October 9, 2015

A lesson from loss

On April 28, 2007, I picked up a foster puppy who would change my life. His name was Dylan. Dylan was a 5-month-old standard poodle puppy, unceremoniously dumped with his siblings by a breeder who could not sell them.

Baby Dyl
Dylan, shortly after rescue, with Ted, my labrador mix.

It took about a year to convince Dylan that people and sliding doors and funny noises weren’t scary. But together we overcame his obstacles. At the end, I couldn’t let him go, so I adopted him. Dylan became a true ambassador for rescue dogs. He was gentle. He was graceful. He was well-mannered. And he was strikingly beautiful. I have had over 50 dogs through my home as temporary fosters. I have two dogs of my own now. But I’ll admit it. I loved Dylan more. I loved him differently.

Dylan and Tevyn
Dylan snuggling his rabbit friend, Tevyn

And then on November 7, 2014, I lost him. He was just shy of 8 years old. His departure was sudden. I knew he was sick for less than 6 weeks. I knew he was dying for less than 6 hours. There are no words to describe losing your best friend. If you’ve been there, you know. In those moments I truly internalize that he is gone, I feel my chest tighten, my legs buckle. I want to fall to my knees and give up. The rest of the time I get up and live my life to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am: Generous, pure, and good. I think most days I do right by him.

I remember sitting with some very dear clients about a month after Dylan passed away. We were in the court of appeals. Two of my partners were presenting oral argument to the court commissioner. They were on fire. And I was with our clients. They had lost their brother, their uncle, their son. And here they were, listening to defense counsel call him “decedent.” Listening to a starkly sterilized reverie about a stranger.

Something in my mind just fell into place. I physically felt this little piece of understanding drop into a previously vacant empty space inside me. And in that moment, I wanted to stand up and applaud my clients for sitting here and facing this. Making it through each day of litigation, such an intrusive process. Getting up each day and moving forward. What a burden victims of tragedy bear, often so elegantly.

Each of us will experience grief. It is unavoidable. But if we can find new understanding from our grief, perhaps we can become a part of something previously unattainable, and bigger than ourselves.