Frankie in his affectionate, face-kissing days (photo by Diane Schmidt)
Frankie in his affectionate, face-kissing days (photo by Diane Schmidt)

If I’ve learned anything from losing Frankie, it’s that grief is unpredictable. Few of my reactions in the last few weeks were close to what I anticipated.

The New Normal?

I behaved very badly the first weekend, acting out. And I was bone tired for a while, wanting to sleep far more often than I usually do. Distracted? I can’t tell you how many times I left the refrigerator door open and stowed food items in odd places, freezing cheese, putting frozen vegetables in cabinets.

Nor have I been able to put away all of Frankie’s stuff. The mat where I would put his food bowl still sits there.

But in some ways my life feels more-or-less normal. Emptier, yes, and like something essential is missing that nags at a corner of my mind. But that deep, heart-rending grief I expected to feel during all my waking hours comes only in fleeting flashes. Is it waiting in ambush?  Only time will tell.

Some longstanding habits remind me vividly of my loss, such as being able to leave the front door open when I bring in groceries. No longer having to worry about a small creature escaping…that’s nine years of conditioning to counter and it brings a wash of sadness. But I had been warned that I should expect to see Frankie everywhere. That hasn’t happened. The one place I glance at, expecting to find him, is my bed. This suggests it’s been a long time since Frankie did much else besides sleep.

Yes, there was the occasional face lick and bid for my attention, the quick games of chase-the-squeaky-carrot, all of which gave me hope that the old Frankie was still in there. But although I tried to celebrate the things he could do, the fact is my days were filled with heartbreak. Those small victories, the “good boy” cheers I gave when he found his way back into the house from the yard by himself, didn’t make up for the much more frequent defeats, watching him bump into things, getting stuck in corners, searching for his water bowl…

I don’t miss that pain. As I’ve said, the Frankie I said good-bye to was a faded shadow, a sad ghost of his former self.

The Wake

I suspect it also helps that no one expects me to suppress my feelings.  I work at home, not in an office where I might encounter insensitive people. I’m a dog blogger with a Facebook page devoted to all things dog. Who of that pet-obsessed cohort would question my right to grieve?

In real life, I am also surrounded by dog-loving friends — one of whom, Cynthia, hosted a wake for Frankie this past Saturday.

It was a lovely, nurturing event, all dog-loving women who knew Frankie to varying degrees.  Cynthia made wonderful comfort food: Meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, broccoli au gratin, bread pudding, lots of wine. She FedExed in the Borealis Press cocktail napkins with Frankie’s picture on them for the event, as well as the refrigerator magnets with his image, which she gave away as favors.

I was glad that the wailing and garment-rending that I’d anticipated — and which would have been accepted, no problem — didn’t happen.

But neither did the celebration of Frankie’s life that I had hoped for. That was no one’s fault. My friend, Jillian, especially, tried to draw me out, asking me for Frankie stories. I found I was hard pressed to supply them.

Here’s the thing. Since Frankie mostly shied away from my friends and their dogs — as he did from all people and pets — it was hard to come up with amusing anecdotes.  Once he acknowledged that I was his person, Frankie’s love and attention were exclusively directed towards me. The few funny interactions with my friend Clare’s dog, Archie, and Rebecca’s dog, Charles, come across far better in writing.

The Missing Eulogy

Happily, I devoted a book and a blog to telling people what was unique about Frankie, and the record stands for itself. But by way of the brief memorial I was unable to summon at his wake, I’d like to offer a few anecdotes from the life of the immortal Frankie.

The Eternal Optimist

Frankie on the rug, doing a pre-emptive downstay (and being a camouflage artist)
Frankie on the rug, doing a pre-emptive downstay (as well as being a camouflage artist)

Some of my best memories of Frankie are of him sitting on the rug in my living room and waiting for food — his own or mine. It was where he positioned himself while I was in the kitchen, preparing his breakfast and dinner, and where he sat while I ate mine. He rarely got treats between meals after he developed diabetes, but he never gave up hope. He would sit perkily, staring at me, willing food to come his way. Sometimes he would forget his mission and space out a little, diverting his attention, but whenever I made a move he was instantly on alert again, cocking his head, focusing his considerable powers of cuteness on making me come over to him. Of course, I occasionally did — thus reinforcing his hope.

But I would always try to make Frankie work for his treats. Since he was already sitting, I would ask him to lie down before I gave him anything. Down, I would say, pointing at the ground. He would usually comply. What cracked me up most, then, were his pre-emptive downstays.  Sometimes, when he grew tired of waiting for food, he would ease himself down on the rug in hopes that this would grab my attention. After all, wasn’t lying down what I wanted from him, for whatever peculiar reason?

He was right. It cracked me up and often inspired me to give him food. For a time, I tried to tell him to get “up” when he was down, so I would be teaching him something, but it just confused him — and, finally, me. After all, under what circumstances in life do you need to train a dog to get up?

The Prancing Prince

A sympathy card I got from Amy and Rod Burkert of brought to mind one of Frankie’s most appealing traits. Amy wrote: “Frankie was a special dog. I’ll always remember how his little ears bounced as he pranced along behind you on a walk. Cutest thing ever!”

Because I was part of that two-person parade, and because Frankie always walked behind me, I could never view the phenomenon — or even part of it — for myself. Every time I stopped and turned around to look, Frankie stopped too. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that’s a canine example of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.)

But there were others on the regular trail we took along the Rillito River Park who noticed. In particular, two older women, sisters, were besotted by Frankie.  Whenever I would encounter them walking their three dogs — one a huge mastiff — their faces would light up, and they both would exclaim, “It’s Frankie!”  The fact that he never cozied up to them didn’t matter; being accompanied by a mastiff doubtless accustomed them to people keeping their distance. Instead of trying to get Frankie to bond with their dogs, or at least not fear them, as most other people we encountered felt compelled to do, they automatically held their dogs back, fussing over Frankie without trying to touch him.

It was very nice for both of us.

The time came when I stopped walking Frankie on this trail. Once his senses started going off kilter, he seemed more frightened of the other dogs he couldn’t quite locate, more wary of the car ride. I began taking him to a smaller park near my house for exercise at quiet times.

I missed the social interaction with friends I had met on the trail, but I could see them in other places. Even more, I missed the adulation of the two sisters whose names I never knew (or forgot if I ever heard them).

So I’ll tell you something I never admitted before. When the weather was a bit cooler and it seemed that Frankie was doing fine at the smaller park, I decided to try him on the trail again. I told myself it was good for him to walk a little more, but I had a hidden agenda that I probably wasn’t fully aware of myself: I wanted to see Frankie’s fan club.

Frankie seemed perfectly happy on the trail again. True, he didn’t do well walking alongside me when we ran into friends strolling in the same direction; he would stop so often as to make progress frustrating. That was fine. I was in no hurry, and I never pushed Frankie beyond his capabilities.

It was probably on the third day that Frankie and I encountered the sisters and their doggy entourage. It had been at least four months since we had last seen them — and they us.

Their reaction was everything I could have hoped for.

From a distance, I could see one turn to the other and point, in amazement. When we approached, they were effusive. “We wondered what happened to you,” one of them said. “We were so worried about Frankie,” the other chimed in.

I explained about Frankie’s CCD, his confusion. It surprised them.  He looked fine while on a leash, being directed by me. I can only guess that he continued to prance behind me, ears bouncing, if maybe a little more slowly.

And so we chatted a bit, and soon went on our separate ways, as we had always done.

I never took Frankie on the trail again. I knew that the park close to our house gave him enough exercise, and that he hated the longer car ride. I eventually stopped taking him for walks altogether; the vet said he’d get enough exercise in the back yard.

But although it might have been a bit selfish, I’m not sorry about that last trail walk, about giving my heart what it needed: One final public acknowledgement of my private truth, that Frankie was a rock star.

42 thoughts on “Life After Frankie: A Dog Wake & A Eulogy”

  1. It must have been difficult to come up with happy memories and anecdotes on the spot. They tend to come unannounced. The wake was a wonderful idea, and glad it worked out so well, even without anecdotes, what great friends you have.

    And those are great memories to remember Frankie by. The Confirmed Rock Star might very well have been training you there instead of waiting for food!

    1. It’s true, Frankie was completely training me — very successfully, I might add! And, yes, I have great friends.

  2. Sing on, Frankie. I don’t know why the image in my head is that of a kind of Steven Tyler, who isn’t even my favorite (that might be David Bowie). But I think that under that raucous and memorable voice is a kind of inner being, who struts in his very own way…Walk this Way…

    1. Ha! Now I’m both going to be singing Walk This Way in my head and trying to decide which rock star Frankie most resembles. I love David Bowie too but he’s a bit too cool to have a doggie counterpart. I think I’m going to choose Bruce Springsteen, because of Frankie’s rough edged but soulful personality.

  3. I’m a new reader, and so sorry to hear of your loss of Frankie.
    I lost both my old dogs in July – both 14 – only ten days apart.
    All the stories you’ve told here will live on – it’s clear Frankie was a very special boy.

  4. I love Amy’s image of Frankie’s ears bouncing and of his fan club on the trail. For quite a while now, I’ve been walking alone since Lilly isn’t strong enough to go. Fairly often, one neighbor or another pulls over and asks where Lilly is. We were such a mainstay that people worry when they see me out alone. For now, I just explain that she has been very sick for a long time. I’m not sure what state they’ll find me, when our story ends.

    1. I tried walking on the trail without Frankie and I couldn’t do it. It made me too sad. I decided I’d be better off at the gym. And there’s no way I’m could go back to the trail now that Frankie’s gone. You’re a stronger woman than I am!

      And yes, I was glad Amy could be a witness. There couldn’t be pictures of course, because movement was required.

  5. Edie – grieving is so personal and unique. You never know how you will react. I remember being in a fog for about a month after BJC passed. I kept blogging because I was afraid if I stopped I would never do it again. And I also appreciated all the support of my blogger buddies. Thank you for sharing stories about Frankie. Although I never had opportunity to meet him in person, I can just imagine him prancing along behind you with his ears bouncing merrily!

    1. Yes, it’s true about grief — and about blogging. It’s helped so much to be able to (maybe forced to!) articulate my feelings.

      And yes Frankie’s ears were a wonder to behold — that’s why I jokingly called him Batboy!

  6. What a beautiful tribute to your beloved Frankie! As one other reader said, “grief is very personal”.

    When I had to say goodbye to my Kissy, I was working in Customer Service/Inside Sales. In some ways it was good for me to have to go back to work. And, luckily, I had a supervisor who understood what I was going through. He was a whole lot more sensitive to my feelings than most of my team members. I will always be grateful to Jeff for that. Most of the rest of our team? Bah Humbug!

    I’m happy for you that you can share your myriad of emotions and memories through your blog. I, too, have an easier time writing my feelings than expressing them verbally. Write on!

    1. Thanks, Ducky’s Mom. I’m glad it was your supervisor who was the sympathetic soul; it would be miserable having to work under someone who was a jerk. Working with those people — not fun, but you weren’t expected to respect their opinions.

      Write on backatcha!

  7. PS When the time comes for you to bring another pal into heart and home, I highly recommend walking the trail once again. You’ll see everyone’s love for Frankie in the joy with which they welcome the return of the unique happiness that is a dog into your life. At least that’s been my experience.

  8. Before I had Lou, I had a Collie. His name was Duncan, and he was the best damn dog I ever could have asked for. He was happy-go-lucky, a clown, a real showman, and absolutely beautiful. Most people in my neighborhood knew Duncan, and knew me only as ‘Duncan’s Mom’. This went on for many years, as Duncan grew from a puppy, to an, finally, an old man.

    In due course, Duncan started to lose his sight; and some of his hearing, and sense of smell. Still we kept on going until a fateful day at the pet supply store when Duncan mistook a small fluffy dog for a toy. whoops. Thank God there was no harm done and the other dogs’ owner had a sense of humor. Duncan was largely retired from public life on the spot.

    I could tell he missed his time in the limelight. So, I found a railroad trail and a quieter pet supply place, and when he felt up to it, that’s where we went for walks. At least we did until he couldn’t do it anymore, and he was content simply to wander around my acreage and maybe go for a ride in the truck once in awhile.

    My time with Duncan ended when I came home from work one day to discover he had fallen and could no longer get up. The next morning, the vet and I cried as she assisted him over the Rainbow Bridge, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the vet’s office as I came out of that exam room for the last time. I was, in a way, if not among Duncan’s fan club, certainly among my tribe of other pet moms who knew where it was at.

    It was, in a way, perhaps the most inelegant and impromptu wake I’d ever been to, but it was also the most heartfelt.

    As a favor to me, Duncan is buried overlooking my veterinarians’ sheep meadow.

    As for me? I have a cat now, but I still feel half dressed leaving the house without a leash in my hand.

  9. Frankie was such a funny little character. Though all your readers have gotten to know him through your blog and book, I’m glad we got to meet him in person. Those merrily bouncing ears will never be forgotten.

  10. I love the story about meeting the sisters. It sounds like something that would make me feel better, too. I know there are people who love Bunny, and while I am utterly forgettable, everybody remembers Bunny. It would hearten me greatly to have a last memory of people gushing over her one last time. You’ve written a lovely tribute to him, and I think he’ll be remembered very fondly by many!

    1. You know, it’s kind of nice to have one area of life where you don’t have to worry about your accomplishments — or lack thereof — because people are only interested in your dog. And it was hard for me to see Frankie being overlooked for the more outgoing dogs of some of my friends on the trail, which made me doubly adore the sisters. Thanks for your nice words.

  11. It is amazing sometimes how many “faces” we recognize when it comes to dogs, more so than people I think. I don’t think it was selfish of you at all to attempt the trail again, and it gave those two sisters some peace of mind since they were worried about Frankie…and probably you too.

    1. That’s a nice way to look at it. I do think the sisters were pleased to see Frankie again, but I don’t kid myself that I’m high on their worry list (though they are always very nice to me as the manager of the rock star).

  12. I totally relate to the story of wanting to see the two sisters again. And I relate to their feelings as well– you get attached to other dogs you meet on a regular basis, and you wonder where they’ve gone when they disappear. I think both you and the sisters gave each other a special gift, as unique as the relationship.

    1. I agree. I don’t think they’ll ever know how much their appreciation of Frankie meant to me. There were definitely dogs that I looked forward to encountering but more I worried about, ones who were a bit out of control but owners insisted were ‘just being friendly.” Ugh.

  13. Sometimes we have to give ourselves what we need. Frankie sounds lovely, and his bouncing ears reminds me very much of my collie who does a similar thing, however until this morning I hadn’t seen it for a while!

    1. Ha — maybe you were looking at your collie more closely this morning after reading the blog post and noticed his ears again. Frankie was indeed a sweetie.

  14. It’s that last walk that really got to me…I did that with Bruno…I knew it would be hard for him, but I had a need to take him on a trail one more time…we took a very short one and for just a couple of minutes he forgot his pain and pranced…That is one of my favorite memories of him prancing on that trail…I go back there occasionally and I do see him clearly and while my heart hurts, it also makes me smile

    1. It sounds like you did that as much for Bruno as you did it for yourself, GG. Frankie was not a trail-walker by choice — he was NOT a doggy dog — but I do think he benefited from the exercise, as did I. One of these days, I’ll make it back to the trail….

  15. What a wonderful testament to Frankie’s unique spirit. I feel honored that I got to know him just a little bit through your blog. These stories only illustrate further what a delight your readers knew him to be. Wishing you peace in this journey.

  16. When we lost Blue last month, I wanted to quit blogging, I hated social networking (how can people be going on with their life when I’m dying?), I hated my job, I hated everyone. Most of all, I hated when I realized that Blue was gone, I hated when I remembered him and it hurt, and I hated when I had a moment of happiness, because I felt like I was betraying Blue.

    Grieving sucks so badly. But each day that passes gets a bit better. I would still trade anything to have him back.

    1. Kimberly, I am sorry that we have to e-meet under these shared sad circumstances but I thank you for coming by. Your comment brought tears to my eyes — I very much get your anger. I’m often furious too though social networking has been a savior for me because (at least on my Will My Dog Hate Me page) people get my pain and offer so much support. I went back and looked at your (excellent) blog and it looks like your loss came suddenly, which would be awful. But it’s clear that you gave Blue a wonderful life. I have regrets too but we did our best and our pets knew how much we loved them, of that I am certain.

  17. You have wonderful friends.Whether or not you had stories about Frankie at the ready, just the being given the space and opportunity to tell your own stories, if you wanted, and maybe more importantly to listen to others speak of Frankie (you didn’t mention this — maybe I’m making a leap here as to what happened at the wake) seems like it would have been comforting. As for your “private truth” that Frankie was a rock star. News flash: That truth? Not so private. I can’t imagine anyone who has been reading your blog would think of Frankie as being anything other than a rock star!

    1. I do have wonderful friends but, yes, you are making a leap because that was one of the problems: Frankie’s interactions with others, canine and human, were less than stellar. So there was a little, “Oh yes, I remember the time that you came over with Frankie and he spent the entire time in your lap” or “Yes, my dog got in Frankie’s face” but, really, my friends couldn’t have much to say about Frankie because his rock star qualities were mainly manifested when he was alone with his #1 fan. Who is and was much better at conveying them through writing than speaking.

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  19. A friend once told me that it is seeing them everywhere they used to be that is the hardest. I think of that often. We rearrange our lives, our schedules, our habits, to accommodate our dogs. When suddenly we can leave the door open to bring the groceries in it feels odd and out of place, not our normal routine. I had the hardest time with that change when Aspen died. I have no doubt that I will when I lose Daisy and Jasper and Cupcake (days I dread).

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