I was in fourth grade when we got a dog. I was terrified of dogs, and this was not a very welcome idea in my little mind. I saw dogs as crazy creatures, and I was not into owning one. Or playing with one. Or petting one. Not even seeing one. I was a weird, anti-dog child. This all changed when we got Merlot, a beautiful solid ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She was loving, kind, and fun.
As Merlot got older, my dad became her clear favorite in the family. He would always whistle for her when we would get home. I couldn’t whistle, so instead I would proudly shout, “Sissle can’t whistle, but she’s home!” as my own way of showing up his whistling talents. No matter what, she would always run to my dad, always embracing his ears before anything else. When we would leave town, my dad would be heartbroken over dropping Merlot off at the doggie sitter. He would call daily to check on how she was doing. And when we got back, he would be the one she was most excited to see. We all had a special, unique bond with Merlot, but mainly my dad.
Three months after I started college, we unexpectedly lost Merlot to heart failure. We knew she was sick, but not sick enough to die. There is a big difference there. When she did die, it ripped my heart out of my chest. I never understood when people talked about the magnitude of pain that ensues from losing a dog. I mean, it’s a dog. There is no human connection. Although there is no human connection, losing Merlot taught me that there is an indescribably strong connection nevertheless. Losing a dog hurt so much more than my parents or I ever imagined.
But it’s not the same as losing a parent.
You are supposed to lose your dog. Dogs have an incredible purpose to fulfill, especially to young kids, in teaching us about love, responsibility, and patience. They are so good at fulfilling this purpose that they also leave our world much quicker than humans do. It’s common for people beginning college to have to say goodbye to their dogs they got in childhood at that same time. As much as I loved Merlot, I knew her life would not last long from the day we got her. Quite frankly, it sucks, but that is the mortal reality of owning pets.
I cannot say the same about my dad. His life was not over in the same way Merlot’s was. He still had roles to fulfill of being an eventual father-in-law and a granddaddy. He still had dreams to accomplish and created plans left unfulfilled. Losing my dad at twenty years old, well, that left me unfulfilled. It plagues my mind every day.
I just finished my first week at my new school. This is something I talked about doing for so long that I wonder if my dad questioned when it would happen. When he passed away, I didn’t even know when it would happen. I remember the first time I came to visit this school for a college tour was at the end of our college road trip before my senior year of high school. My dad could not believe how perfect it was. It was everything I had ever wanted, and it was just within reach.
For my first assignment in my advanced writing course, we had to write the story of the most impactful thing to happen to us. I think you can guess what I chose to write for mine. During my conference of sharing this with my teacher, he shared with me the very essence of this posting: you’re supposed to lose your dog. At this point in life, that is a natural thing. At this point in life, losing a parent is not a natural thing. That comparative idea hit me like a ton of bricks.
Long story short, it took me a few extra years to get here (and that’s okay). If it wasn’t for my initial inspiration, anxiety, and my dad getting sick, I would never have made the leap. Now that I am here with my first week under my belt, I cannot believe it. Everything about this university, my living situation, and the city fulfills me in a way I have never felt before. The missing piece in all of this (and in the rest of my life, I suspect) is my dad. He was the cell phone guy. He was so easy to reach and talk to about anything. Not being able to pick up the phone and having the ease of doing that might hurt the worst of all.
Of course I have plenty of amazing people to share all of this with, and of course I am beyond grateful for all the love I have gotten from those people uniquely. It’s not the same as the specific granules of encouragement my dad would give, though. He saw the world differently, and he processed it in his own way. What rips at my heart the most is knowing I cannot imitate whatever it is he would say or however it is he would react. The only thing possible is allowing my imagination to run wild.
Without him, it’s not the same. Nothing is the same. You’re not supposed to lose your dad.
At least not yet.