A Perfect, Heartbreaking World

Millie – May 17, 2010 – July 13, 2012

High above Puget Sound, I looked out with a sense of both vertigo and awe. Mount Baker rose, sugar-coated on the horizon. Miniature boats bobbed in the water. In the cockpit in front of me, two heads leaned towards each other, pointing at the myriad of dials. Voices squeaked in my headphones. Questions asked were patiently answered. Soon we had bumped to a landing on Orcas Island, tied the impossibly small plane to the tarmac and were walking into town for lunch. A trip that only a week before had taken hours by car and ferry had this time taken 45 minutes.

Their faces were flush with excitement. One boy, one man, united in the glee of a twelve-year-old’s enthusiasm.

The excitement continued the next day as jet skis were tested on the Dwamish river, more questions answered, more confidence instilled through the act of taking charge of a large machine, making it move, speed. Later, a knight in a black wetsuit riding a jet ski rounded the point on Vashon Island, where we had been waiting, breathless as he made what seemed an impossible journey from the bowels of Seattle to the magical island, a 40 minute ride.

The boy fun took over once again, as they discovered the freedom of the open bay, and spun in wide circles to cut across their own bumpy wakes. Sitting on the bulkhead watching them, tears came to my eyes as mixture of emotions filled me. Gratitude. Love. Sadness. Glee.

A loyal dog stood alert on the beach watching. Anxious, or perhaps just waiting for them to return and chase her, so that she could run maniacally, ears plastered against her head, chasing and being chased by laughing boys across the beach.

The next morning, I lay in bed beside him, a small dog tucked neatly between us and looked out onto the water. I whispered a quiet thank you to the universe, for the perfection of what my life had finally become.

After a leisurely breakfast, we embarked on a landscaping project to etch a piece of hillside from the path it was slowly gobbling. There was intense shoveling and hauling and throwing of turf. Sweat and dirt smeared across our faces. We smiled, admiring the strength and determination in the other.

A large slab of wood was positioned as a slide for the pails of earth being hauled to fill in the eroded bulkhead. The slab was to be later positioned as a retaining wall to hold the hill away from the newly cleared path.

When it was time for the moving, the thick piece of lumber was lifted overhead, but the weight was too much and it was dropped. Dropped at the improbable millisecond when that tiny dog came racing up the path.

How many times now have I replayed that moment in my head? A split second before or after would have averted disaster. I would not have seen in slow motion the events that followed, too painful now to recount.

We drove into town, her tiny body laying prone on a board, my hands gripping the steering will as I begged for her not to die. As I tried to remember my address at the vet, I could overhear him telling them that she had no reflexes. And then I stood over her saying an impossible goodbye. An incomprehensible one.

Her perfection had been a part of our lives for barely a year and half. She was loved by all who met her. She adored people and trusted them all.

And she was gone in an instant.

I wonder how life can be so beautiful and awful at the same time. I question why some must suffer so much heartbreak, so much loss when others experience almost none at all.

I can barely describe what I will miss about that dog. The way she curled into my lap as I worked, or burrowed under the covers when it was time to go to sleep at night. Her haughty run into the garden to protect us from her nemesis, the bengal cat and her leaps into the air whenever her favorite man walked into the house. The way she patiently allowed small and big kids alike to pick up her small body and drag her from place to place.

We arrived in Seattle later that night in shock. He dug another hole, carefully, lovingly, deeply. He stomped down the earth, sweat or tears dripping down his face as he pulled at roots, smoothed the sides creating a cradle-like space. I carried her towel-wrapped body out and placed her inside the hole and sprinkled a handful of dirt over her. I picked one of the last of her favorite strawberries and put it beside her. One of my silver rings – Olivia’s silver ring – fell into the hole beside the berry and I left it there. One last keepsake. A reminder to her of those who loved her so much.

Oh, to love this much is so painful and yet I do it again and again. And despite the incomprehensible cruelty of life, I will not stop loving because I know the pain will eventually subside and the love will still be there.

Oh Millie, how I miss you. How I loved you. Our lives will never quite be the same without you.


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  1. Crash Course Widow July 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I’m so sorry, Abby. It’s so heartbreaking to lose the 4-legged members of our families, especially in such sudden, tragic, accidental circumstances and when they’re as sudden and unforeseeable as our spouses’ deaths were. We didn’t even have our dog for 2 years either when he died so awfully; hard to believe it’s been 3 years now since he died.

    Much love and big hugs to you as your mourn, my friend. Your words were beautiful.


  2. Toni July 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Oh my gosh, that is just heartbreaking! So sorry for all of you!

  3. Melissa July 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Oh my God … oh no. How heartbreaking. I’m so very sorry.

  4. Cary July 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I have buried too many pets, and its never easy. We recently decided to get ducks as pets. Emily has been asking and asking to get ducks, and now ducks grace our yard with their quackiness. Maybe when they die it will be easier. Maybe raising what would normally be food as our pets, will make their passing more of a whats for dinner moment than a tearful good bye.
    Once we had a dog that was a really good escape artist. She had learned how to unlatch the back yard gate and one time it was too much freedom and she was hit by a car. We learned this by going door to door until someone said that they had seen a dog matching this description being scraped off the road by whoevers (why is that not a word?) job it is to pick up dead things from roads. I called the get dead things from roads people to see where they might have taken our lost escape artist. We were told that all dead things go to the dead thing storage at the pound. It was unthinkable that our family member would rest amoungst the flattened possums and raccoons, so off we went to try and find her. When we arrived at the pound, we were told that all animals were in 55 gallon barrels in a back storage shed awaiting cremation. I asked if I could find our dog. The woman looked at me like I was insane. So off we went. I was given an empty barrel to transfer dead things into. And so the process started. Me lifting pet after pet from barrels looking for our dog. I am not sure what was worse, the thought of all these loved ones lost forever or the smell. The mix of animals was shocking, there were squirrels, opossums, dogs, cats even a small pig. Alas after three barrels, I glimpsed the familiar coat of our Madeline. Then the tears flowed. I could barely see as I hoisted her body from the barrel and into the back of my truck. She was buried later that day as Millie was, with keepsakes and tears. I can only hope I leave this world with a good ending story. I will rest well if someday my kids will tell their kids about the time they were building a wall with grandpa Cary when at the worst possible second I darted underfoot and a log was dropped on my head and that I am now buried in the garden under said log.
    OK I tried really hard to make you laugh, did it work?

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