Puppy Love and Loss

It’s a story that has been told many times. Cooper was, as they say, our first baby. We even named him after hearing the name from one of hubby’s coworkers, who had used the name for his new (human) baby! For years, our lives happily revolved around this adorable furball, from weekend outings to vacations, he inspired us to explore and experience so many new places.

Cooper puppy

Cooper, just a day after we brought him home in October 1997. Our friend took this picture with a polaroid camera!

Years later, when the kids came along, Cooper was the faithful guardian who learned to bravely tolerate their expressions of love, including the classic tail-pulling, ear-tugging, and yes, even a “haircut” by our oldest, when he was three and Cooper was nine. We learned quickly to never put our baby down near other dogs, as Cooper would chase them all away. Even if they disrupted his peace, Cooper embraced the boys a treasured members of his “pack” with a loveable curmudgeon-liness.

And now, finally, after surviving a cancer two years ago, old Coops is slipping away from us. I am endlessly amazed at how much life teaches us. I will confess to, previously, having a somewhat limited ability to empathize when others lost an elderly loved one. Where I work, I see and hear so many stories of people who have died young. And having lost my own mom when she was in her early 50s and I was 25, I always thought that I would be nothing but grateful to be so fortunate as to watch someone grow into old age.

And so, even though the tears are flowing, I am really grateful for Cooper and for what this new experience is teaching me – about how it is possible to be thankful and heartbroken at the same time. About what a wonder it is to share life with another species – and to witness a full life in a time that for us is relatively brief. It is such a vibrant illustration of how youth evolves into maturity and maturity into old age.

Cooper vacation

Cooper on vacation with us this past week. He has gotten very thin and slow, but I hope he still feels loved by us.

While I am treasuring my own memories and, yes, wallowing in my own heartache, I am touched by how hubby and I are navigating the decisions around Cooper’s care, how in that process we are learning new things about ourselves and each other, and how my memories of Cooper are intimately interwoven with our marriage, which is only barely older than he is.

I am also thinking about how to share this experience with the kids and support them with the first major loss in their lives. We’ve been preparing them over the past few weeks. There are some good suggestions here at Kids Health and from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Since I’m just reading these now, it’s reassuring to know that we’ve been doing a pretty good job “winging it.”

Among other resources, a friend suggested the book The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, and I also found Saying Good-bye to Lulu. For a more spiritual approach, there are several choices, including The Legend of Rainbow Bridge. I’ll try these out with the kids. Both of the older ones have been writing books recently at school and at home. Maybe, they would like to write their own book about Cooper. I would love to hear things from their perspective.

With a grateful though heavy heart,

“Jewels”

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