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A Letter to Myself: ‘When My Old Dog Dies’


In January 2016 I thought I was going to lose my senior dog Ace. So sure, that I said to our vet, “I’m ready to give up.”

We had paid a deposit on a puppy who wasn’t even born yet; I hoped he’d still get the chance to grow up with Ace.

Lying on the floor with my dog, I decided to write a letter to my future self. As a way to cope with the upcoming loss. I knew that doing so, with Ace at my side, would help my future self get through that pain.

So I wrote myself a letter, then tucked it away.

And I was right. The letter did help me, tremendously. But I was wrong on time.

We got over two more years.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I got two extra years with my best buddy. More trips to the park than I can count. Kisses every day. Road trips. Adventures to the very end.

My dog lived a good, long life, and for that I am so, so lucky.

So while this letter wasn’t intended for anyone but me, I decided to publish it here, unedited. It’s not that my letter will necessarily help other dog owners, but I hope it encourages others to write their own letters. And of course, to enjoy every moment. We all know life is a gift, yet we so easily forget.

My Lab mix Ace
Ace 2012 – Maplewood State Park MN

A letter to myself, “When My Old Dog Dies.” Jan. 26, 2016

Dear Lindsay,

I know you are literally collapsed on the ground. Lost in that sadness only a dog lover understands.

I am so sorry for your loss.

Remember that no one could’ve given Ace a more fulfilled or loving life. He was a treasure, but so are you.

You did your best, and your best was more than good enough. Ace thrived. He knew he was loved every single day of his loving life.

July 2013 Wisconsin

Remember to allow yourself to feel sad. It’s OK. I hope you remember to allow yourself to wallow in that deep sadness. At least for today. Make sure you take a day off from work and everything.

Remember that Josh might do or say the wrong things. That’s OK. How could anyone know what to do? Remember he is grieving too, in his own way. Remember all the things he did to support you and Ace over the years.

Other people will also say the wrong things. They mean well, and they care.

Allow those cats to curl up with you and offer comfort. They don’t understand but they do provide comfort. Let them.

You probably have your new dog now, which means Ace got to help shape this next dog, which is what you wanted.

Ace & Remy 2017

Don’t compare the new guy to Ace. He already has a very difficult job ahead of being your new companion. Let him be himself. He might be confused, looking for Ace. Or he might act as if Ace never existed. Either way, don’t hold it against him.

Imagine all the adventures the two of you will have in the coming decade, much of it because of Ace and now he helped you on your way in life.

Easter 2008 Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND

Imagine all the dogs you can foster because Ace has helped to teach this new pup calmness, acceptance.

There is also that chance you don’t have your puppy yet, that their lives didn’t overlap with you together after all. That’s OK too. You can’t plan everything in life.

You will always honor Ace, such a great dog.

July 2013 Fargo ND

Remember all those hikes, camping adventures, walks and just lounging by the TV. Remember how he’s impacted thousands of lives because, in part, of you.

Hold Ace in your heart forever.

Never forget those soft ears or how he loved with his entire soul and never once thought badly of anyone.

Always tell stories.

January 2016

Essays about Ace:

Thank you, Ace (November 2015)

My dog is the best dog (February 2011)

Our wedding post, “Ace’s big day” (June 2012)

My dog Ace in Yosemite
Dec 2017 Yosemite National Park

Sandy Weinstein

Thursday 14th of June 2018

i wish i had thought of doing this when Evie first got cancer. beautiful letter, i dont know how you got thru writing it. i would be sobbing so much, i would not be able to write.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 14th of June 2018

Thank you, Sandy.

Julia at Home on 129 Acres

Monday 4th of June 2018

I've been saving this post until I was at a good time and place. This is a lovely tribute for Ace and a very helpful way to go through your grief. It is full of thoughtfulness, good reminders and love. Thank you for sharing.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 4th of June 2018

Oh thank you Julia.


Sunday 3rd of June 2018

As my Sam Pete at age nine is beginning to slow down a little this has helped me know not to take one day with him for granted. So sorry about your loss. Your letter was a great idea. Hang in there

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 3rd of June 2018

Thank you!

Linda Massey

Saturday 2nd of June 2018

Beautiful tribute to your best friend Lindsay-you are amazing!

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 2nd of June 2018

Thank you, Linda!

Nancy Stordahl

Friday 1st of June 2018

Well, this made me cry. In a good way though. What a wonderful idea to write a letter like this. Ace did indeed love with his whole soul and most likely never once thought badly about anyone. A kind soul he was indeed. Thank you for sharing the letter with us. I need to write one of these as well since Sophie is 12. I don't like to think about that day, but perhaps I need to start. I'm so glad you got those extra two years, though of course, they weren't enough. There's never enough time with dear pets. As you know so well.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 1st of June 2018

Thank you