Letters to Montana

Lessons in Landscape, History and Imagination

They’re 13, 14 and 15!IMG_1270

They’re all gone.

It’s been two months and five days since we said goodbye to Charlie, our youngest of three dogs. Three weeks before, the oldest, Timber, passed, and nearly three months before that, the middle one, Ibn, left our world.

In less than four months, they were all gone.

I’d declared their ripe old ages with pride, almost daily, over the last few years. Now, sometimes I wonder if that was my way of trying to will them to live forever.

In the days that followed the losses,

water slowly evaporated from their water dish that sat in our kitchen.

Spots of blood on our cloth grocery bags darkened and faded; the grim reminder of Charlie’s coughing fits.

Fur balls and squeaky balls alike were permitted to remain under the furniture.

I wondered if paw prints frozen in the mud were some of the last steps taken by our beloved companions.

IMG_8144I did not know my husband without Ibn; he did not know me without Timber and Charlie. We didn’t know life together without our dogs. And our dogs were our nearly constant companions, traveling through early adulthood with us–through forests, relationships, relocations, career changes, other losses, over mountains, across streams, into and out of our arms, our vehicles . . . our good graces. The one place they always were, and will remain, is in our hearts.

I know that for some, a loss like this may not feel all that profound. I also know that there are others who suffer far more profound losses than I have. But I also wonder what the merit is in measuring loss. I don’t believe we need to compare losses as much as I believe that we need to understand the meaning of loss and grief.

Who are we without them?

We listen to music a lot more. We love music, but rarely played it in the last few years because it would inhibit our ability to hear the dogs; the old dogs who could have a seizure at any moment, who might not be able to get up, who could get confused and panic.

We pick up food when we drop it. There are no eager mouths waiting for a “Ground Squirrel!” (our command for cleaning up a ground score). There is no one really interested in the core of the apple or the butt of the carrot–or under foot and getting yelled at during dinner preparations.

I must find new places to bury my fears or anxieties–places that aren’t as impossibly soft as Timber’s ruff, or as ridiculous as Charlie’s ear tassels or as solid as Ibn’s chest. I must find other reasons to rise from bed that don’t include someone needing my help or attention. I must remember the joy in daily walks, even when the absence of dogs makes me feel lost in places we knew well.

I must find the gift in the grief. IMG_2696 (1)

Grief doesn’t ask if it can take from you. It demands from you that which you are not willing or ready to give. That in itself tests us–for we are not usually comfortable with circumstances we cannot control. But, of course, it’s more than that, because grief means we’ve lost someone or something we love–whether a person, an animal, a relationship, a circumstance . . . we are mourning the change, the space that is no longer filled, the person we were when we had that which we’ve lost.

I was stripped down, and felt nothing but raw edges.

For a time, everything stung–the world was louder, the sun too bright, words too harsh. Crystalline winter breath bit at me through layers of wool and armor, filled my lungs with echoes of suffering and sobs. But it also polished me clean, and gave me only three stones to hold; three stones that allowed me to worry only about what really matters.

Loss is no longer my constant companion, it simply sneaks up on me in a photo I forgot about, or a story about dogs and magpies, or when the waxwings trill and shine in the morning light.

I am not done grieving, but I can see the gift in this grief. It is in the new rhythms of each day that feed my creativity, it is in my deeper capacity for empathy, it is in my renewed ability to not squander my time. It is in the memory of three precious dogs who made life richer for a good, long time. It is in the patience they taught me and the wisdom of living our wild nature.

The gift in this grief cannot be measured, nor can the depth or breadth of anyone’s loss. But, in loss, the immeasurable makes room for growing. It allows us to see who we were and decide who we want to be. It reminds us to be extra gentle with those in chrysalis, to laugh as hard as we cry and to count our blessings. One, two, three . . .





12 Responses to “Measuring Loss”

  1. jaimestathis

    I knew I was going to cry when i read this, and here’s the line that got me: Who are we without them?

    My old man will be 13 next month. Though we hit some valleys recently, he’s currently fit and strong, hiking the north hills and even taking short in-town jogs on leash. Every day I’m thankful for this, because the contract we enter into with dogs is that we know we won’t get to keep them alive forever, though forever we keep them. Thank you for sharing this. I look forward to reading more about your passage through grief and deepening capacity for love. xo from Missoula

    • Danielle Lattuga

      Jamie~ Thanks for reading it–I imagine it’s hard to walk up to that edge right now. I know how well you love your old guy. And, I bet he will continue to surprise you. They are so resilient and faithful to us. Hugs and snuggles to you both!

  2. Meredith Michener

    Hey Danielle. Nice entry. I have often pondered this exact point about the gift of grief. It is amazing how something so emotionally terrible signifies the existence of something so precious which then in turns makes the grief worthwhile. One can be grateful for the pain because it meant you were a part of something so special. Not everyone gets the privilege of loving fiercely. Thanks for posting.

  3. Karka

    Amazing Danielle, I am still lightly sobbing from the beauty and rawness and depth of this piece. But mostly for our friends who we no longer are able to pet…big love, Kara

    • Danielle Lattuga

      Thanks Kara~ you guys were such a good part of their last years and your love for them only made me love you both more. Miss you. Give the Budsy a snuggle for us.

  4. Niki Engstrom

    Thank you for sharing that Danielle. It’s beautiful, tears are flowing. I agree with you- let’s not compare loss but help each other through. The photo of all three is great, may they live in your hearts always.

  5. jimwvogele

    Thanks for writing beautifully about your loss. Those were some lucky, well-loved dogs.


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