She walked in to the vet’s office as I was getting ready to walk out yesterday. Our eyes met, briefly, but that glance told me everything I needed to know. It was a look of anguish, embarrassment over being seen with such red-rimmed eyes full of tears. I quickly looked down, she looked away, struggling with a large chocolate lab on a leash in one hand and a baby carrier in the other. The person at the desk took on a hushed tone and gave her a sympathetic look as she choked out the “yes” that confirmed who she was. But I already knew. Why else would someone be crying as they entered a vet’s office? I just knew.
One of the office assistants helped her through the door from the waiting room into the hallway with the examining rooms. An older looking but happy, bouncy Labrador with a very obvious skin problem came through first, most of his belly bare and large patches of fur gone from the top of his back, too. He greeted my dog, they touched noses for a bit, then the entourage was gone. When they disappeared, I whispered to the person at the desk, confirming my suspicions. Yes, that’s why they were here. Yes, it was the skin condition, much pain and suffering, they’ve tried everything, she’s been with that dog through so much. I could barely sign the credit card slip for the shake in my hand and the tears in my own eyes.
I went out to my car and cried with her, for her, and I waited. I imagined her having to come out with just an empty collar and leash where only minutes before, there had been a friend. No one should have to go through that alone, or worse, with a baby in tow. It was early in the day – was she going to be alone trying to cope all day today while her husband was at work? I imagined just going up to her when she exited the vet’s office, giving her a hug, telling her I was so sorry for her loss, giving her some tissues.
But all my pets have died naturally, so I had no idea how long she’d be. I started constructing other scenarios – maybe someone was meeting her here, maybe she would go to the grief counseling place immediately behind the vet’s office. Finally someone DID come out, and my heart jumped, but it wasn’t her. I pretended to look for something on the floor of my car, just so my own red-rimmed eyes wouldn’t give me away. 10 minutes went by, then 15. I started to feel like a stalker and it occurred to me that maybe she wouldn’t appreciate my gestures at all. Maybe she was a private type of person who didn’t like hugs. What complete stranger does that, anyway? So I got embarrassed and I drove away.
I felt sad. Not depressed – pushed down – but simply sad. Grief over a tangible loss like that – a dog, a parent, a child, a friend – grief over those makes sense. Is it possible to experience that same kind of sadness, of grief, over lost ideals, lost identity, lost dreams, over mistakes made unintentionally?
I paused to think of her this morning when I got up and he got up, too, stretching as he does, then coming to push his nose under my hand in greeting. I imagined fleetingly how she had to come home to a quiet house, no sound of four feet running to greet her, no tail wagging in complete acceptance. I felt a brief stab in my own heart for the pain in hers when she remembers to feed a friend who is no longer there except in memory.
My own will get some extra love today (but no extra snacks, because he’s got a few pounds to shed). And I’ll put away that grief of loss for another time, hopefully far in the future, when it’s my turn to hold an empty collar and leash.