Friday 28 August 2020

Big Bear and Little Bear

Today is our youngest - and biggest - baby's first birthday. 
Happy Birthday, Petey! 🎉🎉

As with many of our dogs, he wasn't exactly planned, at least not on my part. But I did get an inkling that a new member to our family was on his way when I received this picture last September:
Petey is in Rich's arms at 4 weeks old

My niece Larissa was here for an epic visit, and her and Rich went to Alberta to visit a friend for a couple of days. They sent me the above photo, and my first words were: "You are NOT bringing another puppy home, right???!!!" They assured me they weren't. 
And they weren't lying. 

Four weeks later, after Larissa was back home in Germany and I falsely assumed that the issue of the puppy had been resolved, Rich needed to go see his friend again to "trade some sheep". 
He left with a few sheep in the back of his truck - 

 - and returned with this. 
I wanted to be annoyed. We have a lot of dogs, and did we really need another one?
Of course not. 

But my weakness is big, fluffy dogs. I love them more than almost anything else in life. 
So I was mad at Rich for about 5 minutes, and then I fell hopelessly, completely in love with our new pup. We named him Petey after his old owner Pete, but what I called him just as much was this: Little Bear. 

If you've been a long-time reader of this blog you know Bear. He was the first thing I bought with my first cheque I received after I graduated from x-ray school and started to work as a real x-ray technologist. 
I will never forget the moment when I walked into the cargo area of the Vancouver airport. I had graduated one week before, I was scheduled to play the organ for a funeral in two hours, and I had never been to this part of the airport before. I was sweating and nervous and cursing my poor judgement for scheduling too many things in one day. 

But as soon as I stepped into the building, everything changed. The first thing I noticed was a loud, insistent howling. The next thing was that the people working there didn't look annoyed, but indulgent. Huh - that was weird. 
I must have looked lost and confused, because seconds after I entered someone called out to me: "Are you here to pick up the adorable puppy?" Well, I guess I was. 

I nodded dumbly, and the happy expressions increased. Honestly, I've never felt more appreciated in my life than I did during those few minutes I spent in the cargo portion of the Vancouver Airport. While I was signing the necessary documents, half a dozen people were fawning over the cage containing a very cute, but very loud puppy. I grabbed him as soon as I was done and hurried out, uncomfortable with all the attention. 
It turned out that Bear was uncomfortable with attention as well. Our first meeting was an anomaly. 
For the rest of his life he would stay in the shadows, always hanging back from the action. 

He wasn't my first dog-love. I'm very lucky that I've already had quite a few great dog loves, and I know I will have a few more. 

But Bear was special. He was standoffish in his affection. Much like a cat, he would only come to you when he felt like it. He was very affectionate, but only for a short time, and then he would retreat into his bubble. He was the most introverted dog I've ever known, and I saw myself in him a lot. 
He would greet me every day as soon as I came out of the house, and every time I returned home. 
He would nuzzle my hand for a moment, rub his head against my side, and then he'd retreat. 
I loved that dog. 

He wasn't healthy. When he was only 3 years old he developed arthritis in his hips. The wet winters in the Lower Mainland made it worse. For the next few winters he spent most of the the time lying down, and sometimes limped on 3 legs. 

But then we moved to Merritt in December of 2016. At the same time as we arrived, winter did as well, and Bear reverted back to being a puppy. With every cold, dry, sunny day his spirits lifted, his joints recovered, and after just a few days he was walking around pain-free. After a couple of weeks he was running up the driveway like he hadn't done in years. 
Bear was in heaven. 
And so was I. I loved seeing him so happy. 
The last 3-and-a-half years he's had the best time of his life. 
Bear loved every season here. In the winter his body would create icy dips all over the place, where his body heat had melted the snow and shaped itself into Bear-shaped moulds. 

In the summer he stayed in the shade, being protected by his heat-insulating coat, coming out to play with his younger siblings at dusk.
On May 26, Bear passed away.
He was 10 years old, and he lived a lot longer than either of us expected. 
But it was devastating for me. 

I was going through such a rough time mentally that I couldn't share it with anyone. We buried him at home, his grave still unmarked, but we know where his grave is and pay him a silent tribute every day. 
It took me weeks to tell our closest loved ones. I've never talked about it publicly until today. 
He was such a private guy, and I simply couldn't talk about it sooner. 

And then there was Little Bear. 
You know how it is with little kids - they won't let you wallow in your grief. They demand your attention every day, they make you laugh despite your will, they yank you right back into the messiness of living. 

That's what Little Bear did for me. I call him Petey half the time - but the other half he reminds me so much of Bear, that I call him Bear. 
He saved me after Bear's death. 
While I was grieving my beautiful, unique, shy big boy's death, there was this equally beautiful, but so much easier boy who was happy all day, every day.  
I'm thankful every single day that my incorrigible husband brought this big, fluffy, unnecessary puppy into our lives back in October. 
He knew, just as I did, that Bear's days were numbered. 
I was in denial. 
He wasn't. 
When Bear died I was ready for a drawn-out pity party. It was in the midst of the Covid-lock-down, one of my best dog friend's had died, I was feeling all-around shitty, and life sucked, so what better moment to wallow in pity? 

Enter Petey. As much as I tried to bury myself in my covers and howl in agony over Bear's death, this huge, gorgeous boy would smother me in slobbery dog kisses. I don't know about you, but I find them irresistible.
Also, I would catch myself way too many times confusing him with Bear for a second when I laid eyes on him. It was almost as if Bear was still with me - in a more energetic, less standoffish way. 

This next bit may be inappropriate for you, but it occurred to me and helped me, so just look away if you're sensitive.

The kids and I watched the movie Beerfest a lot over the years. We've travelled to Germany for years, experiencing several versions of what you see in the movie. (Germans may be serious and task-oriented 51 weeks of the year, but during beerfest they LET LOOSE.)
If you've watched the movie, you know of the character named Landfill. He dies an improbable death halfway through the movie, only to be replaced by a guy who is exactly like him, only better. 

Well - that inappropriate thought helped me. Petey looks like Bear, but in many ways he's nicer. And during the last few months, as I was facing my old demons in therapy, and trying to become the best version of myself, having Petey by my side gave me an immeasurable amount of joy. He will never replace Bear, but having him in our family has helped me with Bear's death more than anything else ever could have.  
I'm so happy that he's part of our family. 

Happy Birthday sweet boy!  



  1. I'm so sorry for your loss of Bear, Miriam. He was such a gentle giant and I know he filled your heart. Little Bear must be such a blessing as he helps to heal your loss.

    1. He has been an enormous source of joy, just like the other dogs.
      Their talent for unconditional love is the best medicine in the world to help with grief.

  2. Oh Miriam, I am so sorry about Bear, but you've captured the grief and the joy so perfectly in this post. I always say that one of the greatest injustices in this world is that dogs have to die.

    1. Agreed. But on the bright side, we can fill our lives with many more dogs, each of which has something special to offer. Luckily they all share the gift of unconditional love ❤

  3. Oh I am so sorry to hear about Bear, my heart hurts for you. I completely understand what you mean though. We had our Eva girl and when she passed last Feb. my husband was ready the very next day to get another pup, I wasn't so sure. Getting our Rory girl was bitter sweet, it meant we didn't have our Eva but how can you resist the puppy breath and the demands a puppy makes on you leave very little time to lament. I have a video of myself holding Rory one evening while she slept as I sobbed because I loved her but missed my Eva so very much. Rory has grown into everything Eva wasn't but better. I feel guilt sometimes thinking that but it doesn't mean I loved Eva any less. Gahhhh now I am rambling, sending you love from Wisconsin :-)

  4. I understand every single word, emotion, and rollercoaster feeling you described!! Your well put words made me smile the biggest, goofiest smile 😃 Yes, that's EXACTLY how I felt.

    I strongly believe that part of our guilt comes from us being worried about what other people may think of us, judging us for moving on too quickly.
    And that should have NOTHING to do with our grieving process. Dogs aren't people, and replacing one dog with another is not the same as replacing one person with another.

    And even if it would be? It's none of anyone's damn business.
    We all grieve and heal in our own way.
    Loving someone should never be judged. We need more love in this world, not less.

    Thanks so much for your comment, it made my day!!!❤❤❤


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