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Memories of AWOL

Dear AWOL,

This is the third morning I've woken up without you and again, I cried. It wasn't the hard cry I had Thursday or Friday morning, but I shed lots of tears, my sweet baby boy. I'm missing you terribly and our house just isn't the home it was with your absence.

Writing you this letter is my way of trying to move forward. I know I will have good days and bad days and I also know that in time, my tears will come less frequently. Please understand though, that just because I may not cry as often in the coming weeks and months, doesn't mean I don't miss you. I will always miss you, Poopers. You will forever be in my heart and mind and etched into my memory.

I think your little brother Smudge senses you're gone, and I am pretty certain he knows I am hurting terribly. He's been asking to be in my lap more so than usual, but he never stays very long, nor does he sleep with me like he used to when you were here. It was always comforting for me to wake-up in the middle of the night and see you snoring away by my left leg all snuggly and warm, and your little brother right by you deep asleep in kitty dreams. Thank you for always protecting your little brother; especially when he first came to the farm starving and mere skin and bones. We nursed him back to health together, and you didn't mind when he occasionally stole a little kibble from your bowl. (I knew you were a little jealous of him at first, but we made room in our hearts and both grew to love him. So, thank you baby boy :)

I want you to know that a lot of people who never even met you have sent well wishes my way, prayers for the both of us, and are trying their best to lift your Momma's spirits. Most know this is my very first loss ever, and they understand how hard it is. I asked a good friend if the pain I feel in my heart is the same pain someone feels when they lose a person and the answer was a resounding "Yes!" Hearing that allowed me to understand that everything I'm experiencing is normal and sort of diminishes the (sometimes) weird feeling I've had that maybe I'm taking this harder than normal. Loss is loss, and it doesn't matter what the loss. If you love something with all your heart, the loss is profound regardless of the body the one you loved and lost inhabited. As it just so happened, my soulmate inhabited the body of a 90-pound Lab!

There are so many little things that remind me of you and make me miss you, baby boy. Every strand of your fur around this house has become sacred and I haven't touched anything. Your dog bed is still in the middle of the floor, your blanket on the bed all balled-up so I can shove my face into it and smell you for comfort. (I wish my sense of smell was as good as yours so that even when the scent of you has faded beyond human smell capability, I could still smell you with dog capability!)

All your paw prints in the backyard dirt were blown away by the spring winds the past two days, and I haven't picked-up your poop and I don't believe I will. It can stay out there forever as far as I'm concerned because I don't ever play out there so it doesn't matter! (Someone told me to let the rain wash it away. I reminded them we live in a dust bowl and that it doesn't rain much here ;)

I also can't bring myself to wash any of the blankets or rugs you laid on-especially the one just by the bedroom door into the hallway where you used to lay every morning while Momma got ready for work. I will be going back to work on Monday and will miss stepping over you as I ready for my day. Coming home on Monday will be difficult too, as it will be the first time you haven't been at the door waiting for me in nearly 13 years. I know at some point, when I am ready, that I will have to clean our home, but I'm not quite there just yet.

I want you to know what an absolutely amazing dog you were and what a good boy you were, too. You were always so well behaved, always polite and always very sweet. You had a heart of gold and the love you showed me every day is so, so missed. You provided me with memories for a lifetime, and I am so very glad I was able to make those memories with you and share a pretty amazing life together.

You had experiences most dogs and even people only dream of! Your cliff-jumping days will always be prevalent in my mind, as well as all the 10+ mile canoe paddles I took with you sitting so patiently in the front. You were always first out of the canoe and first in! You loved to swim like no dog I've ever met and truly were an expert swimmer and retriever! (And so dedicated, too!) I remember two occasions where you tried to bring in the pond drain attached to a rope at the bottom of the pond. I had to swim in after you to pull you out because you wouldn't let go! You scared me because I thought you would drown you were so determined to haul in that stupid milk carton!

There is also one moment I experienced with you that I wished I had had a video camera for! It made me laugh back then and makes me smile now! We had walked out in the yard on the Wisconsin farm early one Saturday morning and you had run ahead. You were 10 years old. As I rounded the corner of the garage I saw you standing there thoroughly engrossed in something. I watched what you were so interested in and saw it was a dandelion puff. You blew your breath on it and the little puffs blew into the air and tickled your nose causing you to sneeze causing even more little puffs to blow into the air! You stood there, nose right down to it, trying to figure out what it was, and I remember thinking to myself that my sweet, 10-year-old dog was still such a puppy in his curiosity! That moment was, without a doubt, one that will always make me smile and appreciate your innocence and innate curiosity. (Just like the time your curiosity drew you to the hind end of a baby skunk 10 minutes before I had to leave for work!) I bathed you with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide which helped, but you and the farmhouse faintly smelled like skunk for a few days!

I also remember when you cut your paw very deeply and limped over to me bleeding, to make it better. We ended-up going to the dogters to get you stitches, and you were wrapped up for a few days in purple gauze. Every time you got something stuck in your foot or between your toes you always quietly whined, limped-up to me; injured foot held off the ground, until I got the offending object out. Every time you tripped over something, got bumped or bruised, you always looked to me to kiss away the hurt. (Most times you weren't really hurt, but I kept it a secret that you were really just a big baby! ;)

I remember when you were so sick one night on the farm and threw-up a dozen times. You were so exhausted you couldn't climb the steps to the bedroom to sleep, so we slept in the living room; me on the couch and you right beside me on the floor so I could reach over and touch you just for reassurance. You always looked to me to take care of you, but in reality, you were the one who always took care of me.

It was always you I cried to or expressed my anger, fears, and insecurities to. You were always there to listen to me no matter what. If I had a dollar for every time I hugged you and cried into your warm furry neck I would be the richest women in the world. In some sense, I guess I really am the richest woman in the world for having you share my life for so long. You were my constant companion, my best friend, my confidant and the love of my life. You, my sweet boy, were there after so many people came and went. And, with every passing year, our bond became even stronger.

No one I try and explain this to will understand, but it's true. We understood each other and knew, without saying a single word, what the other was feeling. I could always see in your eyes when you were in pain, or tired, or embarrassed, or feeling insecure or shy or upset in any way. I've never had as close a bond with anyone as I had with you. And now that you are gone, at least at this point, I'm not certain I will ever have as close of a bond with anyone or even choose to get that close. I know that may sound strange, but at this point, I cannot fathom letting anyone get close. Yes, I have friends I love dearly and would do anything in the world for, but most aren't around me and some I haven't seen for years. It's just weird because it's hard to let people get close to you when you've been loved unconditionally by one soul for so many years. No one can really compare.

I'm very accustomed to being alone with just you. I haven't had a real boyfriend for quite some time. You were the love of my life, and you set the bar so high, it's highly doubtful any human being could ever have my heart the way you did and do. Most people I know do not understand or even attempt to practice unconditional love. It's not in our human nature to do so, as hard as we may try. Unconditional love is, in my opinion, something only dogs truly understand; to give of yourself uninhibited in every way and expect nothing in return is a quality I truly do wish we humans understood, but unfortunately, the human ego always gets in the way.

You never withheld your affections or emotions and you trusted me completely. I can only hope when we locked eyes that last few moments and I told you over and over it was going to be okay; before you closed your eyes and fell asleep for the very last time in my arms; I can only hope you absolutely knew and understood I was doing what I knew was best for you. You were loved more than anything in the world and letting you go was THE hardest thing I've EVER done up to this point in my life. I made a commitment to you when you were nine weeks old that I would always take good care of you and always do what I thought was best. And, I also knew when I initially made that commitment, that it would ultimately mean making the most painful decision ever for you. I know your loving spirit understood and trusted me. You told me it was time and I couldn't deny you peace.

I want you to know I stepped outside to drink my morning coffee as I always do on sunny mornings, and its worth mentioning that I actually heard a Robin somewhere in the distance chirping out its song. I didn't know there were Robins in El Paso, and it made me smile because I remember waking up in the mornings with you at the farmhouse, in the spring, to the sound of many Robins chirping their song. It was a comfort to me, but also made me really laugh remembering the time you ran-up to me with two little bird feet sticking out the side of your mouth! I was horrified you had killed the poor thing, but when I asked you to release, you dropped a very slimy albeit, unhurt baby Sparrow into my hand! You had the gentlest mouth and the sweetest demeanor!

You've always followed me everywhere and anywhere without complaint or question, and I thank you for coming all the way to El Paso with me. My life took us in directions I never imagined and to be honest, I had always hoped you would live out your days quietly on the farm. I am sorry I dragged you and your little brother to Indiana for a year, and then a year later to Texas. There are no rivers or lakes for you to swim in here, and I've always regretted taking you away from water. Swimming was always so therapeutic for you, and the fact we at least had a pond in our backyard in Indiana was a great consolation to me. Your last year in this dust bowl was well spent quietly dozing on your dog bed or the couch with your head in my lap. (I miss the heaviness and warmth of your big head snoring away :(

Things will get easier in time, but it will take a long time. It is so quiet here without you that sometimes it's a bit unnerving. I hear the clock on the wall ticking more loudly than I ever did before, and every time I walk from room to room in our home I automatically find myself expecting to see you around the corner. I am so very lonely without you, baby boy. I can only hope that you are in a place where you are young again; running, swimming and fetching sticks and feeling no pain. I hope the only heavy breathing you are doing now is caused by a full out run in a green, grassy field. I hope you have found your girl Freya, and are swimming together again and bringing sticks to shore again, together. My hope and wish for you is that you are eternally happy, baby boy.

Thank you again for every moment of our 12 years and 10 months together. I was so praying we could celebrate our May birthday together one more year. I have always believed we shared the same birthday because we were two souls meant to find one another. So, this year, on our special day, I will be journeying back to Wisconsin to spread your ashes on the farm where you grew up. I will say my final goodbye's to the most beautiful black Labrador Retriever there ever was. You are the best companion a girl could ever have asked for, and I am so very, very glad we found each other all those years ago.

I love you with all my heart, sweet AWOL. One day we will cross that Rainbow Bridge together...

Love always and forever,

Momma

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