I could deal living in a world without happiness, but couldn’t imagine one without Happy.
Happy was my golden retriever who died last spring and all I can say is that when he passed, my soul fell to its knees sobbing, and I didn’t know if I’d ever stand up again.
I adopted Happy in 2007 and that first day was one of the happiest days of my life, which is how he got his name. The puppy was just so ecstatic to be in my house, he ran everywhere and jumped on everything. Resting for ninety seconds, taking off again. I couldn’t stop laughing. Happy was home and my home was now happy.
My elation soon turned to mild panic. Maybe I should’ve gotten a middle-aged dog? I thought. After all, I was no longer a puppy. What was I doing with one? How would I keep up? Exhausted and taking Hap out for walks before sunrise wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I thought about my own sunset years.
It didn’t take too long for us to adjust to each other and within a month, it was quite clear — we were in love.
Daily life took place on my bed. Typing on my laptop, Happy was there. Playing my guitar, Happy was there. If I started to cry while watching “Shane,” Happy was really there. Somehow when you weep, dogs become telepathic. They cuddle against you in a way more eloquent than words can convey. At least, Happy did.
When I took him to the beach and watched him run and splash around in the waves with other dogs, I had never felt quite so much at home on Planet Earth. Happy made me feel things that I’ve never felt before. Maybe all dogs make you feel that way, I really don’t know.
It’s been my experience, however, that all beautiful things aren’t built to last. When Hap turned five, he got sick. At first, we just thought it was a virus. The vet gave him some antibiotics and said he’d probably gobbled down some garbage. But we were back in her office the next day because Happy was particularly irritable and not eating. Panic ensued. There were many X-rays and even more tests. I didn’t care about the mounting bills. I didn’t care about anything — I just wanted Happy to be okay. I began to pray. I left him at the vet and went home where I proceeded to cry more than I have ever cried in my life.
My prayers went unanswered. After three excruciatingly long days, the vet finally called. Happy had peritonitis. Surgery, she said, would cost a small fortune and was more than likely, an exercise in futility. There was only one thing left to do.
I drove to the vet's in a wild panic, even running a red light. The strangest thing was that Happy wasn't next to me in the passenger seat. A few minutes later, I was holding his paw as the vet injected him, but I couldn’t look in his eyes. I couldn’t stand to see his spirit leave this world. It was quick and painless. And then he was gone. When the time comes, I wish that for all of us. The drive back home felt like a funeral procession.
Life, as we all know, continues. I worked. I ran. I ate little. Said less. But I survived. I’d lost my parents and friends. Losing Happy would not destroy me. Then one day, while I was on my way to the grocery store, I saw somebody’s Golden Retriever tied up outside. I bent down to pet him and began to cry. The crying turned to sobbing and I couldn’t stop. And then an amazing thing happened. The dog, as they are wont to do, leaned in and licked the tears from my face. It was exactly what Happy would’ve done. I hugged the dog and walked away.
It’s been four months since Happy died and I’m still sad, but it gets a little easier every day. Soon enough, I’ll be visiting a shelter. I know there must be a dog there who feels as abandoned and as heartsick as I do now. And I’m not sure if I will be saving him or if he will be saving me, but I’m positive that we will make each other happy.
This is the latest in a series of stories this month about how we cope with various types of tragedy and loss.