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.
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
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 GoPetFriendly.com 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.