in which some comfort is found

I saw Ferris' empty dish last night when I fed Riley, and it unleashed an agonizing wave of sadness so overwhelming, I dropped to the floor in our living room and cried as hard and as long as I ever have in my life.

After she was finished eating, Riley came over to me and sniffed at my face. Through my tears and gasping sobs, I told her it was okay, I just missed Ferris a lot and I was sad.

She rubbed her face against my cheek and trotted into the family room. A moment later, she returned with her soggy tennis ball, which she gently put into my lap. She looked up at me, and then walked into the corner of the family room, where she picked up her rope – her favorite toy, which she brings with her to the front door whenever we come home – and brought it over to me. She set it on the ground next to me, and then laid down and put her head in my lap. I cried for a good long time, but I was comforted by Riley's actions, even if I'm projecting my own feelings onto her. I felt like she could tell I was grieving, so she brought me the things that make her happy, before letting me cry on her until the fur on her neck was soaked with my tears. When I finally stopped, mostly because I was physically and emotionally exhausted, I felt a tiny bit better. 

Anne is out of town and Ryan went back to school last week. This is Nolan's first major loss, and I haven't wanted to burden him with my own grief, so other than emails from friends and comments on my blog, I've been essentially alone with my pain the last three days. It's been incredibly difficult, and I'm glad Anne is coming home this afternoon, so I'll have someone to cry with.

128 thoughts on “in which some comfort is found”

  1. Hey Wil… I’m so sorry I’m just now finding out about your loss of Ferris. I can only imagine what you’re going through – I’ve always known that when my kitties leave me, I’m probably going to need Zanax or Prozac or something to get me through it. I hope you feel better soon and know that there are lots of us here for you, your family, and Riley.

  2. Wil, I am very sorry for your loss. Like many, I’ve avoided responding to your posts about Ferris under the impression that it wouldn’t be much help. But after reading this post I thought I’d offer some advice.
    Just over two years ago I reached the horrible conclusion that it was time to put my dog down. He was fighting a battle with cancer and losing it. I came home from work to find that he only barely had control of his bladder. The look in his eyes told me it was time. Unable to do anything until morning, I slept on the floor next to him that night. Being a spoiled pup, he had more dog beds that I care to admit. As each bed would get soaked, I would carry in a new one in and lift him on it–no small feat as he weighed about 80 pounds. In the morning I drove him to the vet and he died in my arms. As you said earlier, this is suppose to make it better but I found it to be heart-wrenching and nigh unbearable.
    When I got home afterward, I was greeted by an empty house with five pee-soaked dog beds. There was nothing to do but clean them up immediately. But I happened upon something there by pure chance. I know many people who have lost a pet and find themselves unable to remove any reminders from their house. Beds, toys, leashes–all just serve as anchors for the loss. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been strong enough to clean them up that quickly on normal circumstances, but as I said I had little choice. I think in the end that helped me a lot.
    I’m not saying it will be easy. I’ve heard the expression “you don’t get over it, you just get use to it.” As a reader of your blog I am of course stereotypically macho and tough. But just writing about this experience years later brings tears to my eyes.
    I know it might seems strange but consider yourself lucky. You get the bond between people and dogs. It is a experience like no other. Despite these moments of sorrow in a dog’s passing, I wouldn’t trade the moniker of “dog lover” for any other.

  3. Wil, I offer my condolences. I’m convinced that our Canine family members can identify with our emotions. Don’t try and talk yourself out of knowing that Riley understands. (at least on some level) There are some things in this life that defy rational explanation. The love of a good dog is one of those things.

  4. Fur people can be as important to our lives as people people. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I know that someday I will again feel the same pain when my pup goes. Ferris was an awesome dog, and you loved each other. It is okay to mourn, to cry, to rail against an almighty being (if you so believe) that would let this happen. Eventually you will only remember the good times-the games, the hot-doggy breath, the way they seem to know just when you need some doggy love and comfort. In the meantime, love your wife, your kids, and Riley. The rest of us will send some love your way as well.

  5. You’re definitely not projecting. Dogs are intelligent and compassionate. They know when something’s wrong. Sweet Riley.
    I think grieving alone is so much harder than having someone there so you can comfort one another. I’m glad Anne will be there soon (probably is, by the time I wrote this comment.)
    Sending more hugs and sympathy. Much love.

  6. Losing a pet is a difficult thing. My worst experience was with one of my pet rats, Augustus; the one where I chose to have him euthanized instead of him having a natural death. I was bawling on the floor of the veterinarian clinic (and I was 28 yrs old!).
    I recently adopted my first dog and he is so awesome. It’s a lot of work not to worry about what might happen, so I try to enjoy the time we have together instead.
    Dogs are experts on human behaviour so I have no doubt that Riley understands you’re in pain and wants to comfort you even if she isn’t capable of the same level of grief. I’m sure Riley misses her pal too.

  7. When I read your last blog about Ferris, I felt sad for you and your family, but I didn’t comment because I never feel right about commenting on the losses that other people suffer. Especially when it’s not someone I know.
    But I thought about it and like a lot of your other readers, I feel like I do know you, and I am sorry for your loss. You share so much of your life with us, and the least we can do in return is be there for you when you’re hurting.
    Your dogs are in some of the best stories in your blogs and in your tweets, so while it hurts a lot right now you’ll be able to look back eventually and read all the fun and funny things you’ve written. And everything will be OK. Because it’s supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to hurt right now, that crushing weight of grief you feel is equivalent in proportion to the love you have for Ferris.
    We’re all here for you. We might not have wet noses or slobbery kisses (though I’m sure some of us do…) but I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that we’re here for you too.

  8. Ah Wil, this post made me cry. I don’t think you’re anthropomorphizing at all. Animals know when their humans are grieving…and dogs especially will repress their own grief in order to comfort their humans. I’m so sorry.

  9. Wil,
    Last month I lost my dear cat who was 19 (I got her when she was 9 weeks old) it was unbearable then and I keep expecting to hear her meow at me, but it just doesn’t happen, so sad. I’m so sorry for your loss I hope your pain subsides soon and you can remember your sweet dog without so many tears. It does get better…

  10. Wil, I am so terribly sorry about Ferris. She sounded like a wonderful dog, and I know it hurts pretty bad right now. I’ve lost pets before, and it feels like a hollow place filled with the worst feeling you could ever imagine. But it does get better. You always miss them, but it DOES get better. As for Riley, that story of her bringing you her toys moved me to tears. What a wonderful girl!
    What helped me when my cat died, was for me to sit with her favorite toys outside under a tree, and imagine her coming up to me and speaking to me just like a person. I told her I was sorry, because it was my fault that she ended up dying, and I imagined what she would say to me. I imagined her forgiving me, and cheering me up, and us having a funny conversation about the other side, and what life she was on out of the 9, what kitty heaven was like, and it was very comforting.
    I still feel her around sometimes. Good luck to you and your family and I echo the suggestion of getting a dog from a rescue organization. A new pet never replaces a pet who has passed on, but it DOES force you to focus your energy on something positive, and it is very healing. Hugs and best wishes.

  11. This was very touching to read and reminded me of how we often try to hide our emotions for the benefit of others. I think you are a great parent to be strong for Nolan after this loss, but there is no shame in mourning on your own time. The fact that you had that comfort reminds me of just why I love dogs. Regardless of what people say, I believe they can sense emotions and are intelligent in ways perhaps we can not understand. Even if time doesn’t heal all wounds, I wish you the best anyway.

  12. I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. My partner and I lost our dog Buster last year, he was almost 16. I was such a mess I had to take a day off work and I just cried until I was so exhausted I felt sick. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the cat did not leave my side the whole day. I think animals do understand when their humans are hurting.

  13. My parent’s dog does the same thing Riley did. “Here, have this sock. This sock always makes me happy!”
    Our own dog has a different approach. She watches you intently with big kind eyes, then when she sees that you are in need of comforting, she climbs up and over whatever you’re doing and presses her face against your face.
    Reading these posts and your posts is a reminder that I still haven’t gotten over selling my horse before I left to move here (another country). It was like I had to choose between her and the guy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret in any way that I met my husband. I just blame myself because maybe there was another way to do this. She was a rescue case, we were both teenagers together, rebels with a clue. It was us against the world, and I totally let her down, and she totally knew that was the last time I’d see her. She was calm and accepting, totally not her usual self.
    She was sold on the condition that it was a forever home, but anyone who’s been around horses knows how that goes. On my last visit home, I heard a song a dance from the woman about blah blah blah this.. and she was now at some other place. That place then had to reorganize, so she went … “Oh, we’re not sure.” Then I heard a rumor that she was on a farm somewhere… and that was years ago. Is she still alive? Maybe. If I had her, she would be.
    So yeah, the Black Beauty without the happy part – ending, is my personal nightmare. I let her down. And to this day there are things that can trigger a sudden surge of tears. Like this post.
    I’m glad my husband, although he’s afraid of horses, loves animals (and people of course, they’re not mutually exclusive) as I do. So that when I poor out these feelings he understands that I mean I should have found a better way, and that I don’t mean that I regret coming here.

  14. It always amazes me how in tune with us our pets are and what they will do to help. I know mine have helped me through so much. That was such a sweet story. I’m glad you had Riley there to share in your grief.

  15. Holy crap, did this make me cry. We also love our animals just as much as any human member of our family, which most people don’t get. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

  16. I am really sorry you are having to go through this. My dog died this past February and sometimes that overwhelming grief still comes. Time is softening the sharp edges of the pain, but it is still there.
    I’ve come to think of this pain we go through as the price of all the joy they bring us. I think it is worth it. There is also the realization that if one of us, me or my dog, has to go through the pain of separation it is better that it be me. Selfishly I wish it wasn’t, but the alternative of the animal having to be alone and confused without their human would be more terrible. I’ll bear this pain for all the wonderful moments and all the amazing love my amazing boy brought me and count myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to love him. -> something I drew to help me in my grief.
    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad he had you, though.

  17. I’m so sorry that you lost Ferris, Wil, and especially since Anne hasn’t been able to be with you for a while. Ferris always sounded like such a great dog, and I loved the story of how she was found and named. It’s great that you have Riley with you, she sounds like a sweet dog and I really think she was trying to comfort you by bringing her things.

  18. I’m so sorry about Ferris’ passing. Thank you for including us in your grieving process. You are a damned good human being. We had to put our 19 year old cat asleep three weeks ago. I’d had her all of my adult life, and I am constantly reminded of her. I balled like a baby in front of my children the first night and I am still shedding tears for her. Take care.

  19. I lost my rescue Basset of many years 2 years ago, and haven’t yet been able to bring myself to add another to the family. I don’t think you’re projecting. Dogs are awesome and it’s great you’ve got Riley. My best to you and your family.

  20. I don’t think you’re projecting your feelings onto Riley – she clearly wanted to comfort you and is also sad. You – and all the human & animal members of your family – have suffered a huge loss. I hope that Anne is home now and you’ve been able to comfort each other. *hugs*

  21. Damn. I know what it’s like to lose a great pet. In fact, the pet, usually a dog, since they are the most faithful and loyal as well as being an animal that gives of itself entirely, whoa. Your world stops, as grief comes flooding in, regardless of timing or convenience… it doesn’t matter. Wil, be prepared for the recurring grief that sweeps over you in waves, when you least expect it. You’ll see another dog that resembles Ferris, perhaps doing a Feriis-like behaviour, and you will be devestated… over and over again. It doesn’t get easier, no matter what anyone says. Only time will provide you with the distance necessary. Get another dog… soon. It does not mean that you are replacing Ferris… it just allows you to re-point your affection and to move on… no matter how hard that might be.
    Les Melburn

  22. Oh Wil, I’m sorry. When I lost a pet as a kid, I always thought it would get easier when I was “grown up,” but it’s just not true. Just reading your posts about your dog and remembering the heartbreak of losing my own last year makes me so sad. Rescuing an abandoned animal is one of the best things I think any person can do. I hope you take comfort in having given Ferris a loving home and family, which is all any dog would ask for.

  23. My husband, who is a Muslim, told me they believe that dogs go to heaven. I think it’s true. What would heaven be without dogs?

  24. Hi Wil…
    I know the pain you must have been feeling because I just lost my cat Baby Puss to a horrible infection… he was 8. My husband and I had him since he was 5 weeks old… a tiny orange terror who liked to attack our feet when we were sleeping or jump out from inside the closet when we tried to get dressed in the morning…
    We knew he would always be subject to these infections because he had FIV. But we never really thought about the one infection that might take him from us. Within one week, we saw him go from a bouncing happy boy to a sad listless baby who couldn’t stand up to eat. We were heartbroken.
    We had to put him to sleep… it was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. He was our baby, as we don’t have kids of our own yet. We had the luck of finding a nice vet who came to our house and put him to sleep here… and a place called Forever Friends who came shortly after to pick him up to have him cremated for us.
    Its hard to explain the feelings of dispair to people who don’t have a beloved Fur Baby because to them its just an animal. But to us its a member of our family. Its a horrible loss.
    I am so sorry to hear of your loss… I can only say that you’re in my thoughts, and that Ferris will always be with you…Hang in there.

  25. Just the science geek in me, but it’s not just you projecting your feelings on Riley. ( A lot of recent evidence is coming out that all social animals have some degree of empathy, and Dogs are incredibly social animals, particularly since they regard us Humes as just a different shaped dog. When I was just a teenager, we had a whole pack of rottweilers, and what we all thought was the toughest of the lot, our canine matron CiCi, lost a battle to cancer we didn’t even know she was having. Her Mate, our goofy Hunter, pretty much just gave up after losing her. His love for her pretty cemented in my mind that animals feel just like humans do, if only more simply and innocently.
    I am incredibly sorry for your loss (and my belated posting) and to let you know Riley is truly trying to help share the burden.

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