Coping with Loss

Stephen Yagielowicz
It's been three weeks now since the worst day of my life; a day that was also the worst day of my lovely wife's life. It was the day that God called home the Angel he had leant us — a loss that proved nearly unbearable for us.

Not just "a dog," Jack is an entity that was "our child" — and my very best friend — a friend that I have risked my own life to save in the past; but was powerless to help now.

I remember the vet's steely gaze as he listened to Jack's heart. I told him that I had just been to the cardiologist for a stress test and it came back ok. He looked into my eyes and said, "Jack isn't as lucky."

It seems his heart wasn't pausing between beats.

We had him on medication to reduce the size of his swollen heart (which at twice the size of a normal dog's heart, was human-sized), but the meds were no longer effective.

Jack enjoyed excellent health care. He had insurance (even prescription coverage) and had regular vet visits and a very comfortable life; but in the end, it all just wasn't enough — and as Dawn held Jack in her arms, stroking him gently, the doctor helped ease him out of his pain and anxiety — Jack drifted off peacefully, enjoying a much better death than might have occurred otherwise.

He was nearly 14 years old — a long life for a dog — and it was a good life, too.

Many of my readers have met Jack, who had visited our offices in Hollywood and had accompanied Dawn and I to several conferences and industry events over the years, where attendees would catch a late-night visit with us going out on our evening walks.

A well-traveled pooch, he had visited most of the states, swam in two oceans and stayed in some of the nation's finest hotels. I used to call Dominos for him, because one of his favorite things was to maul pizza delivery boys in an attempt to get some sausage.

He loved beer, buds and an occasional shot of tequila. He would ride on my Harley, sitting between Dawn and I, his head on my shoulder, panting as the road unfolded ahead, and was a Mopar fan, coming with me on blasts in my Dart. I even taught him to drive (on California's I-5!), where he would sit on my lap and use his paws to steer (I would work the pedals for him, of course).

Jack was also a fixture on my mining trips; and while he bored easily of rummaging through creek beds, he stayed alert, warning me of approaching mountain lions, bears and meth-crazed hillbillies. At home, he slept under my desk while I wrote articles and would patiently listen as I read them aloud — hoping I would finish soon so that we could go for our daily walk at the lake.

We were each other's guardians, but on the day that "Dr. Mengele" came at him with the needle, I had to stand down — and the guilt, pain and uncertainty are still with me... Grief can be crippling and depression a serious emotional detriment to be fought against aggressively before it becomes all-consuming, so be warned.

I dug a hole in the hard clay behind Dawn's orchard where Jack liked to play, burying him next to some of her previous pals. The Hawaiian Lei that hung on her office door and which he kissed daily (!) now drapes his rock-covered grave, along with his favorite toy (a shark) and some gold-bearing quartz that I topped the mound with.

He is dearly missed and we have visited his grave several times since.

For her part, Dawn now has a new tattoo, commemorating our friend; and she helped us both greatly by finding an amazing online resource, "The Pet Loss Support Page," which offers a number of incredibly helpful, healing articles and discussions on the topic. Check it out if and when you are in the same situation: www.pet-loss.net.

While our personal loss is of a loved one, everybody faces loss of one kind or another — whether it is a pet, family member, friend or lover — or even of a job or of a business. With the economy still reeling and the future profitability of digital media in question, the chances are that some of my readers will face (or have faced) a substantial loss this year — or will in the near future. That's just how life is: it can't be avoided nor changed. But nature abhors a vacuum, so when one door closes, another opens. The important part is to walk through that door — and the first step involves being able to cope with loss.

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