“The original definition of courage is to tell the story of who you are with your Whole Heart.” ~ Brené Brown
I cannot believe that it has been almost two years since beginning this project. During this time, it has been featured on the Pet Blog Lady (Blog Post Here) and it also set the stage to be a writing contributor on pet loss in Modern Dog Magazine in 2015 (Blog Post Here & Article Posted Here after publication).
This project is extremely close to my heart. It isn’t about throwing a letter out there for people to read. It is about holding a space for someone and creating a channel for their grief to be healed. Even if only a small piece of it.
I have come to have a deep admiration for those people who have contributed letters for the Heeling Project. The words that come to mind are vulnerability and authenticity. To be able to write something so personal and from the heart is not something many are willing to do. To put aside what others may think, how it may look and who will see it. It is totally being in a state of vulnerability and courage.
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known.” ~ Brené Brown
So once again, I am grateful. For all those who have submitted letters to date and those who are willing to be real and vulnerable.
Sweet Bailey. 2004 ~ May 2014
“Grief is the last act of love we can give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.” ~ Unknown
We brought you home and immediately made arrangements to get you healthy. I took my vacation of two weeks off work and together we made ramps, put down non slip rugs, had doggie beds everywhere and happily relinquished the living room leather love seat to you. That day was the very beginning of a small family of two, who became three and then took great care of each other for the next 5 1/2 years.
We remember you taking your first attempt at stairs. It was pretty funny…You were so perplexed at how to make all four paws work consecutively. Then, once you mastered it, you went up and down those stairs about 25 times in a row…all the while wagging your tail with a ‘Look at me!” attitude while we cheered you on below.
I loved that you were my best fly fishing buddy. Despite not knowing how to swim, you would bravely wade out and stand proudly in the water next to me, watching every cast on the Bow River. Occasionally you would lie down just enough to cool your belly. You were never a fan of summer…and we have many holes in the backyard as proof. You would dig in an attempt to find a cool spot. It never bothered us because you being happy was more important that holes that can be filled at anytime.
Winter was your favourite time of year and boy did you shine brightly during the colder months.
Every day there was snow, you would eagerly look up at us wondering “When is the door going to open so I can go have some fun?” Regardless of temperature, you were always happiest buried deep in that fluffy snow…a “Bailey Igloo”. It would often have to be done up to 10 times a day till our backs were sore. Snow was a valued commodity at our house. We would hoard and shovel every last bit of it together in the yard so you would always have a cool place to lie down. Even when that last spot of snow was only the size of a frying pan, you were delightfully happy to lie on top of it.
Bailey, you were always there for us. I remember you sleeping on the floor by my side of the bed after each and every surgery and on days when my illness kept me immobile. When I was finally able to get up, you would immediately stand up and walk right beside me, patiently pushing your head against my knee letting me know to lean on you for guidance. You would even wait at the bathroom door and then guide me back. As I got stronger, you walked right beside me every step of the day, watching over me with those beautiful soulful eyes.
At night you would wait patiently by the door for Dad, only moving to occasionally peek out the front window listening for the sound of a specific truck engine. Then suddenly your eyes would light up and a sweet sound of happiness could be heard throughout the entire house. The joy you two would have upon seeing one another was as if you had both been apart for months. Many a football game has been watched by all three of us and we will miss our MVP.
Dad loved you dearly and he is struggling without you. Please watch over him as you always have.
You shared our tremendous love of travelling. Our greatest vacations were always the ones that you were a part of…camping in Kananaskis, cruising Montana and staying at The Grand in Kalispell, hanging in the Crowsnest Pass, escaping to the mountains or country for a weekend getaway and of course, our most memorable place together..Island Lake Lodge, Fernie this past summer. It was our most treasured vacation as it felt like heaven on earth and we were all so content to be in a place of such serenity and beauty. You were always so very happy to be going on another adventure. No matter where we traveled, it was as if you were a celebrity. People were drawn to you and would constantly come up to us saying how beautiful you are and they were always amazed when we told them you were 10 1/2 years old…everyone thought you were a puppy still! Truthfully, most of the people we’ve ever met have been through you. You worked so very hard over the years to overcome all your fears and we stood by proudly every time you would let someone pet you. Little did they know that at home, you magically transformed into a giant lap dog once home.
You were very much like us Bailey, in that you were most at peace in nature. You were always the main tour guide on the many snowshoe, hiking, fishing, canoeing and ski trips. When you saw a single track trail, you would take off like a puppy on an endless adventure and we would happily follow behind.
You have taught us so very much over the years…unconditional love, patience, selflessness, teamwork and how to appreciate the smaller things in life. You have brought us more joy than you will ever know. We have shared all our ups and downs as well as tears and laughter with you over the years.
The biggest and hardest tears came today however.
You haven’t been feeling well for quite some time and nobody knew why. I kept trying to figure out what was wrong as we saw you struggling. Many a night, I slept beside you on the floor when you were ill, bending God’s ear, praying and wishing I could make it all better. I researched so many things and talked the ear off of many a pet store employee or vet trying to find answers. The final diagnosis of Intestinal Lymphangiectasia came about a month ago. We were unsure of what it was and what would be the the outcome. Your wonderful vet, Dr. Sheri Clarkson at Fish Creek Pet Hospital, tried very hard with a treatment of medications and special food to try and manage the symptoms. It was the biggest “Hail Mary Pass” of all time and so we hung on a wing and a prayer…
We knew we were on borrowed time with you. So every day, we did more things of what became the “Bailey Dog Bucket List”…going to all your favourite places, participating in animal rights protests, saying goodbye to various doggy friends at all the Calgary dog parks, plenty of belly rubs, sitting by the river watching the geese, sniffing everything for as long as you wanted, chasing rabbits [which you would never catch], countless games of hide-n-seek, stuffing the kong with treats, bird feeders in various windows so you could watch your favourite nemesis squirrel hang upside down and then fall off, numerous treats, and an endless supply of cuddles and kisses.
Today we took our last family walk together at Paskapoo Slopes…
and you and I ran together on the single track trail just like old times. Thanks to two unknown heroes from the maintenance department at Canada Olympic Park, which was closed for the winter season, you even got special permission to enter to roll and play in the snow one last time. We cannot tell you how much those moments meant to us…
You would always still wag your tail and sometimes we would would try to convince ourselves that you were getting better. Deep inside though, we could see in your eyes that you were not yourself and that you were struggling. Your loss of muscle and weight was hard to watch. In the end, your valiant efforts were overwhelmed by the side effects of the medications and the final results from your blood work yesterday confirmed our worst fears. There were other experimental options available, regrettably with just as many side effects and uncertainty. We made a promise to you many years ago however, that we would not let our love for you be more important than your quality of life and so we had to let you go…
Bailey, please know that to us you were never “just a dog.”
…you were our everything…our best friend, confidant, sous chef, life coach, physiotherapist and loving member of the family. As we held your head and paws today for the last time, we kissed you goodbye and whispered in your ear that it’s okay to let go. To us, you were always the best dog in the whole world. Our hearts were shattered as we felt your last doggy breath for the final time.
In the end, we will never know who rescued who, but we hope you know that you were loved immensely and that you will always be the greatest gift we ever received. So, go on our sweet friend, go and find that single track trail full of powdery fluffy snow and play in it forever…
Mom & Dad
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Tags: Dog loss letters, pet bereavement, the Heeling Project
As the Mom of a senior boy and one recently diagnosed with heart issues I grieved with you as I read your letter. God bless you and your boy you lost. And thank you for making me feel better about my extreme love for my rescued old man. I have always felt a little embarrassed about how much I love him.
Hi Vicki, thanks for sharing your thoughts. May you have unabashed extreme love for him always! <3
Oh my..so many wonderful beautiful pets have broken our hearts because we love them so much. Our lives are not the same without pets so we will put our hearts on our sleeves again and again and they will broken again and again when we have to say goodbye. Reading this letter, I’m thinking about my friend who lost her first and second Bernese Mountain dogs at a very young age. She was devastated of course with the loss, however she now has a new puppy full of life and love and I pray that he will be around much longer than her first two. As I reach down to pat my 12 year old Basset, my 15 year old Basset and my 11 year old Basset I hope somehow they will be able to beat the odds.
Beautiful letter expressing heart felt love for their Bailey.
So true. We will always keep opening our hearts to them; with each one bringing us a different gift than the last. Thank you for your lovely comments and reflections.
Beautiful letter! Could barely make it through the entire thing as the tears welled up. You can feel the love in their heart through that letter. Such a touching story of true love.