It is the echoing silence that hits me every time I open the door. The tactile presence of an absence. No more sounds of nails clicking across the wood floors. No squeak from his favorite lamb-y. No more brown eyes looking up at me—not judging me for being gone, but loving me for coming back.
The signs of him are still everywhere. I have slowly and quietly been putting away his toys, donating his food, throwing away the half-opened bags of treats. But photos remain, as does his bed by the door, the stairs by the side of the bed, and his tote bag in the closet that we used on so many trips. The one photo that always catches my breath is the one taken amongst the hydrangeas on Nantucket on our wedding day back in 2008 when Teddy was just over a year old. We will soon be headed back to Nantucket to put his ashes in the pet garden at the chapel. I look at that photo and my mind spins at the depth of loss, and at the quickness with which time passes. I feel my ability to love lessen.
Overnight, we became “those people.” Those people whose faces suddenly disappeared from the dog run. Those people who were no longer seen sprinting out of the building after a long day at work desperately trying to provide relief in advance of an accident. Those people whose eyes you would inadvertently avoid because a spark of joy was missing from them.
Teddy came to us at a critical moment. We had finally gotten to a point where we thought that our personal and professional lives could accommodate the needs and wants of a dog. We had carefully researched his breed—a mini goldendoodle—in the hopes of getting the love of a golden retriever, the intelligence of a poodle and the lack of shedding hair that would have made a mess of our apartment and wardrobe. We had arranged for him to be flown to New York City. Then my husband’s mother had a massive stroke.
The uncertainty of her path forward caused us to reconsider our decision. Could we handle a puppy if my husband was also trying to handle caring for his mother? We made the call to give up the puppy, and the breeder, in her compassion, suggested that she keep him for four weeks to give us a chance to figure out what was going to happen. Three weeks later, my husband’s mother passed away. When we got back to the city after her funeral, I came into the living room to find him weeping. I tried to comfort him and all he could say was not only had he lost his mother, but we had lost the puppy we had planned on getting. I left the room, called the breeder, and told her to send the puppy. My husband had no idea what I had done, but I had no doubt that his mother passed in such a way and time to allow this dreamed of dog to come into our lives.
In the years that followed, Teddy seemed more than just a canine companion. He bravely steered us through so many changes: jobs lost, crippling depression, travel adventures across the country. Teddy was his own dog, and I think he was convinced that he was our owner and not vice versa. When he offered up his belly for rubs, it seemed as much for our sake as for his. But he was also the most effusively friendly dog I have ever met.
We weren’t the only ones who grew up with and through Teddy. At the end of our hall in our apartment building live two little boys who, from the moment they could crawl and walk, were desperate to be Teddy’s playmates. As Teddy realized that these two little creatures were also the source of treats (handed to them from us), the bond was formed. While it was a friendship originally build on a quid pro quo, a kiss for a treat, the three of them were soon to be seen zooming around the halls, often to the consternation of some of the other neighbors for whom the sounds of gleeful laughter and happy barks were more of a nuisance than a joy.
The boys grew up, and Teddy would accompany them to the park to go sledding, or meet them at the bus after camp, or snuggle with them on their beds for story-time. If a few days had gone by without Teddy seeing the boys, he would run down the hallway and scratch and bark at their door until it opened. We would all laugh and joke that Teddy was simply there to get the turkey slices that inevitably waited for him. But Teddy would stay after his snack, and we all knew that while food may have been the motivator, the real driver of those visits was his love for those two little boys.
In the back of any dog owner’s mind is that horrible thought that at some point all the hellos will be met with a final goodbye. I was no different, but every kiss on the cheek, every squirrel chased, every hole dug on the beach pushed that thought to the furthest recess of my mind. Until November of 2020.
COVID’s work from home requirement did provide some positives for us. We got a chance to spend more time than ever with Teddy. I was even convinced that at one point he was wondering if we were ever going to leave so that he could go back to his routine of peaceful morning naps followed by peaceful afternoon naps. I guess it was the constant sharing of time and space that made it obvious when something wasn’t right.
In November, Teddy had a continued bout of digestive issues. Thinking that he might have Cushing’s disease given his advanced age, we took him to his vet. Our hearts sank when we learned that he had a malignant liver tumor. That thought of the final goodbye came rushing to the forefront of my mind. The next six months was spent in a roller coaster of trying to deal with the situation. We scheduled surgery to remove the tumor but when the doctors went in, they saw that the tumor had surrounded one of the key arteries. There was no way to remove it. Several procedures followed as we tried to balance our desire to extend his life with our concern that that extension only be one of quality. We begged God to give us one more fantastic summer on Nantucket, where Teddy absolutely loved the beach. We were fortunate and got that one last summer.
Shortly after returning to the city in September, my husband and I had to travel, and we arranged for a sitter to spend the days with Teddy. Every day, fresh pictures or videos of Teddy in the park and playing with the boys would pop up on my husband’s phone. And then the Sunday that we were flying back to NYC, we received a call instead of a picture. Teddy seemed to be in distress and the sitter was on the way to the vet. I called the boys’ mother and she agreed to accompany the sitter to the vet.
The news from the vet made our hearts sink. Teddy was likely bleeding internally, whether from the tumor bursting or something else. We had them rush Teddy over to Animal Medical Center in the city where he had received his cancer treatments. And then we rushed to the airport hoping for a miracle, or at least the chance to hold him one last time to say goodbye. As our plane started boarding, the call from AMC came. It was obvious that Teddy was dying. He wasn’t in any pain. But his body was starting to shut down.
We raced from the airport directly to AMC where the emergency room veterinarian met us and gave us the update. There was fluid in Teddy’s lungs which was making it hard for him to breath. While we could try a transfusion to see if the bleeding would stop and give us time to address the fluid issue, Teddy was a very sick, fourteen-year-old dog. The veterinarian said that it was time to let him rest. We nodded in silence and asked if we could see him.
They brought Teddy into the room, and we immediately knew that we had to do the loving thing and release him from this life. He looked up at us and then curled next to me on the couch. He was being incredibly brave, even though his breathing was labored. He was simply trying to do what he had always done, which was to bring us joy. He didn’t want to appear distressed because he knew that would be hard for us. But his little body was tired. We signed the papers and prepared for what was going to come next.
The vet came in and knelt next to me as I wrapped Teddy in a blanket and held him close. She explained the procedure. My husband and I could barely nod our understanding. The vet pushed the first injection which put Teddy into an immediate sleep. His body relaxed and his breathing quieted. She then pushed the final injection and within thirty seconds he was gone. There was no death rattle, or sudden exhalation. There was no release of bodily fluids. There was simply nothing. Nothing except that palpable absence.
The following day passed in grief, with smiles intermingling with tears. We arranged to have Teddy cremated. We wondered how we could possibly think about getting another dog. And we worried about those two little boys who didn’t yet know that they had lost their playmate. Their mother texted us and invited us to dinner. She had told the boys and they were worried about us and wanted us to come over.
It was incredibly hard to walk down that hallway. Teddy wasn’t there to race ahead and announce our arrival by scratching at the door. We had brought treats for the boys and two of Teddy’s freshly washed toys. The boys came up to us and gave us hugs and took the treats that Teddy had “arranged” for us to give them. The youngest boy looked up at me and simply said, “I wish Teddy was here.” He spoke openly and honestly, not ashamed to speak that thought. I had buried those very words often because I was afraid of the tears that would burst through if I vocalized the same thought.
But then I realized, saying the words “I wish Teddy was here” was the best way to celebrate his life and memorialize our tenderness for him. Teddy was the very embodiment of a divine love that passes all understanding, the kind of love that shapes, supports, and sustains us. More importantly, Teddy opened our hearts to the probability that we are all worthy of love and challenged us to look at the world through his eyes, where there was only acceptance. I am allowed to grieve for Teddy, who was much more than a dog, because I miss the unconditional love that Teddy gave to me and taught me to give to others. Goodbye, our little boy. Your daddies will love you forever and think of you fondly every time we walk Sconset beach.