Still not whole

Yesterday a stranger at a café made me cry. It’s not the first time I’ve cried for because of strangers, hell it probably wasn’t the first time I cried that day. But there I was sitting at a corner table waiting for my coffee and toast and pretending to work on my laptop when this fresh round of tears made their appearance.

I looked up from my laptop, , probably hoping to see my food, when I saw a familiar face, old and wrinkled, smooched rather than kissed by the sun. I saw his wavy, white hair and heard his voice, a distinctive Scottish accent and I looked down to see his dog, an old brown Staffy who I knew would roll onto his back for a tummy rub if you so much as said hi to him.

I couldn’t see the dog.

I looked again, checked the area around the old man to see if the dog had stopped to be petted by someone else. He wasn’t there.

I knew he wasn’t waiting at home. I knew that all the times I had stopped to play with him in the past his owner had talked lovingly about his ‘old’ boy with an emphasis on the old. I had seen him walking ever slower to the café where everybody knew him and how much he loved a belly rub. And when I looked closer at the old man, I knew I was right. His face, always weathered and wrinkled was missing the spark it used to have.

I understand that sparkless face. My life feels a bit like that since my dog Henry died.

I thought back to the week before when I was dog sitting my nephew (a very gorgeous spoodle cross) and I took him down to my local café for a coffee. It had been a long time since I had gone down there because I still find it hard to walk without Henry. I sat at a table I had often sat at with Henry and watched people I knew from my old dog walking days ignore me — it was clear it was Henry they knew and chatted to, not me. Without Henry I wasn’t really anyone. I understand this because sometimes I feel it to be true.

I looked at this man without his dog and wondered if he would recognise me, I thought back to all our interactions and realised I don’t think I’d ever looked into his face. His dog, on the other hand I had sprawled out on the floor and played with. Should I say something to him, or would I open the well of his grief? What if his dog was at home? But I could see he wasn’t. I could see in the way he held himself that an important part of him was missing.

I stood up and I walked over to him. ‘I’m so sorry about your dog’ I said tears spilling out of my eyes, and this old man, who I really don’t know, hugged me and we both cried and held on to each other searching for bits of our dogs that the other carries in their memories.

It has been seven months since Henry died and I miss him as much as I missed him that first week after he left us. A friend asked me if that was normal and I couldn’t answer because I don’t know what normal is, I only know the way I feel.

Going about the world without Henry in it is hard. It’s hard for the old man without his staffy and for all the people who are missing their dogs, their pets, their loved ones, their family members.

It’s an important reminder to be kind to people. And to reach out to the people who you can see are not quite whole.

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