That’s my little boy in the photo below. He’s no longer on this Earth, but thankfully, I have enough photos of him to last me a lifetime and then some. Sometimes, browsing pictures and videos of him makes me feel at peace. Other times, I break down in tears when I see photos so HD that I feel like I can reach out and pet the hairs on his furry little face. It’s a dreadful feeling when I think about the fact that I’ll never kiss him on top of his head again.
Neville Longbottom was as magnificent as his name. He was a timid stray at the rescue shelter; a dachshund mix with a grade 5/6 heart murmur and a severe case of separation anxiety.
I suppose the separation anxiety is why I feel so lost throughout my days now that he is gone. We lived alone in a small apartment in Las Vegas, just he and I. And when I started working from home four years ago, we became the most codependent duo in existence.
All of that changed when I found out he had lung cancer on December 12th. Just 24 hours after that horrible vet appointment, I made the most difficult decision of my life and said goodbye.
Neville and I were in the middle of an out-of-state move into a new apartment. I had already planned where I was going to put his food bowl and his collars at the new place. I knew that his crate was going to fit perfectly in the living room, next to the patio door. I planned a new life for us both, and then he was gone.
Because of the chaos that came with the move, the new apartment, and now a new job search, there is so much noise around me to keep me distracted. But I still notice the quiet when I’m alone because, for seven years, I wasn’t ever alone. His little howls, his tiny steps as he walked up and down the wooden stairs, and the sound of his name tag clicking against his bow-tie collar every time he scratched an itch — I wish I could hear them just one more time.
Mourning him has been incredibly complicated for me.
He’s the first pet I’ve lost, and it’s also my first real experience losing someone.
All my life, I’ve avoided mentioning anyone who has passed away to my loved ones because I didn’t want to remind them of their loss. I thought grief looked like getting through a day, a week, a month without remembering. I thought grief was about avoiding triggers, and memories, and I didn’t want to bring up something so devastating.
I feel naive now that I realize — when we lose someone, they never leave our thoughts. They are always with us. There is no such thing as being “reminded” of our loss. In the back of our minds, we always remember them.
Again, everyone mourns differently. This may not be the case for everyone who has lost a dog, but for me, Neville is on my mind and at the tip of my tongue always. I can’t stop talking about him. I want people to ask me about him. I want people to bring him up and mention how silly he used to be when he got into a doggy pool, or how adorable he looked in his signature bow-tie collar.
Sharing his life with others through my stories and my conversations is how he lives on. Talking and writing about him is how I will move forward without him by my side.
It’s been six weeks without him, and I’m still in distress, in case you couldn’t tell. I know I’m not ready for a new pet, but I identified as a dog mom for so long that I feel a bit defeated.
When I used to call his daycare to book a stay, I would greet them by saying, “Hi, it’s Jessica, Neville’s mom.” I still think of myself as Neville’s mom.
Can I call myself a dog mom even if I don’t own a single dog toy or a bed? I have his collars, but no leashes. Dog moms should have both, right? Am I a former dog mom? A dog lover in mourning? I’m not sure.
I’m still adjusting to this new normal, still learning how to live without someone who used to be my first priority. He was my roommate, my best friend, my little cranky senior citizen.
And suddenly, it was just me.
Now, on a cold winter morning, my warm bed allows me to sink deeper into the crevices of the cushioned mattress without a worry for a morning walk or a doggy potty break. And I hate it. I remember I used to imagine what it would be like to not have to get up immediately and take a dog out for a potty break. I thought it would be pleasant to sleep in. But it’s not without him.
The dog hair in my car that used to drive me crazy is now vacuumed up. I no longer have evidence of his existence when someone steps into my car and I say, “Sorry! Neville’s hair is everywhere!” Now there are no disclaimers or apologies for the doggy smell. My car is clean, and I’m the one who is a mess.
When I signed the lease for my new apartment, his name was still on the paperwork. I had to send an awkward follow-up email to the management office, asking them to remove him from the documents since he had passed away. A few minutes later, after they apologized profusely, they sent over a new lease. And just like that, his name was gone. The page designated for pets was now blank. I was now a tenant without a pet, and he had been erased.
I wince at every marketing email I get from pet stores and organic pet food companies. Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe. I click ‘remove from list’ three times, knowing I’ll probably get another email in the morning alerting me that, “it’s almost time to refill Neville’s food!”
If only these companies knew that I had so much dog food after Neville passed that I donated all of it to Noah’s Animal House, a boarding facility located at the largest women & children’s homeless shelter in Nevada. Most homeless shelters don’t allow pets to live on-site with their owners, which is something absolutely heartbreaking to think of as a pet owner. Noah’s Animal House is different — they keep homeless individuals together with their pets.
The thought of Neville’s food, dog beds, toys, and collars going to hungry pets whose owners are homeless made getting rid of his things a little less painful. That, to me, was the best way I could celebrate Neville. (If you can donate anything to Noah’s Animal House, please do. They do incredible work for the homeless population in Las Vegas.)
This is how I am mourning my best friend.
I donated his belongings to pups in need, I write about him every day, and I keep a picture of his little face in a tiny golden locket around my neck. I talk about him often. I bring him up in conversations because I miss even the simple joy of calling his name.
This is how I cope and grieve. My methods may not look the same as someone else who is experiencing a similar loss, but this is what is getting me through. I’m not getting a new dog until I feel ready. And as much as I wish that the time was right today, it’s not.
For everyone who continues to read my stories about Neville and shares stories of their own beautiful pets, thank you.
Talking about pets — the ones who are by our sides and the ones who have gone onto the rainbow bridge — is incredibly healing for me. It helps me to remember how beautiful my relationship was with Neville. And it gives me hope for my next furry family member, knowing one day I’ll be ready to adopt another rescue pup and love them like I loved Neville.
Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas, NV. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from NAU and her master’s degree in family and human development from ASU. In 2018, she left her career in mental health to pursue a career in writing. She is currently working on her debut novel and a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium to read more of her work.
Image courtesy of La Miko.