I don’t often share personal stories on this blog. Since I started my website, I’ve generally kept the content focused on food and history. Many writers treat their blogs as online journals where they pour out their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I never really needed that before now. I preferred to keep my personal life and my website somewhat compartmentalized, at times sharing anecdotes and food-related stories from my home life, but nothing too deep. That changed recently after experiencing the loss of our 9 year-old maltese, Momo. In the midst of my grief, opens in a new windowI posted his picture on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support– hundreds of comments from people who understood this pain I was going through. Through this experience, I’ve learned there is comfort in sharing these moments… there is solace in hearing from others who have gone through this difficult transition. The Facebook community really lifted me up during a dark time. I wanted to take a moment here on the blog to express gratitude and pay homage to Momo, this little creature who made such a big impression on our lives.
BTW, if you only come here for food, and you’re not interested in hearing about my personal life, I totally understand. This post starts with a bummer and ends with a smile, so feel free to skip ahead to the happy ending, or just ignore it entirely. I won’t be offended, promise.
The picture above is Momo on Thanksgiving, a few hours before we ate dinner. It was a great day for our little guy. He got to see all of his family celebrating together. He spent lots of quality time playing and snuggling with the people he loved most. He also got to eat lots of his favorite food, unsalted turkey breast. It was a good day.
Things went downhill after that. He’d been battling congestive heart failure for several months, and we knew he was in the end stages– it’s a progressive disease, most dogs only live a year or so after their diagnosis. We knew the end was coming, but you’re never totally prepared for it. The day after Thanksgiving, he couldn’t breathe. I took him straight to the emergency vet, just as I’ve done so many times before as he battled this illness. This episode seemed different than the others– his breathing was very labored, he was obviously in more distress. They tried giving him oxygen and strong diuretics overnight to clear his lungs, which has always worked in the past. This time he wasn’t responding, instead he was getting worse. In the end there was nothing more they could do for him. I held him close, cuddled him and stroked his back, as they put him to sleep. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I was shaking from emotion, trying hard to stay strong and fighting my own urge to sob in his final moments. I know it was the right thing to ease his suffering, but the sorrow I felt was incredibly, surprisingly deep.
I think there is an element of guilt that most people feel when they go through this. Even though it’s the kind and merciful choice, you are making the decision to end a life… your friend’s life, your companion who has stuck by you for so long. The whole experience left a hole in my heart– an emotional hole, but it also strangely felt like something was physically missing from inside my chest. I felt hollow and aching and terribly sad. So did my husband. I think we were both surprised at the strength of sadness we felt.
Momo was such a sweet soul. He loved snacking on turkey and sitting in your lap. Whenever somebody was at the door, he’d bark like an attack dog. I think he believed he was 10 times his size. And yet, whenever he met new people he was as friendly and sweet as could be. He wanted nothing more than to please us. There is something strangely fitting about the fact that he had an enlarged heart… he was the kindest, most gentle little pup I’ve ever known. He followed me around everywhere like my little shadow, looking at me with those big brown eyes. He loved it when I’d make matzo ball soup; I’d tear the chicken from the bones in pieces, always saving the best scraps for him. When I was sick, he stuck to me like glue. When I was sad, he would sense it and snuggle closer. Dogs love unconditionally; they never judge you. They only ask for food, attention and kindness. Perhaps that is why losing them is so incredibly difficult. It’s not a complex relationship, it’s as simple as loving and wanting to be loved. If only human relationships were so pure.
After losing Momo, there was a part of me that thought I’d never get another dog. To go through that pain again, to enter another relationship with a dog knowing that the inevitable end comes far too soon, seemed too great a risk emotionally. We have a Labrador retriever, Marley and a cat, Muffin. I held them closer and let the tears flow. It would hit me in unexpected waves– seeing Momo’s old food dish or his bed would send me into a tailspin again. I didn’t blog much. You probably noticed fewer recipes here. I had to hit pause and be easy on myself. I’m sure you understand.
And then, a funny thing happened. My husband and I noticed our Labrador Marley was depressed. He missed Momo, and we missed having the energy of a little pup– a sidekick for our lab. While at first I felt heartbroken and unable to fathom getting another pet, our hearts slowly opened to the idea of adding another companion to our “mishpucha” (that’s Yiddish for family). A feeling of guilt nagged at me– “maybe it’s too soon,” I thought. I couldn’t replace Momo, he was irreplaceable. Then I remembered how depressed Momo used to get when I was sick or sad. He would lay his head next to mine and look into my eyes, just wanting me to feel better. He never wanted me to be in pain, just as I couldn’t stand to see him hurting. He wouldn’t want there to be an empty place in our home, a hole in our hearts. He would have wanted us to be happy.
And so, a few weeks later, my husband gave me a Hanukkah gift… this little guy, Milo.
Milo is a mixed breed, small like Momo. We’re told that because of his mixed parentage, he may be less prone to the genetic problems that led to our sweet dog’s untimely end (of course, there are never any guarantees in life). He’s 8 1/2 weeks old as of yesterday, a tiny ball of fluff and sweetness and spunk. He’s got a different personality than Momo, who was more shy and retiring. Milo is outgoing and ready to play at a moment’s notice. He also loves to snuggle, when he’s tired he’ll relax in our arms like a little rag doll. Our Labrador has been amazing with him so far; I think he recognizes how young he is. Marley has been remarkably gentle with Milo, even when he’s being an obnoxious little brother. Muffin, our cat, is not too happy at the moment, but she’ll adjust. We’ve been giving her lots of extra snuggles to keep her from getting too jealous.
We are in the midst of potty training, multiple daily feedings, and teaching this little guy the ropes. Every day is a new first for him. Yesterday he barked for the first time. Today he climbed down a couple of stairs, which seemed an enormous challenge for his tiny legs. Where sadness hung heavy like a cloud after Momo passed, Milo has brought new light and energy to our home.
The sadness still hits me in waves from time to time. As we lit the candles for Hanukkah, celebrating the third night of the holiday and Milo’s first night with us, we placed Momo’s pawprint next to our menorah. His memory lives on in all of us. I am so grateful for the years we had with him.