As Romeo forces air into his lungs, his rib cage rattles and his entire body shivers. While I watch him breathe, tears roll down my cheeks. He lifts his head at the sound of my sobs and starts to lick the tears from my face. The irony is that he is soothing me, not knowing that I cry for him. Chondrosarcoma bone cancer invades his nasal cavity and threatens our precious time together.
That was yesterday. Today he is gone. Some people would scoff at my sentimentality and say, “He was just a dog,” but I could never say that about Romeo. Sure, he was a dog, but he was so much more than just a dog to me. Having grown up alongside of my children, he was the personification of their youth. Romeo exists in their school essays, in their high school senior portraits, and in almost every one of our family’s home videos. And as my children grew up and went off on their own, he was never far from their thoughts. During calls to home, they would always ask about their dog Romeo. This reflects how much Romeo was a part of their lives and a part of our family. Romeo was also my muse, often sitting on my lap as I wrote blog posts, and occasionally the inspiration of a post himself. As the house gradually emptied itself of kids, Romeo remained by my side, a comforting and constant companion. Throughout the day, he was my shadow. We worked on projects together, did the laundry together, watched television together, and every night, he nestled next to me as we drifted off to sleep. Last of all, Romeo was my little love. This smart, long-bodied, short-legged, mischievous mutt managed to capture a piece of my heart that will forever be his.
I’m incredibly sad now that he’s gone, but I’m also very grateful for every day that we shared. As my head and my heart deal with my loss, I sit on the garden swing and say the words I would murmur to him during his last few months:
When you are no longer by my side,
I’ll sit on the garden swing
And rock back and forth,
Just like we used to.
I’ll watch the squirrels play
And listen to the birdies sing,
Just like we used to.
I’ll turn my face to the sun and close my eyes
And savor each and every moment,
Just like you used to.
I’ll long to stroke the fur on your back
And tell you how much I love you,
Just like I used to.
And then I’ll cry a few more tears,
Just because . . .
I really miss you.
(To My Dog Romeo written by Linnell Chang)
If you’ve ever loved a pet, please share this tribute to my dog Romeo.