“Money can buy a fine dog, but only love will make him wag his tail.” — Kinky Friedman
It was love at first sight. The yellow lab puppies were curled up sleeping against their mama. One of them opened his eyes and looked at my 10-year-old son and he knew: this one would be our puppy to love. We named him “Bauer” after the ice hockey gear company. Whenever someone asked my son his puppy’s name, he’d beam, “Bauer. We are a hockey family!”
Fast forward eight years. We were away for Christmas with my husband Mark’s family when Mark died unexpectedly. The following day, arrangements were made for Mark and we headed to the airport to make our return flight as planned. We were numb. When we arrived at home, Bauer was happy to see us, but he would not leave my side. He knew something was “off.” Bauer was looking for Mark. We all were.
The memorial service for Mark was January 6, 2017. When my two sons went back to college two days later, the truth overwhelmed me: I was a widow with an empty nest. It was just Bauer and me now. I spent that cold day on the couch, alternating between crying and sleeping. Bauer wandered around the house looking for Mark. We were both sad, but we were sad together.
Bauer sat close by that first week, as I navigated making countless phone calls, finding documents, paying bills, and wondering how I would ever be okay again. I had barely enough energy to take care of myself, but when I bundled up and took Bauer on a short walk, he seemed happy. This was the first good feeling I remember having after Mark’s death. There was something I could do to create happiness.
After a week, the day came for me to go back to work and for Bauer to return to Doggie Day Care. I was functioning, craving a routine, and grieving. The wonderful staff at Doggie Day Care was my first stop, the first humans I would speak with every day, angels on Earth. They listened. They showered Bauer with love and attention and me with kindness. “Before,” if I had to work late, Mark would pick up Bauer. Now, it was only me, often frantically calling to say I was running late. I was never met with a harsh word, just a smile and a happy dog.
Little by little, Bauer and I settled into a routine. Monday through Friday it was doggie day care and work, followed by dinner and a walk. Bauer slept with me and I slept with the TV on to offset the dead and heavy silence. Weekends were the most difficult — too much time and too much quiet. Finally, the weather started to improve. We were outside more often. We made some new friends — and connected with a special dog named Apollo, and his dad.
Apollo is a chocolate lab one year older than Bauer. He is fun and happy, loves to swim and to walk with his Dad. Apollo’s Dad is a widower. Together, we found companionship, fun and company.
Life began to expand. Bauer and I had company on many of our walks and were frequently invited to swim. Bauer’s first love is the water. When my beach bag comes out, he knows that we are going to play with Apollo. There is no way to communicate the joy — his or mine.
Together, Bauer and I are healing. Bauer has been my constant and loyal companion. Our days are bracketed by drop off at doggie day care on my way to work and a walk together in the evenings. In our free time, we play on the beach and swim with Apollo. We are still a work in progress; even now, we still look for Mark. Bauer often goes outside and barks at the shed, which was Mark’s place. Most of the time, I can smile as Bauer reminds me that Mark is here, just out of sight — at least to me.