He was near me almost all the time. He was my alarm clock, my exercise partner, my teddy bear, and my best friend. If I would move within the house, he’d follow me closely behind. The jingle of his collar and the click of his nails on the floors was like my entrance music. When I walked up or down stairs or opened a door, I instinctively reached for him with my left hand. Nearly the only time he wasn’t with me was when he sat outside, as the proud guardian of the backyard.
Sitting out on the top step he held his head high and puffed his chest while he surveyed the backyard. He looked out for us, even if our only potential invaders were naïve fawns, frantic chipmunks, or Amazon delivery drivers. His bark sounded scary and sometimes at a glance he appeared to be ferocious, but upon approach he wagged his tail and smiled widely. The mail man quickly won him over with a pocket full of treats. Besides the occasional heart attack inducing bark explosion at someone who dared walk another dog by our house, he was quiet, loving and dutiful.
Dublin left us yesterday. He was very sick and took a quick turn for the worse. I have been blessed and fortunate in my life that I have lost very few people who were very close to me. I’m not sure if grief ever gets easier, but my compass for my next steps is spinning. I know what heartbreak means again today, although I wish I never had to know it. My mind tries to protect me by finding tasks to complete or mental gymnastics to perform. There are only so many dishes to wash, clothes to put away, and emails to send. Walking around the house keeps me moving but each moment seeing my wife and children brings back the tears. I know we feel the loss together. I am running from the reminders, but I have nowhere to go. I want to hold on to what he gave us.
As a blended family, as much as we try to the contrary, it’s very difficult to have things that we all share and connect with the same way. But with Dublin, he was our family member, all seven of us had him as ours. He came into our lives at a time as we were moving into a new space, building new traditions, and finding our ways of relating. The change we were going through and the adjustments our children had to make were monumental for us all. Even now, our attempts to connect and relate to each other rarely result with us all going in the same direction, but he brought us together better than we could on our own. I hope his memory can hold the bond he gave us.
He also showed me how to be with my family in a more connected way. Mainly through work settings, I had developed a skill of reading situations and finding the right words to keep things moving, make a technical point, or to win more work. I overused that skill. As a dad, and especially stepdad, fancy pep talks didn’t resonate with my “audience” and my words could be heard with a skeptical and bored, if not distrustful interpretation. Dublin showed me the value of presence without words. Being present is often what is needed to create a loving, safe space. To be heard, to be seen, and to be hugged tells more to those I love than any words I can muster. Be present and listen more, say less. That simple lesson helped me get closer to all of my children. Without Dublin’s example sinking in via osmosis, I may still be struggling by offering advice that is uninvited or continually putting my foot in my mouth. The kids may still think I do this, but I try!
He gave love to us all and never asked for anything in return. Well, he did enjoy his walks. Without them he may have gotten a little demanding, but otherwise he asked for very little. When he hadn’t seen the kids for some time, the excitement of seeing them would induce a “butt run”. With lightning quick feet and lowered hips, he’d bounce through the house like a pinball. We’d clap and celebrate his sudden expression of welcoming joy.
He intuitively found the right times to lick your face or push his head between your legs for you to give him some good scratches. When any of us hugged, he would come to make sure he wasn’t forgotten in the embrace. He came to the door to say hi when we all approached with a wagging tail and warm smiling eyes, encouraging any stress from the outside to leave itself at the door. He’d push his way onto a chair or couch, just to be near us. A myriad of images run through my mind with each of us sitting on “Dublin’s loveseat”, leaning against him as we sit in the family room.
Unconditional love is a rare gift. He gave it to us all and showed me that giving unconditional love is just a choice to express gratitude to someone who is willing to share themselves with you, in whatever capacity they have available. That’s enough for unconditional love, there is no scoreboard or expectations.
I wish he was with me now. I want to hear his collar. I want him to be near the door looking at me for a walk. I even liked sweeping up all his hair off the floor daily, even if his hair sent multiple vacuums to the landfill in short order. I want to reach out my hand and rub his ears next to me. But he’s gone. I love him and miss him. He was with me and with us when we needed him most. He’s the one who opened my heart and mind to mending and not fixing.
Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Thank you, Dublin.