Those who aren’t “pet people” often wonder how the passing of a dog can cause such heartache. Yet even Rudyard Kipling (famed author of The Jungle Book) wrote, “Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware of giving your heart to a dog to tear…” If you love and lose someone – canine or otherwise – of course there will be sadness.
Google is frequently asked the question, “How do you grieve for a lost dog?” by people seeking guidance through the mourning process. Truth is, no one can give an exact blueprint for grieving. They can only share how they grieved, but that in itself can be a comfort. That’s why I asked Natasha if I could repost what she wrote about beautiful, happy Xena.
Eulogizing dogs as beloved family members is not a new thing. The ancient Greeks and Romans did it too. Many much-loved canine companions (sometimes called “foster children”) had epitaphs written on tombstones and memorials, like this one: “To Helena, foster child, soul without comparison and deserving of praise.”
So here is Xena’s memorial, for other people to know and remember her, too. – Emily Sowulewski
Natasha Yeh is Xena’s proud mom. She is a NCSU small animal emergency and critical care resident, dancer at heart, and dabbler with words. She hopes you find joy in learning about Xena and her quirks. This tribute exemplifies that grief is often a reflection of impactful, deep love.
I want to tell you Xena’s story.
It starts with the end of Mocha’s.
She came into my life five months after Mocha passed, at a time when I very much still ached quietly.
I felt the edges of emptiness that Mocha had left behind.
He was my heart dog, my living breath.
How do you fill such a cavern? That seemed unfair.
Well, the answer is – you don’t.
Instead, you GI obstruct within three months of adoption and require surgery (true story).
I never wanted Xena to fill empty shoes, and she never wanted to either.
She built her own world with me:
A world where she owned my bed and the couch,
A world where she used pillows like people do,
A world where she supported me in having three fosters.
She was well-traveled. She’s been coast to coast twice, explored New England, and lived on the Pacific Northwest beach.
She watched me pass vet school and graduate.
Then she watched me drown in internship, but kept me afloat.
Then she watched me start residency.
Xena and I aren’t the same.
She is sweet and dainty.
She has pigtails, tiny, folded ears, and little Grinch feets.
She’s missing her two front teeth but always asks politely.
She is a princess, and I am her armor.
It is easy to tell when she is happy. She’ll respond to high-pitched praises of being a “super girl.”
Then she’ll do a classic collie head tilt and deep yoga bow.
When she’s really excited, she’ll bark and grab a toy.
When she’s really relaxed, she’ll sleep on her back with her four legs in the air.
When she’s on trail, she’ll trot up to me with her little ears taking off like helicopter wings. I always ask if she’s going to fly away.
She likes to people-watch and will find the nearest window to rest her head on a cushion.
She has a best friend; her name is Sahara.
Perhaps Xena is the best representation of something that has taken me 29 years to learn – that softness is strength.
The ability to stay true to your awkward quirks and tell the world, This is me. I will keep on being exactly this.
I never ask her about her life before me.
I assumed there was trauma and neglect.
What matters is the life we built now. How we love and support each other through depression, stress, grief.
See, my life is chaotic. I am constantly running into the fire, and therefore, am often drained.
Xena is a cup of tea. My quiet moment. My rejuvenating peace.
She never demands, but her joy makes you want to give.
She says, Slow down. The sun is out. Let’s sunbathe.
Or she says, What is cancer? I’ll hike 16 miles with you and then puzzle for 24 hours.
Or she says, Your food looks better than mine; sharing is caring, didn’t you know?
We moved so much, I don’t really know if I could identify any location as our home.
But I think she knew that home was wherever we were together. And that means more to me than anything.
What do you call the thing that resurrects your soul out of ashes?
The thing at the end of a long day that says, Come as you are, you are loved.
The thing that reminds you that broken isn’t bad: you are always enough.
I call her Xena. Warrior princess.
Our love is different, so perhaps you feel that you don’t really know her. It is steady, quiet.
It is foundational. It made me brave moving to new cities and accepting new jobs.
I hope you knew you were the star of my life and are loved from your core to the fibers of your being.
I hope at the end I showed as much selflessness and love as you did for me all this time.
I told you, “It is you and me until the end.”
I hope you know I would’ve done it all to give us more time.
I feel as though I scoured the earth to give us more seconds, pulled at every strand that could be a lead. I really, really tried.
You are the most important. My shadow for four years. I love you, Bubs. I was a better person with you in my corner.
Photos courtesy of Natasha Yeh – Instagram @mocha_thebear – unless otherwise specified.