Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer ELIZABETH MARRO.
Today begins in the dark. My husband and I lie side by side, trying to breathe quietly, each hoping to give the other a little more time to rest.
If I roll over and look at the floor beside the bed I’ll see only floor and a small blue rug no longer obscured by the dog’s bed. There is plenty of room for both of my feet, no need to twist and turn to get past Chloe’s sleeping form. I’d gotten good at that. I could rise from sleep at the first cough and gurgle that might turn into a vomiting episode. I could follow the scratch of her nails on the floor and find her wherever she’d wandered and gotten stuck. I could navigate entirely by the light available to me.
Today is the first time in fourteen years we’ve woken without her.
“You awake?” my husband whispers.
We hold each other for a while but the day has begun. We get up.
A little later, I’m in my office, looking at the first essay I’d drafted for this column. My computer screen is filled with the details of Sunday, January 3, the first Sunday of the year. That day wanted my attention; it marked the end of a holiday and the real beginning of the year with all the unknowns and promises that come with publishing for the first time. Between waking up at 4:30 a.m. and going to bed at 10, I’d packed in a surprising amount of writing, although not the writing I’d set out to do. There were musings about the nature of Sundays. Cookies were made. I confessed that a speech I’d intended to start writing that day went untouched as did everything on a list of things large and small to do with launching a book, a list that seemed to be splitting and reproducing at frightening rate every time my anxious mind touched on it. I walked at sunset and let its colors and music enter me with each step.
Only once in the essay did I mention my old friend and companion, the reason I woke at 4:30 a.m. in the first place. She was the witness to every word I wrote that day as well as every word I’ve written and the many I have failed to write for fourteen years. Not this word, though, or this one. Today, I am on my own. Her empty bed is still in my office when I come in to try to finish at least one of the things on that still-growing list: the essay about the Sunday I tried to catch and pin down. Now I can’t read it without seeing what I left out because I knew what was coming and it hurt. The tone rings false.
That essay and I stare at each other for an hour or so and then I start to peck at this one. I worry about writing when my grief is so raw and then I tell myself, just write.
My husband and I eat lunch and while we eat, we go through the dishes and the medicines and the dog food deciding who might be able to use any of it. When I return to my office, I notice that Chloe’s bed is gone. After telling my husband I wanted to keep it near me for a while, I’d changed my mind and added it to the pile of beds and blankets he’s been washing and packing away all day. After fourteen years with two dogs and then just one, we are a household of two humans. We cannot conceive of a time when we will not want to try again. But it isn’t now.
I head for the chair and this screen and this essay and a memory finds me. Then another one, then a flood of them. I start to try to catch them but it it’s too early to put these on the page. I get a FaceTime call from the man in Germany who runs my website. Server issues. Then other issues, all worrisome. The list of to-do’s still includes that thirty-minute speech I’m expected to deliver in a few weeks. Last week I was in a panic about these things. I may well be panicking tomorrow if they don’t resolve. Now, though, I can’t drum up much worry. It feels okay to be working, even if it’s a struggle.
At 2:38 p.m. I get up to take a walk with my husband to the post office where I will send my book to another writer who wants to read and, perhaps, review it. I shove my hands into my pocket and find an empty plastic bag. I don’t think I have a pocket in any piece of outdoor clothing that doesn’t hold a plastic bag. Of all things, it is the bag crinkling in my palm that brings back the tears. It is also the thing that makes me smile. This is the time of day when she would stir and look at me. Walk time. Get the leash, check the pockets for a bag, let’s go. Today, instead of her leash, my husband and I will hold each other’s hands.
I have written a little over eight hundred words. They have gotten me through most of this day. I am grateful for that. Later, I will make dinner with my husband and we will watch something on television and tomorrow the work will be here waiting for me. I am grateful for that too.
I pull the bag out of my pocket, fold it, and then I leave it behind.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- I’m reading short story collections because I love them and because I want to write one. They are tough for me to write but a pleasure, always, to read. I’ve fallen in love with the sentences, voices, and the compact beauty of short stories by Jim Ruland (The Big Lonesome) and Lucy Corin (The Entire Predicament). Jason Brown’s collection Why the Devil Chose New England For His Work has a great title and uses place as a character in a way that I love. I’ve been re-reading most of Alice Munro’s stories, most recently the collection The Runaway.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Find a physical exercise that works for you and do it so that your body will let you sit or stand in front of the computer or desk for as long as it takes. I never realized how critical a role my body would play in my ability to write the way I want to until it stopped me a couple of times.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- When I get stuck or feel I am dodging the heart of what I need to write about, I write a letter to my mother, one of my siblings, my best friend or my husband telling them all about it. Sometimes I mail them, most of the time I don’t. I often find I’ve found the words I need buried in a paragraph or two of these letters.
—Other Writers in the Series—
As someone who personally knows this beautiful writer, and who personally knew this beautiful canine named Chloe, my heart and love for writing this equally beautiful piece.
Thank you, Mik. She was a special being for all of us.
Last night I was reading What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas. I underlined this sentence: “Grief is not a pleasure, but it makes me remember, and I am grateful.” And you showed what that looks like in your piece here.
I look forward to reading Casualties and will buy it tomorrow!
Thank you, Darrelyn, for sharing that quote. I’d not read it before but it is so perfectly true. Thanks too for letting me know what you found in the essay and for buying Casualties. Please let me know what you find there too.
Beautiful essay. Not only did we get a glimpse of how you spend your days, we got to see how you spent this day – vivid, immediate, and full of a familiar heartache. Sending peaceful thoughts as your heart heals from this loss.
Congratulations on Casualties! I look forward to reading it!
Thank you, Sarah, for the lovely and comforting words and thoughts. I hope you enjoy reading Casualties. Please feel free to let me know!
So sorry for your loss. I’ve loved and lost several wonderful dog loves.
Thank you for letting me know. Love is love and I think the good part is that it lives on even when the one we love – animal or human – does not.
This is truly beautiful, so real, honest, sad but incredibly reassuring, too, hearing about how you moved on and through your day. Losing pets is absolutely wrenching. They are the ones who comfort us when we’re sad; again and again the emptiness rings out when we search for them in tears.
Thank for your kind words, Rachel. You are right about all of it.
how lovely and what a tribute to a much-loved family member, chloe. hugs –
Thanks, Beth. Good to hear from you here!
Betsy, I just love how you reveal that the essay you “meant” to write didn’t ring true as you looked back at it, and that instead of forcing something that wasn’t authentic, you chose to write from exactly where you are, grieving and confronting work that’s undone and with a pub date around the corner. The emotional veracity of your writing always moves me, but never more so than in this beautiful essay, at once raw and transcendent. Life and death, joy and loss, all wrapped up together, as always. Wishing you a wonderful book launch.
Thank you, Katrina. As always, you know the right things to say and I appreciate every word.
This is the 3rd day in a row I’ve seen or heard the name Katrina Kenison. I guess I’d better look her up.
You will be glad you did, Jodi!
This is one of the best entries in the past year! Love it.
What a lovely thing for you to say, Leticia. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Congratulations on the publication of your novel! It’s refreshing to read about a novelist who wants to write a story collection. It usually goes the other way. I, too, love short stories and Jason Brown’s collection is on my top list shelf. His stories have teeth. On a different note, I’m so very sorry about your dog. That’s one of the hardest losses in my experience. Thanks for writing about your day.
I discovered Jason through a friend who loves stories, dark ones especially. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work. And thank you for your sympathy. It’s been three weeks and I’m still expecting to feel her nose nudging my leg at lunch time.
Beautiful read….. thank you for sharing your heart.
Thank you, Mickey for reading and for sharing your kind words!
I think everyone has said what I wanted to say. Thank you for a beautiful and honest piece.
Kim, maybe so but thank you for adding your kind words to the ones already here. It means so much.
Some very very thoughtful words, I am deeply sorry about your dog
Thank you, Tess. She was very special. I still expect to see her face each morning. But I’m smiling more these days at the memories.
I love this 🙂
I’m so glad, Lizzie! Thank you for reading and for saying so.
🙂 I love reading other people’s things when I take a break from my blog ha
Beautifully written for such a sensitive subject. Sorry for your loss, just know all animals go to heaven!they’re completely innocent!
Thanks this is nice
I’m so glad you liked my words. Thank you for saying so.
Thank you so very much. I will be thinking of you too today.
Beautiful. Though I’m reading (of course) through a sheen of tears, my own getting older dog sleeping near my feet. I’m very sorry about Chloe. I remember feeling the same when my own dog died 10 years ago…telling myself to just keep going. It works, though it isn’t easy. Thank you for sharing your grief with us in such a beautiful way. Hugs.
It’s the daily-ness of their presence, isn’t it? Our dogs, unlike some of the people we love very deeply, are with us every day. They are part of the fabric of our days, our lives and when they go — as they will — the loss is palpable. The memories are flooding in now to fill the spaces.
That bit of advice about writing to a loved one is amazing. I think I might “borrow” that! Thanks for sharing!
Wayne – I just did it again the other day and then emailed the letter to my sister. I don’t often but there is something about talking to someone you know and trying to explain yourself that removes a barrier for me. I’m glad you were intrigued. Anything that can help, right?
Beautiful essay, it’s awful losing a dog, I’ve had the unfortunate experience a couple of times. But the memories they give us make it all worthwhile.
I agree. The memories and the gifts of their daily presence and ability to be present. So worth it.
This is really touching.
I have two beautiful dogs, Pepper and Zeke.And the thought of losing them ever, send shivers down my spine. I move to the United Kingdom this year for my further education, and if I were given a choice, I’d choose them. 🙂 :'(
Good luck with your education! Dogs choose us as much as we choose them, don’t they?
Absolutely. I’m already wondering if there is a way I could take them along! Or else I’m certainly going to take up volunteering for an adoption centre there!
“I pull the bag out of my pocket, fold it, and then I leave it behind.”
These words wrench me in the gut and I feel the tears about ready to flow. We have two dogs, no kids. Our dogs are our kids. Our oldest is 9, but he’s purebred (but still a rescue) so I don’t know how long his days will be. I often think about moments like these.Losing a dog is so hard. They are your best friends and the closest thing to a God-like love we can see in front of our eyes. Thank you for the sad but beautiful post.
You said it: they help us understand love and life in so many ways. As our dogs age it is difficult not to look ahead but if we look at right now, as they do, it just is so beautiful. As you know!
Sympathies for your loss. Beautiful essay for a beautiful pet. Thank you. Being moved to tears uncovers a path to reading a new author.
Oh thank you so much for your kind words!
I know pretty well how you’re feeling.
We lost two of our kitties in 2015.
One was old & it was his time, but the second was only 17 months old & we’d only adopted her from the spca 5 months previously.
We’re still not past losing her so suddenly, & the diagnosis was her blood did not produce red cells.
This happened to my son’s cat very recently. I’m so sorry for your losses. I hope when the time is right you are able to find the love again.
Thank you, & thoughts to your son’s kitty too.
The suddenness of losing a young one is awful, but as time goes on, its getting better.
We have 2 other cats, & one missed her pals so much, she took more than three months to begin being her usual bratty self again. Now that she’s back at it, we feel a little better.
This was very touching; I truly loved reading this post, especially as you mentioned writing to your loved ones when seeking inspiration. You inspired me !
Hi Sacha – thank you! And writing to loved ones — whether they see the letters or not — can really open things up. Go for it!
I lost my dog on December 27th. Life has been misery without her. She was the most difficult animal I’ve ever had….and I don’t think I’ve ever loved an animal more. Almost two months later, today we are going to meet a new dog. I will never replace my Sasha, but I no longer can live without that friendly furry face. I feel like I’m cheating on Sasha and in quiet moments I ask her if it’s alright and tell her much I miss her. I am truly sorry for your loss and I hope that you and your husband can know some peace again soon.
I take so much encouragement from your words. Thank you. My husband and I both know we will try again but I never expected to feel so profoundly the loss I feel right now. I think it will take a little more time for us but it will happen and it will happen. I will remember your words and ask for Chloe’s blessing when we move ahead (she was always a bit of a princess though and while kind to other dogs, preferred the be the “only” – we’ll see!)
A beautiful heartache. Rest in Peace, Chloe: You are remembered by those who live and love you still, my dear.
She appreciates your words, and so do I!
I am so sorry for your loss! A beautiful piece and tribute to your Chloe! I know the pain of losing a such loving canine companions. I hope there will come a day when you can love again.
Thank you. There will. The beautiful thing about love is that it there is always more. The more you love, the more love there is. I think there just needs to be a bit more time.
So sorry for your loss. Although I have not lost a dog since I was a child, my husband and I are going through recurrent pregnancy loss right now and our two puppies (technically dogs, but they will always be my babies!) have been instrumental in helping us during a difficult season. I’m glad you are writing about it. I just started my blog on our losses and it is very healing to put thoughts and emotions to words and share your journey! Thanks for sharing
Our family knows what you are going through very well. Our children have struggled in the same way and their dog(s) have been the source of much healing. Dogs are wonderful that way. I wish you all good things and I’m glad you have your healing companions for the journey.
I can only imagine the grief you are feeling. My dog is my family, as a single woman with no children, she is all I have. My heart goes out to you and your husband. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for writing and for your kind words. May you and your dog have many wonderful years together.
Beautiful essay. I can relate to your feelings and it does get better but they are always in our hearts.
Thank you for reading and letting me now. You are right. She’s in my heart and there will be no budging her.
So beautifully and sensitively written. I used to find plastic bags in the pockets of my old jackets left over from my the days of my first Basset Hound who died 10 years ago this June. I now have another one, a lovely ginger hound who keeps me alive. This essay has been a reminder of how precious our days are when we fill them with such loving creatures.
My son’s Bassett hound is sixteen (his birthday was on Valentine’s Day). They’ve been working out their goodbyes over the past month or so and it is very hard for him. Clearly, you understand. Our days are very precious with all those we love and one of the things my dogs have done for me is to remind me of that fact every day. Thank you so much for writing!
I don’t know the pain of losing such a close and cherished friend, but it’s so interesting (and sad) how reading about someone else’s unique grief can resonate with your own. Thank you for sharing this honest and beautifully written piece.
Thank you for writing. That resonance you write of is important and doesn’t rely on having the same experiences. So many things can open us up to each other and to the feelings we carry within. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.
It’s always hard when a beloved family pet leaves us. When my dog left us I remember the disappointment at not seeing her in her usual spots about the house. Beautiful writing.
Thank you so much! Those ‘usual spots’ are tricky for a while, aren’t they? I’m finding that now myself. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.
Very interesting and heart felt. You express your feelings with much detail. You feel comfortable that someone else shares your days angst and joys! Truly, it makes one ponder on how to spend your time wisely each day and feel the moments, and embrace your day. Cute dog too!
Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. You are exactly right — feeling those moments and embracing each day is right at the top of the lessons that being with my dog(s) over the years has taught me. And yes she was adorable. And knew it!
Beautiful writing…just beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss, but I do appreciate that you are able to communicate the feelings that come when you’ve experienced loss.
Dear Miss Rita, thank you for your kind words. I sure love the name of your blog. I will be checking it out!
Loved reading this. I am very sorry for your loss. The loss of a pet is just as terrible as a loss of a human.
All it takes to feel a loss is to have loved. You’re right: it doesn’t matter who or what one loves. Thank you for writing!
Thank you for sharing such a poignant slice of your pile of sadness and grief. It’s no less searing and moving when a beloved dog dies than a human; it’s no less a life loved and shared. Your writing is beautiful; I look forward to reading your book. May Chloe RIP.
I hope she is resting in peace. I treasure the life loved and shared and I am so glad you wrote to tell me your own thoughts. Thank you for reading and for writing to me. And I hope you find the book a good read.
Your story brought tears to my eyes as I sit here with my 14 yr. old pup, I dread the day…..we lost his companion 2 yrs ago now, that was so hard…I hope each day gets easier, and you will always have great memories! Cry as much as you want, it does help!
Thank you – I guess you know very well how these relationships with our dogs go. Each day is indeed a little easier and the memories are truly special as you say. And when the tears come, it does feel okay. Enjoy every minute with your 14-year-old. If he is anything like Chloe, he loves being the only dog for a while. Thanks again for writing!
Your words were lovely to read. I hope you will soon find another loving fur child to set and watch over you. There are many loving rescue dogs that need such a heart as yours
Thank you so much for writing and you are exactly right, there are many dogs out there all in need of love. We know we will be ready to try again but we just need to wait a bit and trust that the ones waiting now will find their families.
So sorry for your loss. I have four dogs and up until recently seven cats but the head count has now been reduced to five this past week. My two girls had been fighting their individual battles but went within days of each other aged 15 and 18 years old. In my mind I still hear their meow’s saying “hello” or “I want my lunch”, a fleeting glimpse of a tail belonging to another is a constant reminder that they’ve gone.
Through the sadness comes the joy that I can offer another little soul an adoring home and I hope to meet her tomorrow. She’s been abandoned and is sleeping on a shelf in a neighbours shed, sounds like she’s the perfect candidate. I hope you find your fur baby very soon.
Thank you for sharing your story. I know exactly what you mean about catching a glimpse and then realizing the one you thought you saw is gone. You have a big heart and your animals are very lucky to have you. Good luck with the new girl.
Oh thank, what a lovely comment. We’re delighted to say that we have a new little girl in our family, we collected Dora this afternoon and she’s just venturing out from the bedroom. A completely white kitty with raggy ears and a loud meow. Never a replacement just a little soul that needs love which is what it’s all about.
What a beautifully written piece. We have adopted, loved and lost rescue hounds over the years and their love and legacy continues to live on. Your dog’s love will always be with you.
Sending you much love, the days will get easier.
Thank you so much for this. I’m guessing from your handle that whippets are special to you. You are right, the legacy and love do live on. And we are fortunate for that.
Deepest condolences… may Chloe’s love keep you strong.
Thank you so much for your kindness.
Thanks for writing about Chloe and the details of what it’s like when one of our loved ones dies: the sacks in the pockets or car; the washing of the bed and towels; the giving away to the pet sanctuary of the spare leashes and brushes and final meds and food; the phantom sightings just around the corner. She isn’t there? How is that possible? We lost our Lilly at 14 and our Molly at 15, and now our beloved Maine Coon kitty is headed that same direction at 15 too. All we can do is love them with every breath and yes, write about it. Again, thank you for doing that, and Cynthia for offering this haven.
Oh, those phantom sightings are the hardest and yet the most wonderful. Thanks for writing this. Enjoy every day with your Maine Coon companion. Thank you so much for your kind words and understanding.
Anyone who’s ever lost a beloved companion will get this piece. Beautifully shared. Thank you.
Kathryn, thank you.
This is such a beautiful and honest essay. I could feel your sadness and your determination. The dailiness of writing and its stresses and rewards. I’m so sorry for your loss–it’s so hard to communicate the special bond of dogs and people–you do a wonderful job–you are so right that it has to do with physical presence and dailiness. Also, the advice of writing a letter to a loved one when stuff is brilliant. Thank you again!
Thank you, Sari. We still miss her. And you are right, it is very difficult to write about the bond between animals and humans. I am struggling a bit to do it in my next novel — or at least the pages that may turn into that novel. Maybe it’s time for me to write one of those letters to my sister. Thanks again for the kind words.
Loss of a loved one brings so much grief. It is a hollowness inside wrapped in sadness. Be still, and give it time to become smaller. I appreciate your writing, and will think of you as you grieve. It always seems better when there are others to hold us up in times like these. Blessings.
I’ve just stumbled upon your profile and read this post.. It was written beautifully. I was on the verge of a tear the whole time. Hope you guys are doing better<3