Unpacking Muttsy

I had begun to notice Muttsy’s decline about three months earlier. She’d developed a little cough, which wasn’t unusual, considering we’d gone on a month’s stay in Austin, which had a polar-opposite climate to Northern Colorado’s in the winter. Like most minor health annoyances, I figured this one would come and go.

About the time we settled back home, her cough was a little worse. She appeared to improve at about the same time we all began to see the world become aware of a looming virus we knew little about. Before we could unpack our bags, the country started to change a little, then a lot, each day.

Thankfully, my younger son Drake was trapped with me, due to cancelled flights and shutdowns. All my design and web work vanished, and I took to making masks from a Chinese pattern I found online. One morning, Muttsy couldn’t get up. She’d noshed on fajita steak and slept in my bed the night before. It was telling, though, that she’d begun sitting down midway through her walks, and I’d carried her up the stairs more than a few times of late.

She left us that same morning, through a very kind veterinary practice that refused to abandon the owners’ privilege of saying goodbye to their animals, even in the midst of a lockdown. On Drake’s insistence that we wanted her ashes, she was cremated. The vet’s office called and told me that her ashes had come back. I couldn’t wait to retrieve what was left of Muttsy. The pretty, young vet assistant handed me a pink, flowered box that was surprisingly heavy, and even told me they were sorry for my loss. I appreciated that.

For months, I avoided being near Muttsy’s box, even when dusting the furniture. It sat on a pretty glass shelf next to the plaster paw print we had made. The macabre nature of the close proximity of Muttsy’s little body wasn’t what disturbed me; it was more dealing with the emotions that I’d shelved when we lost her. There were layers of grief, and a gratitude for the comfort she’d provided through many years of sorrow, loneliness, and trauma. There were so many times that she was the only “person” in my life who really understood me.

She just loved me. And I loved her.

It would be almost a year, and during another (and hopefully, final) move, that I finally unpacked Muttsy and could squarely look at her in her little box. There wasn’t any diminishment of pain, but I was at least capable of peeling a couple of layers off my protective veneer. She represented so many parts of my middle-aged life. I’d love to say there is a lesson therein, but life just doesn’t fit into a flowery box like Muttsy’s ashes did. All it has taught me is to live more in the moment and cherish little pleasures and little laughs, and to hug her little sister Ella more tightly.

I also sometimes worry about what effect my own ashes may have on my two sons. Certainly, I don’t want to be disturbing or grim, or cause them to be derailed in any way by my passing. I don’t have a shred of regret, really, and I’ve been a trouper at keeping my brain and body moving these last few decades. I only hope that I was interesting enough, not boring, and that I didn’t ever hold them back from who they were meant to be.

Is this little story really representative of a larger picture? I hope not. I prefer to think that it’s just a sweet story of Muttsy, and how critical her little, stinky, furry self was to my soul. Small comforts weave their way into our daily lives and change us incrementally, until we are kinder, gentler creatures ourselves.

Unpacking the rest of my life has not been very poignant. I continue to ponder the mysteries of life and death, and why we hang on so diligently to our own lives, when there is a much easier gig coming. Becoming less profound and taking myself way less seriously is an utter mandate to myself in my later years.

Still, Muttsy’s box and her little body sit on that dresser, probably forever, not to be moved. She stays to remind me that she’s always there in spirit, that I was never alone, and that she still looks good in pink, and that it’s okay that I sort of ignored that she was sick because I couldn’t bear to lose her. We got every living drop of the good life she had, and that was that. And maybe that’s enough for me.

Jennifer Moore is “Momma” to two adult sons and a pug named Ella, and lives in the Austin area. She is a graphic designer and writer who has illustrated and authored niche books and prefers genres that allow dark humor. She especially enjoys mentoring women in painful circumstances that most of society does not understand. She likes disaster movies, arcade games, and, occasionally, slot machines.