I woke up early and got moving; it was July Fourth, and I was on a mission from God to make a good dent in my much-delayed spring cleaning, compliments of my April hysterectomy surgery. It was also a way of dealing with grief over the loss of our dog, Cooper, less than a week before. I’ve repeated this same ritual, obsessively cleaning the house from stem to stern, after the loss of every person and animal that I have loved, as if somehow by cleaning I will wash away the pain from my heart. I am ever the optimist if nothing else.
I picked up my phone and checked messages, smiling when Facebook notified me of a memory from ‘three years ago today’, just weeks before Mom would be gone…
Cooper loved her ‘Grandma’ like no one else, and they had such a special bond (Mom called her the ‘Granddog’). This particular visit was spontaneous; I had taken Mom to the doctor and she was feeling sad and down. I drove her into Dan’s garage (closest to the house) and brought the dogs out to cheer her up. This photo felt like a little hello from Heaven, a, ‘We are still here’ from Mom and Coops. Thinking of them being together and sending me signs is such a comfort.
I kicked off the morning by taking Sophie for an over three mile walk exploring a different part of the neighborhood than we usually see. I am doing my best to keep her busy- which is in turn keeping me busy, too. She is a great fitness buddy, eager to walk as long and as far as I will take her, always so happy and full of joy from the moment the harness and leash are taken down from their hook in the dog room. It was fun and interesting to revisit the route I used to walk my Doberman, Bailey, many years ago, seeing how things had changed- and how things have stayed the same in our old Southside neighborhood. Taking this new route is helping to rewire some things in my head after years and years of walking Coops and Sophie a different way, which is a healthy thing…change is good, something the universe seems hell-bent on teaching me this summer.
I have always been our Border Collie mix Sophie’s work, but now she seems focused on me like a laser beam, somehow knowing that I need her now more than ever before. Cooper’s untimely death has really taken the wind out of my sails, for sure. How grateful I am for Sophie’s sweet and gentle presence.
After the walk, I began scrubbing the kitchen and laundry/dog room floors on my hands and knees, going old school on our ninety-seven year old home. When I moved the dog crate and began cleaning up the dog hair that had been hidden underneath, a wave of grief washed over me and the tears flowed at this tangible reminder of what we have lost. Coops had such personality, and things just seem so different without her here. She was the leader of the troops, with Sophie always lagging obediently behind. Coops told me when they wanted to go out with a ‘bap’ on my knee with her paw, followed by a comical shift of her eyes toward the door. She was the protector, only barking when there was truly something to bark about, always making me feel safe. She was a bull in a china shop, seemingly the Cujo of the neighborhood, but would gently take a treat or one of her favorite ice cubes from our hands like she was protecting the finest and most fragile of treasures. She had the largest understanding of vocabulary of any dog I’ve ever known- unlike sweet Sophie, who we say is a few French fries short of a Happy Meal. I always said Cooper’s eyes were like horses’ eyes- wise and knowing, an old soul. I cleaned and cleaned, trying not to feel like I was erasing traces of Cooper from our lives, but rather, starting a new chapter to honor her memory.
The next day, sleep deprived from a crazier than usual fireworks extravaganza’ in our neighborhood the night before- both official (Thunder on the Mountain) and non (crazy drunk people with explosives), I continued on with my cleaning spree. Dan was taking a short cat nap after lunch, and as I went into the kitchen to work on something quiet, my cell phone rang. I recognized the soft and gentle voice of the receptionist at Oxmoor Animal Clinic.
“Hi Ms. Gainey. This is Samantha from Oxmoor Animal Clinic. I wanted you to know that Cooper’s ashes are ready for you…we are so very sorry for your loss.”
The tears came again as I thanked her. Dan had to return to work, and I did not want to go on this sad errand alone. I decided to take Sophie with me for moral support, but first wanted to find one of the cards I’d made with a collage of photos of our animals on it to use as a thank you for the kind vets and staff at Oxmoor. I found my card box in the music room and then brought it into the office to look through the oddball collection of cards. I lifted the stack out of the red box and a single photo dropped to the desk…Cooper as a puppy in my mom’s kitchen. Chills went over my body; I don’t keep photos in that box, but somehow this one- of all my thousands of photos- that had been in a small round frame years back had found its way into the box. I told Dan that my mom and Coops must be conspiring to send signs to me, to leave me no doubt that they were together and okay, just when I needed it most. I wouldn’t put anything past those two mischief makers, and after all, love has some pretty wicked strong powers. Hey, Mom and Coops.
I will keep being open to seeing these signs that comfort me and help me to remember the love that goes on and on. I will also keep looking for the lessons in what has been a spring and summer too filled with sadness; the loss of our cat, Kasey, Dan’s physical ailments, my hysterectomy and recovery, the sudden loss of our dear friend John, and now Coops taken from us when we thought we had years left with her. That is a lesson in itself; every single day- every moment is precious- we are not guaranteed tomorrow, or even the next hour. I need to remember that as I return to the craziness of the new school year soon. Take time to be truly present, to be grateful for gifts large and small, and to make sure that we show our love to those who matter to us and let it shine to the world.