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September 28, 2017Uncategorized

The Dog I Loved Least

What happens after the end?

I never saw Eko die. I never saw him grow old and gray. I saw him bounding joyfully towards me across the beach one day and then I never saw him again.

So even though tomorrow marks a year since he’s been gone, a part of me still looks for Eko. My dogs and my newborn son have unknowingly been recruited to the search party. Lincoln’s fussing wakes us in the early morning darkness and I load the rescue team into the car.

Penny and Zero race into the pre-dawn haze blanketing the beach. If he’s out there, they’ll find him. Lincoln rests snugly on my chest and we walk quietly along the water. I watch my dogs who are here and wait for the one who is not.

Because in my heart lives a boy who refuses to believe his puppy is gone.

“Look,” that part of me whispers as the sun rises over the horizon, “he’s here.”

Despite knowing the futility of it all, I look. Ready for Eko to step out from a shadow, emerge from the fog or simply be standing next to me, having hitched a ride in on the first light of day.

Of course, in all our trips I’ve never seen Eko. The boy disagrees. This preternaturally hopeful boy lives within this resolutely pragmatic man and life goes on.

I found time does not heal all wounds. It simply increases my tolerance for pain. If I reach past the patchwork scars on my soul I can still touch the nerve where Eko was torn from me. It remains a livewire of electric hurt.

I grabbed and held that current of suffering in the weeks and months following Eko’s death. “Good,” I would think, embracing the coursing agony. I wore the pain as a badge of honor. A testimonial to the fact I would never love another dog as much as I loved Eko.

Otherwise adrift, I anchored myself to that certainty. I placed Eko’s collar around a photo from our wedding and displayed it as an exhibit of my unshakeable truth.

I resisted the temptation to wall off the part of my heart where my love for Eko lived. Instead I made it a museum. A place I could quietly visit to see my puppy when I needed to retreat from the world.

And boy did I retreat mightily. I locked myself in that shrine in my heart and tried to bar the doors. But Emily pushed me, Penny pulled me, and thousands steadied me as I learned to live outside myself again.

I had no choice. Because the morning after Eko died we found out Emily was pregnant.

I wish I could write some mellifluous metaphor about the moment I learned I would be a father. Claim it as a moment of existential revelation. Or at least feign some greeting card wisdom like, “I realized every end is a new beginning.”

In truth, I felt nothing and was certain of nothing. It was neither a poetic ending nor an auspicious beginning.

By segmenting my heart I found a way forward. I held Eko in one part, just for me, and offered to share the remaining part of myself with the world. It seemed like an even trade. The world took Eko from me, so I took my love from the world.

My strategy seemed to work. My bond with Penny strengthened, I opened a new part of my heart to Zero, and my love for Emily grew in leaps and bounds as we prepared for our first child.

Still, I would often sneak back to that museum in my heart to visit Eko and the love I had quarantined for him there. But as I gave more of myself to the other part of my heart, I found I spent less time in my little asylum.

Until one morning I realized I hadn’t thought of Eko at all the previous day. I was heartbroken. I feared it was the beginning of an emotional amnesia which would culminate in losing all the love I shared with my dog.

It was that fear which subconsciously motivated me to steal from myself.

Just small things at first. Tiny bits of love secreted away when I returned from visiting Eko. An unencumbered laugh while racing along the sand with Penny. A contented sigh when holding Zero for the first time. An eagerness for the future when Emily and I wondered what it would be like to have a child together. It felt right to dust off these feelings and use them again.

For a time though, each of these joys felt like a surreptitious betrayal of Eko. I would sheepishly return to that place in my heart like a repentant thief, yet each time I could not resist the temptation to take more.

I wrestled with guilt for months. How could I give the present moment the full love and attention it deserves while still holding back love reserved only for Eko? I couldn’t. And thankfully, before my son arrived, Zero taught me that I shouldn’t.

Zero showed me you cannot keep love in your heart, no matter how precious it is. You either lose it or you give it away. Love lives in action, not in a museum. For four months I hoarded my love for Eko, but in the past eight months I’ve done everything in my power share it freely. To tear down Eko’s mausoleum and use each priceless brick to build a new future.

“Gooooood morning, baby dogs!” I sing as I get out of bed. It’s a morning revelry I once shared only with Eko but which I now say to rouse the pups as I pick up Lincoln from his crib. A brick from Eko to build a better day.

I wrap my arms confidently around my son and pour my heart into him. I do not know how to raise a boy, but neither did Eko. And I like to think my puppy did a pretty good job. A brick from Eko to build a better father.

I walk with Lincoln, Penny and Zero along the lake as the sun rises over a refuge I first discovered with Eko. I will have regrets, but I will never regret a moment spent here with my family. A brick from Eko to build a better life.

When Zero outgrew his puppy collar I didn’t think twice about taking Eko’s weathered collar from around a frame and placing it around a neck. The scars and the love that leather represents are our greatest inheritance. We wear them proudly.

Now, as I walk the beach a year later, I have scattered Eko in so many place that no two pieces of him are left touching in my heart. And the hope my puppy will come running back to me through the fog now mingles with worry. What if he did show up? Would he recognize this changed man with a new dog and new baby in tow?

Eko was always a reflection of myself. Could I look at him at now and justify what I’d done and who I’d become?

I hope I could.

I hope I could show him the place in my heart where I hid him and then show him the puppy who set him free. I hope I could point to every single piece of him I used to build a better life. I hope I could show him the boy who his love will help raise. I hope I would have the strength to tell him that my love has grown in ways greater than he had ever known.

It hurts to write that. But anything less would not do justice to everything Eko taught me.

The alternative is to love yesterday more than today. Love memory more than experience. Love the world less after having shared all those life changing moments with Eko. If he did show up, tomorrow or years from now, the one thing I could never justify to Eko is that my heart is smaller for having loved him.

The easy truth is that I loved my puppy with every fiber of my being. The hard truth is that the greatest honor I can give Eko is to remember him as the dog I loved the least. That his life transformed me into a person with an ever increasing capacity for love, no matter the cost.

Tomorrow I will lift Lincoln from his crib with a familiar melody and we will head to the beach with Penny and Zero. I will cry. I will smile. I will endeavor to love the day more than any day I shared with Eko. It will not be easy, but the worthwhile things in life rarely are.

And at last I will admit the boy was always right about seeing my puppy. At the beach, and everywhere else.

Comments for The Dog I Loved Least

  1. Tami says:

    What a thoughtful tribute to Eko!

  2. my tears are running while reading your post… I can not imagine how you felt while writing…but I agree with you… with every word…(nevertheless it still hurts… maybe because there is no answer for the question why?)

  3. Stephanie says:

    Death creates a scar that is visible forever. Life with the scar reminds you of the wonderful companionship you had. Beautiful tribute to your companion.

  4. Sue says:

    I cried as I read your post. What a beautiful way to remember and honor Eko.

  5. meANXIETYme says:

    As others have said, I cried while reading this. It was so beautiful and such an amazing tribute to Eko and your love for him. And your love for your family. I wish I had more words to explain how amazing this was, but it has left me somewhat speechless. You and Eko and your whole family have touched so many lives and left so many little pawprints…thank you.

  6. “A brick from Eko to build a better day…a better father…a better life”…yes, those beautiful bricks have built something very special. A beautiful post that touched my heart profoundly.

  7. Mary Twohig says:

    Beautiful tribute Will. I’ve learned that time doesn’t heal all wounds, it just teaches you how to live with them and changes you for the better….if you let it. It’s been a year and three months since I lost my boy. I’m still learning and know I’m not doing it perfectly, but I’m trying.

  8. Shirley Andonie says:

    ~ ❤️ ~

  9. Phyllis Weekes says:

    You continue to touch my heart in so many ways. Your writing is powerful and honest and I thank you so much for sharing it. I will read this over and over but only hidden away to keep my tears in a private puddle.

  10. Emmadog says:

    Time will never take away all the love and pain, but it changes how you deal with things. Eko will always be there for you and I’m sure he will give you signs when you need it. Katie is still with us. We used to see white squirrels all the time on our walks so we named them Katie squirrels. Since Katie died they seem to have disappeared but oddly, when I’m walking alone with Mom in places we have lots of Katie memories one will run across the path in front of us and disappear into a tree. Just a sign that Katie is still with us in spirit. Eko is there for you as well. All the firsts are the worst, tomorrow will be the end of the majority of firsts and things will get better. Mom still cries about Katie but it isn’t as often. Hug those you have around you now tight.

  11. OhMelvin says:

    Love lives on. ❤️

  12. This left me feeling heartbroken and uplifted at the same time My dog is my best pal and I don’t want to think about losing him!

  13. Andrew Crothers says:

    Simply beautiful.

  14. Jo Rhodes says:

    Will, I don’t know what it is about this blog. The other day I thought about Eko death. The blog you posted to announce his death featured a black box. It was a simple black square that I railed against. I beggedfor my dog, The universe reminded me that he wasn’t my dog. And I begged and cried over and over,and then I asked for my friend. Then I cried for you. I don’t know why when Eko crosses my mind and my heart you post all about him I miss him and I never even got to touch him to tell him he was a good dog to pull his ears or tail or rub his belly. Thank you for posting this.
    Much love, Jo Sam and Dean

  15. Victoria says:

    once again brought to tears – you are a poet Will – Eko will always be with you in everything you do with Emily, Lincoln, Zero and Penny – like the bricks you talk about building a bigger, brighter and better tomorrow with more and more of the love you share – you have a wonderful family here and waiting for you years down the road. You are a very lucky man (smart one too)

  16. Some questions we don’t get answers to. But we can always answer “How am I going to make the most of this day?” with an open heart.

  17. Thank you. Our scars are a living memory of a life well lived.

  18. Thank you! It took me a long time to get to this point in understanding what Eko really means to me, but it was worth the time and effort.

  19. The blog/instagram/etc remain a treasured reminder of how far Eko’s loving ripples continue to spread out in the world. Still brings me joy each day.

  20. Well said. You have to be open and willing, which is not always easy to do. The effort is the success.

  21. Thank you! Luckily the pups and Lincoln didn’t mind too much while I sobbed through writing it.

  22. Well said. I tried to fight that change but I’m learning each day to embrace it.

  23. Every moment you spent worry about loss is a moment stolen from loving your pup. Don’t worry about the former, just do as much of the latter as you can each day!

  24. Thank so much for sharing that with me. It’s a reminder of how far the love of one dog can travel, and that means the world to me.

  25. I half agree with you. I am incredibly fortunate in so many ways!

  26. Tina says:

    Will, it’s me, Tina from Germany again. With tears in my eyes and all my (dead) Ridgebacks in my mind I read your post.
    In march I lost my precious little diamond Miss Abigail Ahadi (cancer) and I miss her in every second. So I understand you and your feelings.

    My husband did his own therapy in getting a tattoo (on his chest above his heart ) from our Richi. Maybe this is a suggestion for you?
    Please excuse again my English.
    All the best for you, your family and your lovely dogs .

  27. Oh Will, I don’t have the words that adequately convey how beautiful this post is. I can’t believe it has been a year…God how a year changes everything. I remember feeling the same guilt when my beloved Bobo passed over 10 years ago……..I also can still cry today with the same pain (if I allow myself to), that I did when he passed. I think of Bobo and mention him “almost” daily………and still feel guilt when I do not. Life DOES go on, the pain is always there, just in a lesser form, but you are right, we have to give our love to those with us today and not hide in the past behind the shrines we built. Our babies wouldn’t want us to do that, so we shouldn’t. Eko would be proud………..and…I find it to be so strange that you found out Emily was pregnant the day after Eko passed, I believe in weird “signs”……..I believe in souls moving to other forms…………just something to think about ((((hugs))) and love as you remember.

  28. A year already wow, my heart hurts for you! Thank you for such a strong post I felt everything you said as one that loses a soulmate knows what you are going through. And your right it doesn’t get easier with time it just gets different. How awesome it was to find out Emily was pregnant the next day, something to hold close in your heart. Peace my friend tomorrow and days ahead.

  29. Eve says:

    Yes another great post and of course the tears are falling thinking about my late hubby while reading the part about realizing that the pain isn’t as bad as it was in the awful beginning of when they (Jeff & Eko) went away to a new place that we aren’t allowed to go yet! But move forward or wallow in the past isn’t a thing you should do and neither do I as my boys were my rock and helped me also as Zero & Lincoln helped you! HUGS from Alabama!

  30. TheRidgebackLife says:

    A few days ago, Pinterest suggested a blog they thought I might be interested in. It was yours and the charming face of Eko captured me once again. I remembered the pain I felt when the black screen came up on my iPad early that morning, and the words you wrote below. I cried, as I’m sure thousands of us across cyberspace were doing at the same time. I still feel it. The pain was not so much for my loss, as it was for the life altering agony being felt by the boy Eko had rescued then nurtured into adulthood. Without Eko, all of us out here wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get to know you and Emily, and now, by default, Penny, Zero, Doc and, most importantly, Lincoln. We’ve seen your writing skills explode with so much depth and philosophical relevance, we have to reread in order to capture as much meaning as possible to explain our own feelings towards our pets.
    Though your posts have become less frequent (Lincoln takes priority ), the wait is well worth it. I feel almost giddy when I see “New Post” pop up in my in box. I text my husband “Will posted” and delve in, tissues handy. I just wish that this morning I had checked my mail before heading to work. I really needed to hug Neeka and Khoi.
    Thank you again, Will, for reaching into our hearts.

  31. Jessica says:

    Your words always speak to the deepest part of my heart, the part that still hurts because of the dog I lost 5 years ago and the guilt I feel that I didn’t love him enough as I love the dogs I have now more than I loved him. You’ve put that into perspective as always. Thank you. You should read, if you haven’t already, “The art of racing in the rain” by Garth Stein. It would relate to your preganancy news!

  32. Maureen says:

    I am so moved and cannot add more to the tender responses already written. Would you please consider gathering your pieces for a book that marks this epoch for you?

  33. coastingnz says:

    Wonderful post and those tears are back. We lost our Nico and it breaks my heart. We too have a new addition – just four days now, 11 weeks old and boy oh boy but the guilt and the want for my big beautiful boy. I know it will get easier but the heart still breaks as we love our fur children unconditionally as they love us. We don’t ever forget them.

  34. Thank you! And again, your english is much better than my german. Any and all tattoos must be approved by the Board of Emily.

  35. It’s been a long road, and life today is wildly different than the one I lived a year ago. I’m unsure of most things in life, but I know to follow the things that would have made Eko happy.

  36. Life is certainly a double helix of joy and pain. We have to embrace them both and this day will always be a reminder of that.

  37. Loving after loss isn’t something you can learn from a book. It’s only through experiencing it – in a uniquely brutal way for each of us – that we test the true mettle of our hearts. Thankfully, we have our pups to lick our wounds and steady us when we falter.

  38. Thank you so much for your kindness and for coming on this journey with me! Means the world to be able to share both the joys and sorrows of this path we choose to walk with our dogs. Lincoln does make carving out writing time just a tad more difficult, but since he had a 90 return policy I guess we’ll keep him around 😉

    Gives Neeka and Khoi and extra hug for us.

  39. It’s liberating to realize that no matter how much we loved in the past, we should always have a greater capacity for love in the present. Where I once felt guilt for Eko, I now only feel gratitude.

  40. Thanks for the encouragement! My hope is to cultivate my posts into a narrative work of essays covering the past 5+ years. Just need to figure out the best way to have the story do justice to the pup who inspired it all.

  41. Life is joy and pain, intertwined. I’ve found attempting to separate them only causes the whole thing to collapse. I hurt for your loss but smile at the little pup who will receive not only all of your love, but all of Nico’s as well. He’s a lucky boy!

  42. TheRidgebackLife says:

    I don’t think Emily would want to return Lincoln.
    And hugs given.

  43. Geri Zeibert says:

    As usual, tears pouring down my face. Oh I miss my Orflaith, my Titan, my hound from hell, ZeeBear and my sweet, sweet Pippin! Each of them forever entangled in my soul. I am 68 years of age and as I await my next rescue, my next refuge, I take a small piece of yours.

  44. I realized as I read this that I’d tucked away my own pain and grief about losing Sammy in a little spot of my heart and soul that is still tear-soaked and yet filled with memories that needed to be let free. I decided after reading your post that I WILL let them free. Teddy is deserving of all my love but he’s not Sammy’ yet I see Sammy IN him. I see Sammy everywhere and always will. We just find moments when we can honor those memories while at the same time making NEW ones with the loved ones we will take with us into the future.

    Hugs, Pam (and Teddy)

  45. Robyn B. says:

    Oh, Will! I knew this icky anniversary of yours was coming up soon. Your writing is so beautiful and yet so painful for those of us that have ever loved a dog family member so much and had to say “good-bye”. We have so much room in our hearts for love and laughter and that’s why I believe we add another doggie family member to the mix. It’s not to replace the ones we’ve lost, but to share the love and happiness we have. I will be thinking of you tomorrow. Please try to not have it as a day of mourn, but a day of celebrating a beautiful soul named Eko. You are a better person because of him–embrace that. We all do. God bless you!

  46. Ellen Quilty says:

    I have missed your regular posts but I also know that Lincoln must always come first.The one year anniversary of a loved one’s passing is the hardest one.It’s always incredible to look back and see that you somehow survived and how so much has changed in that short time.Emily,Lincoln,Penny and Zero dragged you forward in spite of yourself and look what you are now.A Dad! Wow!
    By the way I also want to say that your writing as good as it was before has reached another level.Like a true writer you have drawn on your life experiences both happy and sad and have turned them into beautiful prose.
    I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow as I’m sure we all will.

  47. Fran says:

    oh Will, i m crying again. The tears i cried for months after Eko has all come flooding back to my heart. The picture of Eko on the beach with his eyes closed with wind blowing his ears just breaks my heart. i remember that picture well. I know i told you that another dog i followed, BOCKER, died Aug 31st n then EKO, was more heart break than i could taken n i had my own babies. I love EKO still n it seems more than a year cause i miss him so much, i cant imagine how you feel. I love your family from your blogs n i love dogs more than anything. God bless you will n Emily at this difficult time but u r so blessed for the days ahead with Emily,Lincoln,Penny n Zero. HUGS ALL

  48. This beautiful post broke me open again…as I sat here reading and not-so-quietly sobbing, awash in memories of my sweet Penny who I lost in March, “The New Girl” Ginger came to check on me to see what the fuss was about. I agree that they leave our hearts bigger, indeed!

  49. Michelle says:

    Omg! I am crying and so grateful to read this. This was/ is beautiful. My family and I were in a horrible mudslide that threw my oldest RR and cats from the house. My younger RR was buried in mud rock and debris with me. I resuscitated her before my husband dug me out. My brain still holds a place for the day I lost everything. We were given a second chance. They are all still with us but I know this pain. Thank you. You have penned this feeling perfectly. Love to you and your depth of love for your family!

  50. What a beautiful tribute to Eko, sharing his special collar with Zero. That’s a gesture of trust and affection.

    The words you shared here are also a beautiful tribute to him. Thank you.

  51. Elyse says:

    So beautifully reasoned, Will. Eko should be proud.

  52. Learning about love has to start somewhere. Eko was where, and what a legacy of love he built!

  53. coastingnz says:

    I keep telling myself that but doesn’t stop the tears from flowing – at the silliest of times and sometimes when you least expect it. They leave such huge holes in our heart – which others do fill but we love them I don’t think any less – we just learn to love again.

  54. Mandy Kunzweiler says:

    Oh geez you have me “ugly crying”!! But such a beautiful post. May tomorrow bring you warm memories of your beloved Eko. Until you meet again keep him close in your heart. Much love!!!

  55. A friend says:

    Dear Eko

    What an incredibly dog you were!

    You touched the hearts of so many people including your belove Will. My faith in certain beliefs is absolute and that faith dictates that your soul is out there watching over all the lives you touched. Be with Will tomorrow in particular. It will be a rough day and he will need to feel your presence close by. I wish you could have spent more time on this earth but just know you touched so many lives and the world is a much better place due to your short life.

  56. This is so beautiful! I literally have tears in my eyes right now.

  57. Kismet says:

    It’s been almost three years and we all think of Miss Kyla every day. We tear up but she wouldn’t want that and we can’t help it.

  58. Graham says:

    Lovely sentiment Will.

    Today is our puppy’s first birthday, Sunday is a year since we too lost our beloved boy Archer.

    I can relate to the asylum in your heart I’ve been there many times myself and to the guilt of a day passed where he hasn’t been in my conscious thoughts.

    They make such an impact on your life. Wishing you and the family best wishes today.

    In moments like these I’ve always turned to the phrase:

    “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever”.

  59. Fran says:

    so beautiful Will. Eko is honored. Eko feels your love, n always will be right by your side. Prayers today brings new memories for a lovely family. Hugs

  60. Van Loo Stéphanie says:

    Hello Will, I am sorry for Eko, I don’t know him but I follow your adventures and I miss him. Sorry for my english it is not my language.

  61. Jess says:

    I remembered exactly where I was when I read your post from last year, The Light Has Gone Out Of My Life. I was on making the return trip to Houston from Yellowstone with my boy. I cried for you and Eko then because I could only imagine what it would be like to lose your everything. I had been following your adventures with Eko and then Penny. So, I cry now because I know what it’s like to lose your heart, your everything. I wrote last year, one day it will be my time, and my time came six weeks ago, to the day.

    I am at the beginning of my painful journey without my boy. It’s been enlightening to see your evolution to this point without your boy. They were so loved, weren’t they?

  62. Reblogged this on Morning Story and Dilbert and commented:
    ….the loss of a Man’s best Friend

  63. Seriously, that was beautiful. I’ve got a lump in my throat ffs!

  64. Sharon Benson says:

    I lost my girl 11 year old golden retriever Carlee 5 months ago. She was my everything as the kids went to college & then off to their own lives. She was a therapy dog & loved her job! Heart problems & not wanting her to suffer we let her go. The house is too quiet…. I cried as I read your words … so true….I miss her so much … Your words give me hope that I can love another golden someday

  65. No easy or good or right way to lose a dog. No easy or right way to carry on afterwards. It seems impossible to ever consider loving another dog, but I hope you find the courage in your own time to start again. Not easy, but the worthwhile things never are.

  66. […] It’s called “The Dog I loved the Least.” […]

  67. This post has been really helpful for me. Thank you for writing it!

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