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