A year ago I was writing you a letter in anticipation of your 13th birthday to tell you what our life together had meant to me. As your birthday approached I knew our time was short and I wanted you to know how much you were loved.
Life without you has been….different. I miss you so much every hour of every day. Your presence, your love, your snores, your eyes and the way you look at me, your big, soft ears, your voice, your love of cookies and reminders it was time for chicken dinner. You made me laugh more than most people ever could. The most difficult thing I have ever gone thru was letting you go, even when I knew it was time. I know now that reaching 13 at your giant size was against the odds, and I am grateful for that milestone and so much time with you. Your final days play over in my mind on repeat but so do the 13 years of unconditional love and adventures we had. I always knew it would be hard but I underestimated how painful it would feel and for how long. Tears came to me every day at any given time, like a sucker punch in the gut, for months after we said good bye. The sadness overwhelmed me. The outpouring from the people who loved you overwhelmed me. You were so special, so loved, and such an extension of me, I felt like I had lost a piece of myself.
You left me with a gift of knowing how to love and care for a very special dog, and for including you in every aspect of my life. Very quickly I realized that I wasn’t meant to be without a dog for long. You didn’t spend all that time training me just for me to stop loving when you were gone. Five days after you left I opened an email from your breeder in Kansas. She had an all black litter of lab puppies. I agonized over it and quickly saw it as a sign. One month and one day after I said good bye to you I said hello to Gus….in the exact same place I met you for the first time. I felt it was fate. I felt it was your gift to send him to me, knowing I knew how to get there in the haze I was in from losing you, knowing I already knew how to love him, knowing I needed someone to receive my love, knowing I needed the companionship, knowing I needed a travel buddy, knowing I needed someone to catch my tears. But I think you already know this because I think you were the one who made this happen. It wasn’t the same joyous day it was when I picked you up. It was love at first sight with you. This time I was still so sad from losing you. But I knew the joy would return some day. And Gus was there to make sure it did.
Gus is so different from you. And that has been a good thing. I tried all the same things I did raising you since you turned out perfect. I gave him all the same freedoms, at home, off the leash, on the trail, where he slept. And he lost all of them, one by one. It turns out he is very industrious like you were, but he also likes to run and he likes to chew. So he is keeping me on my toes learning about puppies all over again. He loves to sit on my lap, as he is about half the size you were. I keep trying to show him how to just put his head on my lap like you did but he will have nothing of it. He is so far unsure of my singing to him and he is not yet as excited about my dancing as you were.
Everyone calls him Finn out of habit. I don’t always correct them. Sometimes I call him “Bean Bean” by accident, which is what I called you, and then stop myself. There is only one Bean Bean. I play videos of you “talking” for him and say, “that’s Finny”, and he has come to recognize your voice. I call him my “Number Two”, as we know who will always be my “Number One”. And, luckily, he has turned out to be a good travel partner. I know you wouldn’t send me someone who wasn’t since that is what defined our life together.
Speaking of traveling, I finished your 48 States book finally. It turned out amazing, just like you.
To have all of those travel memories all in one place is a gift. My heart bursts with joy when I look at it. You gave me the gift of one final roadtrip to complete the photo collection before we said goodbye. Because of that final trip I was determined to finish the book. Gus has already been to 12 states in his first few months and I have begun his collection of travel photos, although a pandemic is slowing us down a little. Maybe someday he will reach all the Lower 48 States like you did. We have been to some new places you never went to but when we have been to some of the same places you and I went we pay homage to you and your spirit is always with us.
It warms my heart to see Gus in some of your many clothes and accessories. I hope you don’t mind. Many are too big still. He has some of his own, too. He’s not good with toys and not interested in a dog bed yet, so this is all I can give him from your things. He is almost as patient as you were with me when it comes to accessorizing!
I hope you have met a lot of your old friends there, and greeted some of the new arrivals at the Rainbow Bridge. The only consolation in losing you is knowing you are free; free to run, free to swim, free to chase lots of rabbits, free of medications, free of pain, free to breathe, free to eat all the chicken and all of the cookies.
I really thought love would keep you around forever. And in a way…it will, if only in my heart. What I wouldn’t give to have you cuddled up to me on the couch on a cold winter’s day, snoring your big head off and kicking me while you run in your dreams.
You will always be the love of my life, my once in forever. I miss you more than words can express. I knew someday the ache in my heart would be the trade off for loving you so deeply. But you also left me with so much capacity in my heart to love that you sent me Gus. And we will continue your legacy, Buddy, that I promise.
I miss you more than you will ever know. You are loved.
You were my favorite hello, and my hardest goodbye.
Love you forever,