Moving On by Janet Jones

I wake up every morning to the soothing tones of Jimmy Buffett’s song, “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.” I lay there and listen a moment, longing to keep my eyes closed and stay in the oblivion of sleep. And longing, like the song, to be able to move on.

I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to glance in the corner of the bedroom where he used to lay his furry head and see the empty space there. I don’t want to yearn for the loving brown eyes that would look up at me every morning…see me awake and virtually light up with excitement as he leaped toward me.

But I do get up. I get up…and instead of picking up my dog, I pick up the heavy sack of grief waiting beside the bed for me. I don’t want to pick it up. But it seems to be chained to me. So, I pick it up because it’s the only way to actually move—just like the ghost of Marley in “A Christmas Carol”—who must pick up his chains to walk because they are too heavy around his ankles.

It’s been 9 months since my dog died. All I hear is…“You should be over it by now,” “It was a dog, not a person,” and “Look at everything you have—you have no reason to be sad.”  Said no dog person ever.

Only a dog person knows the extent of this grief. Only a dog person knows what it feels like to carry this burden every morning instead of the dog that brought 9 years of daily joy to my life. And only a dog person knows that the best way to actually fill that dog-shaped void is with another little bundle of furry unconditional love. It doesn’t exactly fill it, because it’s impossible to clone someone you loved. But the joy of raising another dog heals the heart so much faster than trying to fill that void with anything else.

But what do you do when you promised your husband that there would be “no more dogs” after this one? That we would be retired then and traveling all winter and wouldn’t want the burden of arranging care for the dog. And what do you do when the dog dies 4 years too soon and you don’t have the distraction of traveling?

And you are still in the house where he laid his head, ran around the room, and pawed at the door to be let out? The empty house that is now haunted by his shadow. Where you still glance at the bottom of the glass door to see if he is waiting to be let in; where you still scoot all the way over on the recliner so he has room to jump up too. What do you do then?

Mari Andrew, author of the N.Y. Times best-selling book, Am I There Yet?, posted an illustration of grief on Instagram. Grief is pictured as a huge sack, then a suitcase, and finally a handbag.

She says, “My dad died two years ago today. It’s different for everyone, but my personal experience is that grief doesn’t ever go away, but it does change shape and it becomes something you can hold rather than something that overwhelms you–a part of you, rather than a burden. Whatever you’re carrying today, my heart is very much with you.”

Thank you, Mari Andrew. I know this heavy sack of grief is not going to go away anytime soon. And I don’t know if you are a dog person or not. But your words give me hope that with more time, the grief I pick up every morning will change shape and become easier to carry. Until I am simply slinging it over my shoulder as it transforms into a small handbag of grief—mixed with cherished memories of a well-loved dog.


  1. Julie Gunn says:

    Janet….well written….so many people will relate to this. It is so hard. Hang in there!

  2. Hey Janet,
    Colleen and I both have not been with out a dog in our lives since we met. And actually, now that I think of it,not since grade school. That is until the last one, Jadee. The loss of her bit Colleen deep. I think she was afraid to get her heart hurt again. So, just like any young good little girl would do…. she brings home, pardon me, rescues a semi homeless cat. With no tail to boot. You know.. fill the void. We too want to travel so not certain how that will work with a pet. I expect It will work out as I’m certain it will take on a new shape for you. Meow :0)

    • Janet says:

      Thank you Steve… it helps a lot to hear from friends who have been there too. It was great seeing you and Colleen at the reunion. Hope you have a great summer!

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