A Journey of a Thousand Miles

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which direction to go we have begun our real journey.” ~Wendell Berry

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” 

This morning I clicked on this space and was startled to see it has been over two months since I’ve written here. Over two months since I’ve written much of anything, actually. During that time we’ve sustained another loss - our precious Molly dog became ill in early December, and died on December 11, just shy of five months after we said goodbye to her brother, Magic.


I never imagined the possibility of losing both of my dogs in such a short period of time. Yes, they were both elderly dogs - Magic was almost 15, and Molly was 13 - but after Magic died, we hoped for another year or two with Molly, who had always been a very healthy little dog. And once my initial grief for Magic dissipated, I enjoyed not only her gentle company, but the relative ease of managing one dog, especially this one who was so undemanding. 

My mother used to say she didn’t believe Molly would last long if Magic died first, predicted that Molly’s “little heart would just break.” And in fact, that is exactly what happened. She developed a tumor in her heart, a condition called canine hermangiosacoma, something I never heard of before. She never displayed any of the kinds of symptoms you might expect - like panting or shortness of breath. But around mid-November she got fussy with her food, something so very unlike Molly (aka Little Piglet) that I knew something was going on. On a Friday afternoon, they discovered the tumor and advised us to put her down because it would eventually and unpredictably kill her.

We took her home for the weekend, spent every single second with her. Oddly enough, Molly perked up that weekend, began eating ravenously, barking at people walking by. Late Monday afternoon we had a light snowfall. She went outside in her warmest purple coat, and wandered off down the yard. I let her wander and sniff, but then, feeling cold myself, called her to come in. She came running towards the house, the first time I had seen her run in a long time, obviously enjoying the crisp air and the feeling of running once again. But not long after she came in, she suddenly collapsed on the floor. Of course I knew what had happened. She lay quietly, breathing but not moving. She seemed calm, not in pain or distressed. Jim wrapped her in her favorite blanket, cradled her in his arms, and we drove to our vet who eased her gently over the final threshold. 

Today, only four weeks after that horrible diagnosis, I sit here in this house in Florida that we’ve been staying in since just before Christmas. Even before we knew she was sick, I had worried about bringing her on this trip. After we knew how sick she was, I was so torn, knowing she could not travel, but devastated at the thought of the alternative. Molly, like the considerate, sweet natured girl she was, made it easy for me, relieved me of making that final, fatal decision.

We left just five days after she died. Yes, the trip driving down was much easier without the complications of traveling with dogs. Yes, we’ve had more freedom here to travel around and do things without worrying about dogs. But here in southwest Florida, there are dogs everywhere. They are welcomed in most stores and restaurants. And if we’ve seen one brown and white Shih Tzu, we’ve seen a dozen. Magic and Molly look-alikes wherever we turn. We stop and pet them, tell their owners our sad story, sometimes show the little photo I keep in my wallet. We carried this fresh loss 1300 miles away. 

 When I think about going home next week, there is often this flash of a thought, the memory of a feeling from other times we’ve traveled when Magic and Molly would stay in Michigan with my mom. It’s a quick burst of excitement at the thought of seeing them again - Magic, Molly, my mother - all waiting for me in the place I call home. 

And then I remember. Not this time. This time there is No One waiting to greet me.

If I’m honest, there is a sense of freedom in that. I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I didn’t have a multitude of living creatures I felt responsible for.  Parents, children, animals, all of whom circled constantly in my mind, their respective needs competing for my time and attention. But now it’s just me - well, just US, Jim and I. And despite our sadness and loneliness, I think we feel a little giddy with the excitement of that. 

It will likely be short-lived. We will get another dog, of that there is no doubt. With Jim approaching retirement, he especially needs the comfort of canine companionship. And neither of us are wired to be footloose, fancy-free, carefree types.  I, especially, am wired to be a careGIVER. 

I’ve certainly had enough experience. 

Beginning a New Year is like going on a trip. We never know the roads we’ll be called down to travel, the steps we’ll decide to make. The not-knowing can be frightening, but it can also be empowering. There is the possibility that marvelous things are embedded in those empty squares on the calendar. 

Time to take that first step.