There are few things more painful than saying goodbye to your dog. On Friday morning, Oscar, my beautiful Brussels Griffon, died from congestive heart failure. He was just over nine years old. Though he struggled a bit in the last few months, I do not believe he suffered or was ever in pain. Even the day before he died, his stumpy tail still wagged, he ate voraciously, and enjoyed a nap in a sun-drenched spot on the floor. But on Friday, his heart just gave out and he went into failure. Recognizing the symptoms I bundled him in my arms and ran three blocks to the vet. Making the choice to let him go has fairly made my heart give out, but my spirit is buoyed by knowing beyond a doubt that it was the right decision and by the kind, patient care he received from everyone at Jersey City’s Downtown Vet, especially Dr. Jamie Schwartz, who was as patient with my anxiety as she was thorough with Oscars’ care.
Oscar Munk: December 2005 – May 2014
Friday night—my first without him—I had a hyper-vivid dream in which I felt him all around me, his kisses on my face, the shape of his spindly legs wrapped around me as we embraced. Anyone who knows me knows that I generally would be rolling my eyes about now, but whether it was a visitation, simply a dream, or some hyper-vivid side effect of the Ambien, I choose to believe that we were together again and he was telling me he was okay. I woke up feeling a little less empty and a bit surer that he is still near to me and that I will also—eventually—feel better about this loss which, at this moment, seems unfathomable, bottomless.
I am grateful that I knew this little guy. For these many years he was my constant companion and a source of almost indescribable comfort through some very dark times. It may seem a bit treacly (although probably not to pet owners), but Oscar taught me how to be a better person, always bringing it back to simple things and giving me the corrective cues I needed to remind me that on the most difficult day there is joy. He helped me to clear away the mental clutter and be in the moment. Dogs are like children: brilliantly, ineffably present. The biggest lesson he taught me was that everything I really need I already have in abundance and, though he looked like an avuncular professor (one could easily imagine him with a monacle and a cigar), he was much more than a furry teacher.
The last few days have been beyond strange. I keep thinking I hear him. I find myself struggling with the ritualized impulses to feed and walk him—to provide care—before they are quickly caught by the next thought, the jab of pain that he is not here and my ministrations are no longer required. I walk down the street and see my neighbors out for a walk with their dogs—Oscar’s friends—and I feel bereft. I know these feelings will change with time, but right now everything is, to put it bluntly, totally sucking.
Oscar: though you will be terribly missed and I clearly face a bewildering period of adjustment, I am comforted by knowing that you had a wonderful life and were loved deeply by many. You also gave me the chance to prove to myself that I too have the capacity to love deeply. I don’t know if I knew that as surely before I had the privilege of having you in my life.
When they x-rayed you before I made the decision to humanely ensure you would not suffer, (the better of two completely shitty options), the imaging showed that your heart was nearly twice the size it should have been. Though I knew in my head that this was a clinical result of your illness, my own heart prefers to think this was because you had twice the capacity to love unconditionally, a decidedly non-human quality. So in the spirit of your big heart, I want to celebrate you—my “Mr. O”— with a few more images that capture your unique, unforgettable, and irreplaceable personality.
Thank you, my sweet boy, for bringing me back and keeping me here.