed on my lap. The negotiations started. Only then did I find out that he was born on February 7, 2003, the day after my father’s funeral. The deal was sealed.
Six months after I got Boris, I was diagnosed with cancer. Boris and I were still struggling with the whole ownership/partnership issue at that time. After one particularly bad chemo session, I fell into bed, crying and miserable. Boris jumped up on the bed and started to lick away the tears on my face. He then curled his big lanky body up against mine until I fell asleep. That was when the question of ownership dissolved because the partnership he’d been asking for couldn’t have been clearer to me.
The stories of Boris and all that he did—and didn’t do—and all the lives he touched in his nine years could fill a book and some day they may. Boris and Natasha is indeed a love story to be told. But first, there is the grief to detangle myself from.
Today, his ashes, leash and collar will come into my hands. I would do anything to have him back the way he was when I left him two weeks ago but that just can’t be.
We know life is not fair, we know it’s tough and we know it throws punches when we’re not looking. And we know that it can bring a grief so strong that there’s no way the arrow on our compass can stop from spinning, making us completely lost on the path we were taking. But we also know, and need to remember, that life can be kind and giving and bring unimaginable joy, and if we can just hold on a little longer, a new path will clear and we’ll find our way back.
There was always one way I could get Boris’s attention and that was to say “goodbye Boris.” No matter what he was doing or what he was chasing, he’d stop in his tracks and come running so that we wouldn’t be separated. So although the hardest thing for me to do will be to give him a final goodbye as I head out on my new path without him, I know in my heart and soul, he’ll always be right by my side.