Goodbye Old Friend

Cathy Loerzel Gizmo

In the chaos and urgency of tragedy, it is difficult to slow down and allow ourselves to grieve. As our adult self makes decisions and takes action, can we still let ourselves feel the sadness, fear, and loneliness of our inner child? That was the gut-wrenching challenge faced by Cathy Loerzel, Executive Director of The Allender Center after a personal tragedy struck in the summer of 2015.

Two days ago, my one-and-a-half year-old son was playing in our living room, and I heard the loud growl and jaw snap of my beloved dog Gizmo, quickly followed by the piercing screams of my baby. My body went cold as I leapt over the couch to reach my son, only to see his forehead bleeding and three other teeth marks lodged far too near to his sweet, precious blue eyes. I pulled Liam into my arms, and my husband quickly pulled Gizmo outside as I tended to our son.

Liam sobbed uncontrollably, tears rolled down my face, and my husband started to assess the severity of our son’s wounds. As we realized the wounds were superficial and Liam would be okay, the reality of what had just transpired began to sink into my heart.

You see, Liam loves our dog. Gizmo is fluffy and loyal and has been a constant source of delight and fascination for his young and sweet heart. He is an old, big, lumbering dog who is in a great deal of pain and has become increasingly sensitive as his body deteriorates. Gizmo is also the dog that I got from the pound when I completed graduate school. He has been my sweet companion, protector, and comforter for the last eight years of my life. I love him with all that I am. He has seen me through break-ups, best friends moving out, my first Christmas on my own, getting married, and having my first baby. If you ever needed to find me, you could just look for the big golden dog at my feet.

The horror of seeing something I love so much harm my baby caused my heart to break in five different ways, and the reality of what this inevitably means makes we want to sob from the depths of my heart. For those of you who have never loved a pet, this may seem absurd to you. And of course, the safety of my baby will trump all other things, but the agony of the unavoidable loss of my dog is almost unbearable.  

As I thought about the fact that I will have to say goodbye to this love of my life, I realized this grief has a different feel than other grief I’ve experienced. I think our hearts have different memories and different compartments that are connected to our stories of loss. This particular loss is connected to my little girl heart that loved her doggy. It is my little girl heart that is breaking and my little girl heart that is losing her companion and protector.  

My little girl heart is fragile and scared, and this big fluffy dog gave her comfort when her woman heart just could not hold all the fear. When I was scared at night the first time I slept in my townhouse alone, I crawled onto the floor with Gizmo and buried my face in his soft fur and cried. His long body held me and offered me comfort and fur to wipe my tears. He was the one that woke me up every morning during difficult seasons, circling my bed to beckon for a walk. I did not have to take walks alone because he was with me, I did not have to sleep in a tent alone because he was by my side, keeping me warm and warding away danger. He calmed me when I was sad or anxious, and he laid with me when I broke my foot and was alone on the couch all day. He was by my side late at night when I could not sleep during my last trimester of pregnancy. And when Liam was born, Gizmo was with me at 2 a.m. feedings. He could sense our vulnerability and fiercely protected us from those who approached until he could tell if they were friends or foes.  

He has been the protector of my little girl heart and has loved me with a knowing and loyal soul. And now…now, he is old and in pain and has harmed my sweet son. There is no way I can put words to this heartache. My momma heart is solemn and steadfast and will protect my baby, but my little girl heart is broken and weeping on the floor.   

I don’t know how to bear this level of heartache, and I don’t know how to make the final decision to say goodbye. I know I have to—I will choose well with bravery and honor and say goodbye to my dog, but I will also allow my little girl heart to weep in utter despair at the loss of her beloved soul friend. Gizmo—my sweet pup—I will love you forever, and I’m so grateful for how you have loved me and so grateful for how much I got to love you. You are the best dog I will ever have. Please tell Jesus all about our grand adventures and save a spot for me in heaven.  

Note: Gizmo died a beautiful and honorable death on June 12, 2015. He died in my arms and in our backyard, covered with sweet tears of love and gratitude.