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.