Learning the Language of Loss

In his life, Monte taught me so many valuable lessons.  Among the many, many lessons he taught me are the following:

  • Trust is fear’s worst enemy
  • Slobber can be fashionable
  • Enjoying every minute of life with my dogs is more important than a meticulous household
  • Don’t take those you love for granted.
  • When someone you love is feeling down, encourage them.
  • Feeling lazy?  Get off your ass and walk your dog.  A day will come when you would give your house, your right arm, and every penny in your savings account for one more stroll with your pooch, regardless of weather.
  • Even for one as “unvirtuous” as myself, patience can and should be learned.
  • Ego is the enemy of patience
  • If you and your dog aren’t having fun, you’re not doing it right.
  • Love often requires great and painful sacrifice
  • Slow and steady wins the race
  • Play as often and as hard as you can
  • Take time to sniff the flowers, grass, and trees
  • Spending time in nature is important
  • Don’t take time with the ones you love for granted
  • Forgiveness is a key element of relationship
  • Reality and “reality tv” do not necessarily occupy the same universe
  • Never underestimate the importance of a kiddie pool
  • People, and animals, cannot be expected to act normally when in pain or afraid
  • If you cannot find a silver lining, create one
  • One dog can change the world
  • Story telling is therapy

These are but a few of the lessons that I learned from Monte.  Now that he is gone, there are new lessons for me to learn.

As someone who writes both professionally and recreationally, learning a new language to describe all of these feelings and memories is probably the hardest lesson of all.

I am learning a new way to speak and write.  Often, I catch myself speaking of him in the present tense.

Students at orientation last night asked me about my dogs, and I said, “I have a Chow mix and a Saint Bernard.”  Then I paused, reeling, stomach dropping, short of breath, because no, I don’t.  I felt that “squinchy” feeling, a tensing up of muscles at that place where my nose meets my eyes, a lump the size of a Saint Bernard paw forming in my throat, trying desperately (and somewhat unsuccessfully) to hold back the tears.

Or, unthinking, I’ll say, “I have to get home and feed the dogs.”  But I don’t have dogs anymore, I have a dog.  Granted, she’s an amazing, delightful, too-smart-for-her-own-good diva Chow, but she is an only child now.

Those statements just aren’t true anymore.

Trying to be proactive, I went through last month and wrote an entire month’s worth of entries for Dogster’s Behavior and Training Blog.  I wanted to get these entries squared away so I could focus on the new foundations of clicker training course I’m developing for Karen Pryor Academy, knowing a deadline is looming on the horizon.

It felt so good to get ahead on my writing, and so awful when I realized, the other day, that I had to go through all of my entries that included any mention of my boy and change our stories to the past tense.  Instead of saying, “Monte has a penchant for leg-humping,” I had to edit them to read, “had.”

For some reason, this is one of the hardest lessons of all for me to learn.  It makes this all seem so final, in a way that even bringing home his ashes could not rival.  How can I speak of him in the past tense when he is such an intense and all-encompassing part of my present?  How can I call him gone when some days, his memory and the video of his last tail wags are often all that gets me through the day?

I miss him so much.  It’s hard to vacuum up our colony of dust bunnies, most of which were Monte’s progeny.  I think I might hit someone if they tried to clean his slobber off the walls and ceilings.  Each time I put on an outfit, it looks incomplete – where are the foot-long tail hairs, interwoven in the fibers?  Where are the shiny “snail trails” down my pant leg?  I feel naked without these things – they’ve become such a part of who I am.

I admit it, I have a slobber covered pair of jeans I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to wash again.  It just makes everything seem so final, and I’m not ready to cut my losses yet.

I hate learning this new language, but it is a small price to pay for the opportunity to continue sharing his story and legacy with anyone who has a minute and a thought for a Saint Bernard and the woman who loved and lived with him and who spent four and a half glorious, tumultuous, and fantastic years learning from him.

I miss you, boy.  That, of all things, will always be present tense.

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7 Responses to Learning the Language of Loss

  1. fearfuldogs says:

    There needs to be an emoticon for teardrops.

  2. Nicole Wilde says:

    Oh Casey,
    I’m so sorry for your loss. From your other writings, I know what Monte means to you. And that’s present tense, because he always will. The blog was beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. I’m glad you got to share your lives together, and Monte surely knew how much he was loved. That’s really all any of us can hope for.
    Much love and light through your healing process,
    Nicole

    • projectmonte says:

      Hi Nicole,

      Yep. I’ve been unbelievably blessed with some amazing teachers in my life; and Monte is on par with you as far as how much he’s taught me about dogs.

      I’m glad you liked his story, especially since much of what I learned about how to work with him came directly from you; it’s a real honor.

  3. Another beautiful tribute to Monte. I hope his memory brings you more joy than sorrow as time goes on.

  4. Angela N says:

    Beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes. I went through the same thing when I lost my Belgian Shepherd. Five years later, I can talk about her without tearing up.

  5. Hi Casey

    I’m so sorry for your loss. And, I identify with you. After Sarah, my first dog died I could not vacuum for months. I just didn’t want to let go of more than I had to. Thank you for writing about your loss. I know that ache you describe only to well.

    Sending my love.
    Deborah

    • projectmonte says:

      Hi Deborah,

      I am not surprised that you, of all people, really understand. I love having a friend that knows the depth of my emotions for this dog and how cathartic sharing his story can be.

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