I worried when we moved a few years ago that I would be leaving the memories of our past dogs behind. The “old house” was made a home by our two large dogs, Lyger, and later Tahlula, and a sprinkling of fosters too. It would be hard leaving the corner of the hallway where Lyger slept, the stairs on the patio where Tahlula would sun herself and look at sparrows. I had to let those spots go, because no amount of staying there would bring them back.
But, one early morning, a few weeks after we’d moved, I clearly heard the rambling footsteps of Tahlula on my bedroom hardwood. Her lameness had its own tempo, a little extra thud on the last step. Guh-du-du-chk. I fell back asleep smiling, feeling her spirit was near, watching over my family. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt her visit. Years before, when I was experiencing what doctors told me was a miscarriage, she’d come to me in a dream, lying curled up against my belly, as if protecting the baby from harm. The baby survived and I’ve always known Tahlula’s quiet, sleepy spirit is near her.
However, I’ve yet to feel the presence of Lyger, who was, without a doubt, my dog. He’s been gone 4 years now, and while I leave my heart open for signs of him, there’s nothing. I hoped he would be the guarding spirit over my second baby, but the space where he lived around me felt oddly empty. I have guilt over his euthanasia, and feared he wasn’t coming back to me.
But, a few weeks ago, my daughter asked to look through the boxes where my “dogs” (ashes) were. I have compiled their collars and tags in the cedar boxes with their cremains and they sit on my bedside table. I reluctantly obliged, worrying it would be painful, but wanted to give her the chance to ask questions about death and loss. I told her about the little baggie of fluffy fur I’d saved from Lyger. About the pretty brocade collar I’d had custom made for Tahlula. She picked up a little card that the vet had tucked in with Lyger’s ashes, with the Rainbow Bridge poem (Have your tissues handy):
'There is a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth. It is called the Rainbow Bridge because of its many colors. Just this side of the Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows, hills and valleys with lush green grass.
When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this place. There is always food and water and warm spring weather. All the animals who have been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. Her bright eyes are intent; her eager body begins to quiver. Suddenly she begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, her legs carrying her faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together, never again to be separated.'
I didn’t let my daughter hear the stop in my voice when I found a sense of peace in a particular line. “ ...they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.” I became suddenly aware, just as I had when I heard Tahlula’s steps, of where Lyger’s spirit was. He was in those green pastures, somewhere on the other side, but he was waiting for an unexpected friend. My dad. My dad, the king of dog sitters, always liberal with his “who’s a good boy”s had passed away unexpectedly the summer before. Lyger was all wiggles whenever my dad came, stopping him in the doorway to get attention from his “buddy.” Lyger had been my dog, but now he’d found a new person that needed the loyalty more than I did.
In this way, this cheesy little card that the vet had popped inside (and pops inside every box) brought closure and comfort in a very unexpected way. The idea of heaven or the Rainbow Bridge means different things to different people, some I’m sure overlooking it as trite, like I probably did until I’d lost a pet. But, somehow, these generic words at a random moment 3 years after his passing brought me comfort and joy in feeling like Lyger had a new purpose. I found comfort in thinking of them together, on pain-free walks through green pastures, fishing on the side of a river, buddies through thick and thin.
I never expected a Hallmark-ish sentiment to mean anything to me. But I hope, somehow, others who have experienced a similar loss and sudden absence will find a new means of comfort and peace in the idea of the Rainbow Bridge.