Thursday, August 25, 2016


Mornings are the hardest, I think, when I come downstairs and there is no tail thumping softly against the floor to greet me. Or maybe it’s bedtime, when I head toward the door to let the dog in before remembering. Or the countless moments in between: when the kids drop Goldfish crackers on the floor and there is no eager pup to lick them up, or when we head out and there is no happy, giant ball of fur pleading to come with us, or when I reach my hand down mindlessly from the couch to rub a belly and meet empty space instead.

One of Lil's favorite activities: going for a ride.
We said goodbye to the best dog ever last week, and there seem to be lots of empty spaces in our home now, a home that before last Thursday always included Lily. We are getting used to the sad fact that our girl is gone, and most of the time we are, at least outwardly, OK. But the reminders of her are everywhere; often the sadness hits all over again, and one person’s tears lead to general sniffling all around.

Baby Lil
Lily was intertwined in everything we did. We brought her home when she was a puppy, all fluff and energy and hopeful joy. That was before we were married, and I knew when David suggested we get a dog, he was serious about me. She was there a year later when he popped the question, and stood witness with our family and friends the following summer when we said our vows. She was there to welcome our children home with curious sniffs and gentle licks, to love them unconditionally and to play with them as they grew – at first enduring their climbing all over and around her, later tagging along happily on hikes, forays around the yard and woods, and drives to school drop-off in the mornings.
Welcoming the littlest one, a few years ago.

Lily was there for more than 12 years. Always ready for an adventure. Greeting us happily when we came home, whether we’d been gone all day or only a few minutes. Wagging her tail sleepily in the mornings. Begging for her bedtime biscuits at night. Following the kids into the kitchen when they cleared their dishes after meals, always hoping there was a crust of toast or a bit of leftover hamburger that might end up in her dish. Bounding out to roll in the snow. Swimming in the river. Smiling her golden smile all the time.

She had been my nearly-constant companion these years since the human children arrived. She accompanied me to take the kids to school, then we returned together to a quiet house. Now and then, always just at the point where I needed a distraction, she’d plod over to where I sat typing and put her head in my lap, gazing at me beseechingly until I got up from the keyboard and took her on a walk through the woods. She was always good company on those walks, leaving me to my thoughts as she trotted along sniffing the myriad smells of the forest.

Everybody's buddy
Just over a year ago Lily and I headed out together for a favorite hike, and she struggled the whole way. I knew then, sadly, that it would be our last long hike together. Gradually she went from jaunting around the field to moving more slowly through the yard. By the end, she could barely get to the garden without stumbling, her legs simply giving out. Often, she could not get up without help. Finally, she needed to be carried more often than she could make it outside herself.

While Lily’s legs failed her, her spirit never faltered. She still smiled at us and stretched out as much as she could for belly rubs. But we knew she was hurting more than we could fathom. We knew it was time to say goodbye, to let her go.

Two happy girls in the woods.
I’m still getting used to her not being here. Yes, the mornings are the hardest: that quiet time before anyone else is awake, when it used to be just me and Lil blinking the sleepiness away while the coffee percolated. Once the kids are up, the house becomes a bustling distraction of breakfast and playing and planning out our final fun-filled summer days. But underneath all that activity, I miss my dog. We all do.

Next week, the kids return to school. I will be doubly lonely then, driving home without Lily in the backseat, her head pushed blissfully out the window. There will be no kid-fueled distractions at home, just me and my work. I’m not quite sure how I’ll manage. Lily has always been here with me. I imagine I’ll find myself getting up often to let the dog out. I may well fall into melancholy when I spot a tuft of Lily fur lingering in some corner of the house. I’ll miss her well-timed interruptions, that take-me-for-a-walk look. I’m dreading that first solo trek through the woods. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the August 26, 2016 edition of the Littleton Record.

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