A Dog that Healed a Broken Heart
“At least you still have Yoda.”
A sentence I heard countless times after people learned about the series of traumatic events that have happened in my life within the past 365 days.
They were right to say those words. Even if they were an attempt to placate me when not knowing what else to do or say in light of my response to an innocent question of “how are you?” Which, let’s be honest, we should really stop asking that question if we’re not equipped to deal with an answer beyond “good, thank you.” But, that’s a conversation for a different day. Either way, they were right.
At least I still had Yoda. The most magical round, snorty, and slimy dog a girl could ask for. He found a way to distract me each time my mind would travel down dark paths.
At the beginning, I would be driving to Massachusetts to try to organize, clean, sell, giveaway, and store all of my belongings that had filled a tiny cape to the brim. Vestiges of a prior life that wouldn’t be available to me any longer. A shell of a home that once housed laughter and light.
To protect him, I would often travel alone and leave him with my parents. The distraction in those times was knowing he’d be available for me to snuggle with when I made my way back to my parent’s house in Connecticut. The one time I brought him with me, when there was still a mattress for me to sleep on in the house, I woke up to the telltale sound of a dog getting ready to barf. I sprung up, reached to comfort him, and managed to cup my hands and capture his vomit in one smooth motion that is enviable and not something that can be replicated. It was then that I realized how sensitive he was to negative energy, and the home was as toxic to him as it was to me. He never went back to that home, and I think it was a relief for him. To be honest, leaving that old life behind, helped Yoda to come into his own in a way I didn’t anticipate. He played with reckless abandon, he enjoyed spending time with any human he was near, he followed sun puddles throughout the home, he snuggled, he enjoyed long (to him) walks, and cherished a donut toy that brought everyone so much joy to watch.
Each morning, like clockwork, he’d bring his donut toy up the stairs right before I was slated to work at 9:00am, as if to say, “hurry up, lady, you’re gonna be late for work.” He’d huff in an agitated way if I failed to follow him promptly. He’d then come down the stairs, look for me, wave his donut in front of me, and repeat the act of bounding up the stairs.
In the first couple of months, when it was still winter, he would bounce in the snow, reminding me of the importance of laughter. Snow caked on his chin and flecked on his eyebrows, he’d smile at me as I tried to convince him to make his way inside.
Sun puddles were hard to come by, but when they did show up, near the side door, pooling into the landing and kitchen or in the office, Yoda would find a way to contort his body to maximize the warmth of the rays. His dark fur absorbing heat until he would need to move away for a bit, flomping on the floor in an exaggerated manner, heard throughout the home as his elbows made contact with the cool hardwood below him. Like a sundial, he knew when to report to different parts of the home for maximum sun exposure, with either me, my dad or my mom opening blinds or a door to allow for light to touch his soft fur.
As the weather got warmer and the days got longer, Yoda reminded me it was important to get out and get moving. It was too nice a day and too pretty a location to not go out for some healing strolls. At first, it was the streets near my parent’s home. Taking the time to smell the large stones used to make one of the many stone walls in town. He, of course, peed on all of them. You could hear him coming before he rounded the corner, his snorts making it seem I had forced him to walk twenty miles, when in reality, we were lucky if we got a single mile under our belt. He helped to remind me to smile as I saw people out and about. Yoda would introduce himself, normally by sliming on someone’s leg, and we’d laugh and talk about how sweet he was and share other pleasantries.
If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I’d have left the confines of the home. It would have been easy to become a recluse. Tucked away, looking at the world as it passed by outside, becoming progressively more bitter as time carried on. With him, though, there were daily walks, reasons to head to the local feed store for dog food and treats, trips to Michael’s and Lowe’s, all the while reminding me to smile and interact with other people.
The promise of summer and its warmth and light, led to even longer walks in town. We’d make our way down to the waterfront, and we’d both feel the cool breeze of salt kissed air on our faces. He helped me to remember to look for the light, to appreciate the colors of the sunset as it kissed the horizon over the water, to savor the changes that can happen as a cloud breaks open and exposes an orange glow. Knowing he was with me made me feel less alone, even when no one else acknowledged us as we were walking. He was all I needed and vice versa.
Summer brought with it the sale of the Massachusetts home, a finalized divorce, multiple trips to places that people tend to dislike like the Social Security Office, Town Hall, DMV and tears. I cried in the Social Security Office, I cried in the town hall, I cried in the DMV every time I had to be there. Each time, needing to explain the situation, I needed help with changing my last name back to what it used to be, and feeling like I was being punished for someone else’s poor choices. Each failed trip, and reason to cry, I knew Yoda would be waiting for me to help provide his comfort. He would by greeting me at the door, licking my face as I bent down, and snuggling next to me on the couch.
As the summer continued, it was time for me to try to find a place of my own. Each weekend, I’d explore a new possible home with my mom and a realtor. For months, we’d come back with stories of terror of what we had just witnessed, that were shared while Yoda was next to me, looking like he understood every word that we were saying. He was part of the planning process, as I was mindful of selecting a home that he’d be comfortable in while also welcome at as part of any HOA regulations.
Eventually, with lots of trial and error, a place for me and Yoda to call home materialized. Quiet and calm. Comfortable and cozy. A one bedroom condo to call home. Home is anywhere Yoda was, too. All of my furniture was gone. Left behind along with the memories they held onto in Massachusetts. So, I needed to buy a new bed, mattress, sofa, and table. Since each piece was delivered, Yoda has found a way to help build memories. New snuggle puddle options on the large teal couch. Sleeping next to me on my new mattress. Sitting next to me as I eat dinner alone at my table. Each day for work, he’d position himself on the chair as I sat next to him on my work laptop. He’d remind me to get up and move by taking him out, or enjoying a cuddle. He’d remind me to embrace the light, as I’d open the front door to let the sun puddles in for him to enjoy. We’d walk to the mailbox to claim our mail and meet new neighbors who lived nearby. Yoda helped me to appreciate holidays I was anticipating with dread. Reminders of a prior life, with a spouse helping to pass the gravy across the table and joking with family. It was Yoda, positioned next to me, who helped me to smile. My family gathered together and we found our own ways to laugh together, even if there was one less chair occupied by someone who had been there in the past.
In December, I struggled with whether or not to decorate for the holidays. How does one celebrate Christmas independently, when so much of your prior association with the holiday is a partner that is no longer available? Yoda followed me down the stairs to the finished basement when I decided to find the tree and celebrate on my own. He stood next to me as I unbent each arm of the tree and opened up the branches. He followed me back and forth each time I moved from the rubbermaid tub to the tree to hang an ornament. I showed him the ornaments of Bean and I had a good long cry thinking about her. I talked to him about my cat Mongo as the ornament meant to honor him was unearthed in the box. I cried. I hugged Yoda. I appreciated the magic of twinkling lights. I created a different Christmas with him by my side.
Yoda’s first seizure was on the Wednesday before Christmas. He was in a sun puddle sleeping when it happened. By the time I realized what it was, and why there was so much drool, he was coming out of it. Wobbly, he found his way to me, as I held him and told him that everything was going to be okay. I prayed it was a one-off event. A fluke that sometimes happens as dogs age, but doesn’t happen regularly.
Thursday was calm, and I naively believed we were in the clear. Come Friday, though, and his second seizure, I knew we were in trouble. Thankfully, the veterinarian was able to see him that afternoon. She mentioned a brain tumor, given his breed, and a referral for a practice that had a neurology team. He was given medication that could help with the seizures and I knew what my next step should be. Two weeks after his first seizure, he was being seen by a veterinary neurologist at an expansive practice not far from my condo. That afternoon, he was whisked away behind the scenes to prepare him for an MRI the following morning. I left with his leash, harness and seresto collar and made my way to my empty condo for the first time. I hadn’t slept in the bed without him, nor snuggled on the couch or chair without him nearby, or showered without him standing guard by the shower door until that night. Naturally, I moped, and tried to distract myself by deep cleaning. The carpets were shampooed, the kitchen was mopped, laundry was washed, and I was alone.
The next day, Yoda had his MRI early in the morning and was awake from sedation shortly afterwards. I got a call letting me know that he was awake and stable but I didn’t hear from the neurologist until later in the morning. As suspected, it was a brain tumor. In his case, inoperable and not likely to respond well to radiation. We were now at the stage of discussing end-of-life care. A change of medication to address the seizures, a steroid to address swelling and a wait and watch mentality.
Devastated isn’t a strong enough word. There isn’t a word out there that can really illustrate the weight of loss his crossing will create. This loving, sweet, gentle, round boy isn’t even 10, yet. I thought we would have more time to learn about each other, to grow together, to find light and warmth and adventures together. To take snuggly naps in the cold winter and long walks in the spring.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Yoda saved me this year. In the 365 days since Bean died, he was the one thing that kept me tethered to reality when everything else started to crumble and fall to the ground. Lost one dog? At least there’s still Yoda. Lost a best friend? Yoda’s there to cuddle. Lost a husband? Yoda can remind you that you’re still loved. Lost a home? It’s okay, because home is where Yoda is.
Yoda was the constant through it all.
I find myself asking the same kind of question that I asked when thinking about the loss of Bean. How do I thank a dog that has changed my life? How do I let him know how much he means to me?
I know, deep down, Yoda already knows. He has lived a life filled with love, joy, laughter and peace. He has shared his love unconditionally and has generated joy wherever he has gone. Yoda is sitting next to me right now, his snores able to be heard in neighboring rooms. I will cherish each remaining moment I have with him.
We never really know how much time is left for any of us. I hope time together is cherished for everyone as our right now is all we really know to be a reality.
To my dear, sweet, loving Yoda. Thank you for saving me and healing my broken heart. I will honor you in all that I do and I’m so happy to have known you and loved you while you were with me.