Hey buddy, how you doing? I’m good, thanks for asking. You don’t seem good. What’s going on? Well, ok, let me just ramble through this for a bit. Cheaper than therapy…

Emma — my favorite pit bull and canine companion for 11 years — passed away suddenly last Thursday. It was devastating. It is devastating. A lot of you have been through the same (or worse) loss, many of you likely in recent memory. I had recently gone through it with our German Shepherd, Chance. Aditi and I had 2 weeks with him before he had to leave, so he got some “bucket list” time. Not for Emma, though. She woke up under the weather, didn’t eat, fell over peeing, got rushed to the vet, and never went back home1. But the fact that everybody loses loved ones always makes me feel bad about feeling bad about losing loved ones. Buck up, right?

In the meantime, “home” had come to mean different things for Emma. Aditi and I separated in late 2016 and officially divorced in 2017. I didn’t talk about it much, given I think we were both grieving for our marriage. Turned out that grieving process took forever. I think it might be harder when what you’re grieving for is still there but you’ve separated yourself from it.

But I always underestimate grieving times. Every time. I think it goes back to my early addictions, before I realized that numbing the shock and pain just makes it show up a decade or two later. When I was 12, both of my grandfathers died on the exact same day and my dog a week or two later. I found myself crying for all of them at 23, and then suddenly for the friends I’d lost over the years between. And at that point, with no apparent context, your grief makes less sense to those around you.

Not that making sense matters. The kindest thing anyone has ever said to me about grieving came from my friend Elle2, just last week: “There’s no wrong way to do this.” I don’t have to be appropriate, display certain behaviors, react in certain ways. The day my grandfathers died, I got sent to the principal’s office because I referred to their passings in a way that wasn’t “respectful” enough for my math teacher. I never realized it was ok to just feel whatever you felt, express whatever you needed to.

I told a few people who are waiting on things from me right now that “I need Friday off. I’ll recover over the weekend. Should be back at it on Monday.” Turns out you can’t just schedule shit like that (without drugs, anyway) any more than you can control how you’re going to feel at any given moment about any given circumstance.

It probably doesn’t help that I decided to give up nicotine starting just 2 weeks before Emma died. I quit smoking years ago, but I switched to vaping (e-cigs). And the problem with vaping is that it’s a much more available fix than having to light an object on fire. Even if you avoid vaping in public places, it’s still more accessible than a cigarette. So kicking nicotine has been a bear. Of course, I really don’t know what it’s supposed to be like; in 27 years I’ve never done it to completion. Never made it past the gum, the lozenges, the patches. I used patches for a bit this time, but today I’m 3 days into zero nicotine for the first time since I was a teenager. Emma would be proud.

Aditi and I have remained friends. There wasn’t a lot of drama in the whole thing, we just agreed weren’t as happy as we thought we could be3. I took Emma and Yeti (the beautiful monster feline) with me, but Emma regularly spent time with Aditi and Sirius (her GSD brother). In fact, one comfort has been that over the last few months Emma had a chance to see a LOT of friends who mattered to her. There’s an impressive lack of “unfinished business.”

Ok, so let me try to wrap this up. I do not know how long it will take me to grieve for the pet that was part of my daily life for 11 years. It took me at least a year to feel ok when grieving for my 11-year marriage. I also have no idea how long nicotine withdrawal lasts, but that one I feel like I can schedule more reliably.

If you knew Emma in any capacity, there’s an ASPCA memorial fundraiser set up in her name. The money all goes to the ASPCA in her memory, and between the one on Facebook and the memorial page, enough has already been donated that Emma would probably be embarrassed. But Aditi has worked with the ASPCA for years, and we’re both huge supporters of the work they do, so I think it’s a fitting way to hold Emma’s memory.

  1. If you’re wondering, the issue was her lungs were compressed by a massive amount of swelling and liquid. It was likely cancer as the root cause, but given that the damage was irreversible and she was fading fast, we didn’t waste a lot of time on “why” just then. 

  2. I’m a bit shy about saying it, mostly because of concerns about other people’s feelings, but Elle is beautiful, caring, and brilliant, and I’m lucky to be her boyfriend. 

  3. That very obviously oversimplifies the situation, which is an injustice, but I spent a long time trying to figure out how to best explain it and ultimately realized I didn’t have to. I care deeply about Aditi, we’re still friends, and that’s probably already more than you cared to know.