A Tribute to Jasper, and Reflections on Saying Goodbye

It was hard to be thankful this Thanksgiving.  I received a phone call in the morning that my pet sitter had found my beloved dog, Jasper, dead on the floor, apparently having ingested something poisonous- probably mouse/rat poison, according to the vet.  Once again, I was invited into the arms of grief, and the tears, confusion, and lethargy it brings.  While I will get around to grief in this post, first I want to pay tribute to Jasper.
Jasper was an incredibly sweet, sweet dog.  Having been abused and neglected the first few years of his life, he found a loving home with my friend, Jenna, who adored him and loved him completely.  Unfortunately her life circumstances a couple years into their lives together made it impossible for her to keep him. In March 2012 he moved in with me, the original intent being that it would only be until she was settled in a place of her own where Jasper could join her.  As a year and more ticked by and Jasper became a fixture in my home with his now-brother Yorkie Barney, Jenna and I decided Jasper should officially become a member of the O'Neil household.  As I placed his new dog tag with my phone number on his collar, I said the words "till death do us part." He had had enough change and uncertainty in his life.  He quickly responded to this shift, relaxing and adopting a new, more comfortable stance as he was no longer auditioning for a permanent place in my heart and my home.

Not to say Jasper ever got to the place where he was entirely secure.  The first few years of his life had made him "a black hole of need," as one of my friends, who was a huge fan of Jasper, lovingly described him.  Jasper's favorite place in this world was in my lap, whether I was driving, meditating, on a Skype call with a client....Didn't matter.  That was where he wanted to be.  He also was very adamant when he wanted to be picked up, bouncing up and down as if on a pogo stick until I succumbed and took him in my arms. This at the age of ten even!  Since he had not learned to play as a pup, I joked the only game he knew was "Momma's on the move," which meant he would scamper behind me as I went from one room to another.

Lest I make him sound obnoxious, I want to add some of Jasper's sweeter habits too.  My absolute favorite thing was that at bedtime he would run upstairs before I did so he could round the corner and give me kisses through the slats in the bannister as I rose to the top of the steps.  He then would wait by the side of the bed until I got settled in and invited him to join me.  Such a gentleman, completely counter to his brother Barney who had already taken over half the bed before I even got there.  Jasper also loved to lay on my clothes I had set out for the day, taking every chance to be close to his Mom, even if it was just my scent.  The other thing I will miss is his determined focus on our walks. Although he occasionally sniffed and meandered, his usual stance was eyes straight ahead, little legs scurrying forward.  He was on a mission.

I needed to write that tribute to Jasper not only to honor him, but to acknowledge the things I am going to miss in my daily life.  When we have lost someone close to us, human or animal, we need to get clear - and specific - about how our life has changed.  As I was on my way home to face my space without Jasper, I reminded myself I had been through this before on an even bigger scale.  I remembered returning to our Brooklyn apartment after my husband Brendan died.  Even though he had not been there for the 3 months he was in Calvary Hospital (where he died), his spirit was still so present, at least as big as the void left by his physical absence.  I am finding the same thing - for now at least - with my beloved pooch.

I am also trying to remind myself that healing does happen.  That it will get easier, except those days when it doesn't because healing from grief (like all healing really) is cyclical.  In the meantime, I am doing exactly what I remind my grief counseling clients to do.  To be gentle with myself.  To allow lots of spaciousness in my life.  To be accepting of lack of focus and inability to concentrate.  And to let myself cry...which I did uncontrollably this morning when I went to see my sweet Jasper's body and say goodbye.  He and I both needed that; well, at least I did.  It's part of the process.