I’m Not Getting a Dog

Dog on lawn similar to that desired by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley

I was out on my morning run the other day and I saw a woman about my age walking her Golden Retriever. It was a beautiful dog, and the woman, dressed in casual walking shoes and an old t-shirt from a local university, looked content. She sported a large wedding ring and smiled at me as I ran by her. I waved.

I don’t know this woman at all, but I know this – she looked happy. And she clearly loved that dog.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Shawn a few years prior. Claire’s recent blood test had shown that the allergy shots were working for her, and we were hopeful that her dog allergy might totally dissipate in a year or two. “We could get a dog!” Shawn said to me one night, excitedly.

I laughed at him. “I don’t need another thing to take care of!” I said.

“I’d take care of it,” he said, “and we could get one of those hypo-allergenic dogs. Think of how much the kids would love it.”

I vetoed the idea at the time. Tommy had just turned three, and I felt like I couldn’t handle one more thing. (The irony of this statement, and my innocence about how “crazy” my life was is not lost on me now. Oh what I wouldn’t give to be stressed out like I was a few years ago.)

After Shawn died, I spent about six months where all I could feel was shock and sadness. I had no room for other emotions. But at about the six-month mark, I started to feel something else: loneliness.

The feeling of loneliness actually got worse the longer I was widowed. I thought, initially, that it would get better as I got more used to being without my partner.

But in fact, I felt worse for many months following my initial realization of how lonely I was. Finally, after months of suffering through these emotions, I started to voice these feelings with my friends and on my blog.

Do you know what at least two different people recommended? That I should get a dog.

I initially dismissed this idea. But one night, probably in the middle of my terrible month of March this past spring, I thought, “well, maybe I can think about a dog.” I desperately wanted a deeper level of comfort. I wanted reassurance that I was going to be okay. Maybe a dog could bring me that, I reasoned.

I googled hypoallergenic dogs. I thought about where a dog bed might go. I even looked into the cost of dog walkers (over my budget, FYI.)

I held on to the idea for a few weeks. I didn’t tell anyone because I knew my friends would think I was losing it. The one thing I’d always said was that I would never get a dog. And yet, the loneliness of my life in the early spring led me to brainstorm some crazy ideas.

This idea was short-lived. My dad didn’t want a dog. Claire wasn’t out of the woods yet with her allergies. And the logistics still seemed overwhelming.

Slowly, as the summer came and I started to really feel like I could breathe again, I let the idea go. I didn’t need a dog anymore. And it wasn’t about the logistics.

What I wanted back in March was comfort – and a return to the life I had before. I wanted someone keeping my bed warm, someone who’d give me affection after a long workday, someone who would be by my side, always. But I’ve come to accept that that is not happening. Or at least not anytime soon.

And a dog isn’t a replacement for a human. At least not for me.

So as I ran by this woman the other day – the one walking the dog with the big wedding ring – I could imagine being her. Safe and content, with a ring on my finger and a dog on a leash. I have no idea what her life is like, but when I looked at her with her dog, I could imagine what my life could have been if things had turned out differently.

But I’m not that woman. I’m not sure if I ever was, but I know that I’m definitely not now.

And for the first time in a long time, when I saw her I didn’t want to be her. I don’t mean to say that I like being a widow. I don’t. I’d give anything to have Shawn back.

But for at least a few minutes that morning, I didn’t want her life. I didn’t want to simply recreate what I had before.

I want something new. And it isn’t a dog. For the first time ever, what I want isn’t just a replica of my old life. I want something different.

I’m not sure what that is yet, but I can tell you this: we are definitely not getting a dog.

12 Replies to “I’m Not Getting a Dog”

  1. Given the logistics of your life now–with the kids, Claire’s allergies, and your job–I think you made the right decision not to add a dog to the mix. But I do understand the loneliness part.

    Since I’m an older widow, I have to say that my little long-haired Chihuahua has been a big part of helping me stay sane these days. We got him from our local SPCA about 7 years ago. He’s just the sweetest-tempered little guy. Any dog that will let you hold him like a baby, well, that’s a keeper in my book. I live alone, of course, and he’s always there if I need to talk/vent to someone. We snuggle often on the bed and the cat joins us for a “cuddle puddle.” I’ve even become “one of those” ladies who walk around town with their dog in a pet stroller. He enjoys it and I get a good 30 to 40 minutes of exercise on top of what I usually do at the gym. My husband had told me before he died that he wanted me to have a companion; a human companion. At this stage of the game, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m content to have my furry little fellow in my life right now to help fill the void in some small way.

    1. I love that other people have dogs – especially when I hear stories like this! I’m so glad you have your dog with you – he sounds lovely.

  2. Yes, yes, and yes! I’m almost 7 months from the worst day of my life, and my loneliness hit me much sooner, probably because we had no children and coming home to an empty house was so difficult. Many of my friends and family have suggested I get a pet (even a goat to help with the lawn maintenance), so I don’t think anyone would think you were crazy for getting a dog. There are so many times (OK, all the time) when I want my Bob and my life with him back. Thank you for your words…you have no idea how many times they have brought comfort to me in knowing I’m not alone and that the feelings I have are much like yours. This isn’t a place where we ever thought we’d be in our 40s.

    1. Nope. It’s definitely not anywhere near where I imagined I’d be. And yet – here I am. But, if it’s any help, I do feel a bit better lately. I’m not sure what it is. I still feel sad and lonely plenty but….I feel more like myself, I think. Hence, no dog!

  3. Dogs are great. I’ll probably always have one. But there’s this to consider too: When you have to make the painful decision to “put a dog down” (euphemisms again!) you and yours will revisit what it’s like to have a death in the family all over again, along with (in my case) self-doubt, self- reproach, and unwelcome musings on euthanasia.

    1. I hadn’t even considered this – or what it might be like for my kids! Good point. A dog is a looooong way off (like, Tommy would have to be able to take care of him!) so I’m not really thinking about the specifics, but this is a good thing to keep in mind.

  4. We had two dogs when Pete died. I found myself wanting zero dogs. My life is so hectic being a single mom that the idea of keeping two more beings alive was too much for me. I felt like they were no longer a comfort to me, just an obligation. Let me know when you figure out a good alternative to combatting the loneliness…

    1. Hmmm….well, as this post suggests, all I’ve been able to figure out to help the loneliness is time. Which is the worst answer to give. But….it has gotten better lately, even without a dog.

  5. Well a cat certainly doesn’t help either, at least mine doesn’t – even though he loves to encroach and be petted. We had a wonderful dog a few years back who would curl up in the knee hole of my desk, but he wouldn’t have helped either. Even human companionship – I rent rooms to students – only occasionally distracts from that loneliness. And, as Melissa suggests, the right sort of human companionship doesn’t seem likely for those of us who are older. At its best, this blog is about as goo as it gets.

    1. Well I’m glad I can provide something with the blog! But yes….dogs just aren’t a substitute.

  6. This month marks a year since my husband passed. We had a dog a long time ago but it was gut wrenching to give him away when we moved to a place that didn’t allow pets. I have fought the urge to get one ever since, even when my son begs for a puppy. Yet, this summer I truly contemplated it like you did. My son is an only child and HE is so alone these days it hurts my heart. At the same time, I started a new relationship, believe it or not, about six months ago and even that does not cure the loneliness I still feel every time I come home. We aren’t getting a dog now but I won’t rule it out in the future. What I do know is that even human companionship can not replace the hole our loved ones left…

    1. This is an important point. I thought, for a long time, that a new man in my life might cure my loneliness. But, of course, it doesn’t. Because Shawn is always missing and that is always, always going to leave a hole in my life.

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