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Simple Dog, Complicated Story Part 3

I've been dreading this part.

When presented with a tragedy, people look for the lift - the tidy and sweet ending to that makes it all okay and lets us return to our every days, moving forward with less sadness and more hope. I'm sure I won't be able to deliver that - this isn't a Lifetime movie - as much disdain as I have for them, I wish that sappy ending would miraculously wrap up the story.

The timeline of Richard and Chase's story on terra firma is brief - not even a year - 10 months exactly. They met on February 12, 2020. Their journey side by side ended December 12 of that same year. In those 10 months, we collectively had a new focus - a cooperative, and sometimes slightly competitive process that let us think about other things, that often got met with a warm head and a wet nose propped on a leg. Who would teach him a new trick? Who would Chase respond to quickest? Who could wrestle with him longest? It brought us together, giving us a different reason to check in, not find a reason to be out, to be present.

I can't help but think in that time, somehow, a little bit of Richard was left behind with Chase - they were and are so similar in ways only someone closely involved with them might notice. Or maybe I just want it to be that way so I'm looking for it and perceive it as such. Their aloofness. Their reactionary responses. Their insistence on the same spot on the bed. Even the strange way they navigate the house - ways that make no apparent sense, but work for them. Their intense gazes, meant to signal a need, and upon a reply, an apparent change of mind. Their instinct to protect and guard their family.

In the days immediately following Richard's leave, Chase remained in the places Richard usually was - either on the couch in his "spot" or in the office in front of his computer. About a week later, as I was waking up, I rolled over toward the middle of the bed, as I had done for years, and reached out across it, as I had also always done, and this time, after a week of reaching for emptiness, much to my surprise my hand landed on warmth. Chase had always, if he wasn't sleeping next to Richard somewhere, slept at the end of the bed when Richard did make it to bed. In the last few years of his life his sleep schedule was quite erratic, and we'd find him asleep in various positions and places, and that was just the way it was.

I slowly opened my eyes, and for a moment, thought maybe it was all a bad dream. The blankets and pillows obscured my view and oddly enough, Chase's breathing - his sound and cadence echoed that of Richard's quite significantly. Chase isn't a fluffy dog - he has a close, short-hair coat, very smooth, not thick. And he's not a dog with rolls and wrinkles, he's a mass of muscle - and of course, as I reach out to him now and rest my hand similarly, of course I can feel the sensation of fur and not skin. But in the haze of sharp grief, your mind, in an effort to make some sense of your new now, will do some bizarre things to you.

Chase was resting on the bed more like a person than a dog - his head on the pillow, his back to me as he was on his side, and as I mentioned the bundle of pillows and blankets made for a fuzzy view. Richard's stature had changed quite a bit over the last few months, and sometimes, when he was actually in bed, you almost couldn't tell.

I remember saying his name aloud. Richard - not Chase. Not loudly, just in a normal tone, and a part of me half expected to hear his, "Hey, beautiful..." back. My tired brain tried to convince me that I'd just had some strange, tragic dream, a long one - and not only would I be waking up to our life, but to our life from before that fateful fall when Richard broke his hand playing ball with the kids and the neighbors when the kids were so young. From before doctor's appointments, and denials, and restrictions, and deliberate and unintentional self-sabotage, and hospital visits, and home care, and loud arguments, and quiet ones, and medications, and medications, and more medications. From before clarifying with new physician after new physician the protocols the prior physician had tried, but had given up on. From before mounting bills and less and less ability to work and being in a constant state of emergency readiness. From before missed events, and sleepless nights, and awkward conversations, and neighbors knocking on my door coming to tell me they had found Richard collapsed somewhere. From before my kids learned how to resuscitate their father, or call 911. From before they had stories that their dad had technically died twice already. From before knowing the paramedics by name and the countless nights our street lit up with emergency lights, swirling in eerie silence.

Instead, the dog got up, trod across the bed, jumped off and trotted away, claws clicking on the hard floors, in the silence that was still new - as Richard always had some media running up and loud almost all the time - until getting to the couch - the sound of him settling in to the spot where Richard last was, left me staring into the emptiness and reminding me of our reality.

My shock and numbness eventually turned to a quiet anger and disdain - and Chase became the focus of those emotions. My kids sensed it and took on most of the responsibilities associated with the dog without question - perhaps for the first time since he had arrived. While I wanted to distance myself from him, the kids needed Chase more than ever. And the dog was obviously confused and at a loss himself. I banned him from my bedroom. I needed that space to process. I could put things away that made me uncomfortable in my space, but Chase was a different story.

It was a few months before I walked with him again. And once I broke through that we walked more often, because now I could; and for longer, because now I could, and we discovered new trails, new places to disappear into - where I didn't have to worry that my phone wouldn't get the emergency call. The deep walks became deeper and Chase and I bonded and the healing process truly began.

It's not over - I'm still working through quite a bit of residual emotions - and I'm not talking about the grief of the loss. I will always miss my husband, the father of my children, the partner with whom I started the story of our family. The last few years of Richard's life were tumultuous, and full of complex emotions and situations, and I carry with me a good dose of "what could I have done differently."

There's a saying often heard about the process of adopting a rescue dog that pops up in memes across social media - something akin to, "I thought I was rescuing a dog, but the reality of it is that the dog rescued me." Chase rescued all of us. Even Richard, for as long as their story would allow.

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