GRIEVING GRRIZELDA

by angeliska on April 15, 2022

Many years ago, I asked my dog, “So Grrizelda, what’s it all about?” She got excited and wiggled her butt and gave me one paw to shake and then the other, confirming my belief that the secret of life is, in fact, the hokey pokey.

I said, “Is that what it’s all about? Well, what about kisses?” And she gave me a very enthusiastic kiss. Now, I know dog kisses are supposed to be gross and unsanitary, but I’ve never really been one of those to worry much about stuff like that. Plus, Grrizelda gave the very best dog kisses. No slobbery tongue or full-face mopping – just a sweet little smooch of wet nose and black doggie lips. A kiss a daughter would give a mother, full of joy and adoration. A tail wagging exuberant heart-shaped stamp of approval, a canine benediction.

So then I laughed and hugged her and said, “Well, is THAT what it’s all about?” and she strreettched out her perfect silky black starfish paw-foots and bowed low into bonafide doga downward dog – a play bow that says, “I respect you and love you very much, and I would also like to play with you!” and I laughed and hugged her some more and took this picture of her sweet eager seal pup face and her graying chinny-chin-chin and I just wanted her to live forever and ever because she knew everything there is to know, and was the best friend I could ever wish for. Loyalty, humor, unconditional love, and sweetness – traits I admire, and seek to cultivate in my friendships. Grrizelda was, and still is my teacher.

I found Grrizelda one summer afternoon on my lunch break, walking down to the coffee shop a near the antique store I worked at. Austin Pets Alive (a nonprofit devoted to helping critters in need of forever homes get adopted) had set up some pens with pups and I paused in front of one with a gorgeous but very depressed looking black dog laying on a mat, panting in the heat. The volunteer came over to tell me about how black dogs and cats were often difficult to find homes for, and how special it was when they were able to find someone who wanted to adopt one. The spiel definitely helped, and though this particular black dog wouldn’t even really raise her head to look at me or interact in any way, I snapped a few photos on my phone (I so wish I had those now!) and later that night, showed them to my partner. “What do you think about this dog? She’s really pretty, right?”

The next day, after he dropped me off at work, he went down to check her out for himself. A little while later, I hadn’t heard anything back, so I called him to find out what his first impressions were, only to hear, “Hang on babe, I’m filling out the adoption paperwork!” Looking back, I think I needed someone else to pull the trigger on making that intuitive decision, and I am so incredibly grateful for the gift of Grrizelda (who came from the shelter with the name Zelda!) That evening they both came to pick me up from my shift, and as soon as as I got into the passenger seat, a ball of wiggly, face-licking joy launched herself from the back seat into my lap. That sad, dejected dog from the day before was nowhere to be seen – because Grrizelda (as I soon dubbed her) knew she had found her home.


Look at how tiny she was! Just a little puppy, really. This was 2009 – right after we adopted her, and not long after Thelonious lost his sight.

We had been thinking of getting a companion for Thelonious, our seven year old Border Collie, ever since he suddenly went blind. He was so smart, and getting along so well – but we figured he could benefit from having a friend and a seeing eye dog. Grrizelda was way more interested in harassing him, rather than guiding him around much – but they became very close, and went on many adventures until Thelonious died at age 16. Losing him was so hard, and I never wrote about him and what a precious and beloved creature he was – and I’ve always regretted that. Now it just feels so long ago, though I still miss him intensely. Writing about my memories of loved ones who have passed has always been such a major balm to my grief, so I’ve giving myself all the time I need to express what I need to say about my time with Grrizelda. I think having Thelonious live so long convinced me that I’d have Grrizzle for near that time. I always thought I’d have her at least until 15 – so losing her at 12 just seemed… so ruthlessly brief, even though I know by dog standard, it was a decently long life. Those 12 sweet years just flew by, and looking back now, I wish I could stretch them out somehow. It’s so painful, reckoning with the fact that our animals don’t live as long as we do – and that in signing up to love them, we’re also agreeing to lose them.


I have this old photo of a lady and her black German Shepherd companion framed on my wall, and it brings me a lot of joy and comfort.

In my years as an antique dealer, I would often come across old black and white photographs of people’s pets, and was always struck by the thought that I was looking at an image of a beloved critter who had died long ago. I especially loved finding photos of black German Shepherds who resembled Grrizelda, and I would always wonder what their names were. I collect these old orphaned snapshots – of kids clutching a litter of kittens, or a big tomcat sitting regally on a front porch and wonder who they were to their people. What was it that made them so special, precious enough to be captured on film? These relationships are so deep, so singular – and yet also so incredibly personal. There are rarely public funerals or obituaries for our pets, but our grief for them is sometimes even more profound and devastating than when the humans in our lives pass away. That’s part of why I feel I need to write this here, and share it publicly. I don’t want Grrizelda to be just a handful of random photographs. I want her to be remembered, and known, by anyone who cares to read about who she was to me.


THELONIOUS AND GRRIZELDA, BACK IN THE DAY

After Thelonious died, I wanted to find a buddy for Grrizelda, and adopted Miss Moon, a rambunctious 3-legged white German Shepherd, and then a few years after that, Mister Snowy came to live with us, too. I was always more of cat person, growing up – but after losing my beloved familiar Junior (an extremely majestic and wondrous kitty who had my heart from age five until 21 years later), I think it took some powerful dog magic to support me on the road ahead. I’ve been blessed with delightfully naughty cats in my life since then (Rusty Jack Knife, Lowkey, and Shrimp Scampi) but somehow along the way, I became a dedicated dog person, and will likely remain that way. I never imagined that I’d have one dog, let alone 3 big rambunctious dogs at the same time, but they have kept me going and protected me in so many ways, and I’m so eternally grateful that we found one another.

I found a dream I had written down years ago where I was running through the woods with my black and white wolf pack. This was long before I ever thought I would want to have dogs in my lift, but I never forgot that dream – even if I didn’t know what it meant at the time.

Moon & Grrizelda became my magic yin yang twins – keepers of my heart. And eventually Snowy came to tilt the balance towards the light. Now I just have my two very fluffy wild white dogs, and can rarely wear dark clothing without being completely coated in fur!


My girls and I enjoying the Lone Grove springtime.

There are countless wild stories from those 12 years, and our many adventures together, but I want to share a bit about how I came to find this glorious black wolfy girl that both changed and saved my life.

Here are a few original posts I wrote when she first came home to be my special girl:
DOG DAYS

PUPPY LOVE

STRANGE SEASON

Grrizelda was roughly six months old when she was picked up by Animal Control, wandering the backroads of the Hill Country with her then partner in crime, a yellow dog with stumpy legs named Murray. It was hard to imagine who would let go of a gorgeous dog like this, who looked to be quite possibly a purebred Black German Shepherd. We ran across breeders occasionally who pointed out how much she looked like what they call “Lacquer Blacks” because of the reflective quality of their coats. Grrizelda was a bit of wild pup, with a lot of separation anxiety, and had some issues with chewing up things (like my brassieres, some dolls, furniture, etc.) when she was stressed out.

At one point, her separation anxiety got so intense, she was busting out of her metal crate, and damaging her teeth on the bars. I contacted an animal communicator to see if she could help, and during our session, she told me that Grrizelda had gotten separated from her people in a fire, and that it really freaked her out to not know where they were. I noticed that any kind of fire (even small campfires) always made her very nervous, and she was also terrified of fireworks, gunshots, and thunderstorms.

Years after Grrizzle seemed to have gotten over the worst of her anxiety issues, and we’d gotten rid of her kennel, I took her with me out to West Texas when I was hired to read tarot at the Trans-Pecos music festival at El Cosmico. She had recently recovered from a near death experience after ingesting a wasp, and I wanted to keep her near me. I remember how she would skirt away from the little campfires on her leash, pulling me the long way around them. After the festival, we booked a room at the Eleven Inn, a sweet little motor court motel down the road from Balmorhea, a glorious spring fed swimming hole. I thought Grrizelda would be so worn out from all the excitement of the festival that she’d be grateful for a little peace and quiet, and would just conk out and rest while we went for a swim… Unfortunately, this was not the case. Though it had been ages since she’d done anything destructive in her anxiety, this strange location must’ve been just too much for her. I felt so terrible when I discovered that she had pulled some major rock star moves on our little hotel room – and reduced the nice wooden venetian blinds to splinters in her frantic efforts to escape out the window and come find me. Luckily, the hotel owners were accepting of reimbursement for the blinds (though not cheap!) and I never left her alone away from home ever again.

We had a really scary near death experience back in 2015. The morning Grrizelda almost died from eating a wasp, I remember waking up around 7:30am because Moon was ringing the little bells I have on the door – she’s trained to ring them when she wants to go outside to pee. Thank goodness she did, because anaphylactic shock sets in within an hour, and whatever caused this near-tragedy was something in the bedroom, around dawn. I am pretty certain Grrizzle ate a wasp, because multiple stings would have elicited some hearty yelps, I reckon. Wasps get in the bedroom sometimes, and Grizzelda was a bug-biter housefly-huntress extraordinaire (a habit it proved impossible to train her out of!)

Normally she slept on her bed, or in the far dark corner of the room, but that morning I nearly tripped over her, because she was laying right next to the bed, on the floor, closest to me. She usually only did this when she was very frightened, of a storm, or late-night fireworks. I let Moon out, but Grrizelda didn’t stir. When I asked her if she wanted to go out, she struggled to get up, and then started vomiting. My dogs barf occasionally when they eat something they shouldn’t have – so that part didn’t really concern me… But something just wasn’t right – she was having trouble moving, and it was just very obvious that she felt like hell. She could barely stand up, and when she tried, her legs were trembling and shaking. My mind went from dead asleep into panic mode. I threw on my clothes from the day before, grabbed my purse and keys in such a rush I neglected to pluck my phone off the charger. I had to heft and carry 60 lbs. of dead weight dying dog out of the house and into the car – and later into the emergency vet.

On the way there, I struggled to stay calm and focus on the road with Grrizelda’s head in my lap, her breathing labored and her limbs already feeling cold and heavy. I was so scared she was going to die on the way there. Once we arrived and got into an exam room to wait for what felt like forever, I noticed that she looked kind of swollen. She had perked up slightly, but seemed agitated and started shaking her head and rubbing at her ears. Luckily, when we finally got seen and got some bloodwork, it was pretty clear from the way her system was reacting and crashing that she was having a severe allergic reaction. They took her to the back and started trying to get her to safe levels. That wasn’t effective, unfortunately, so they had to give her a plasma transfusion to flush her system, which luckily she didn’t have an adverse reaction to. It was so hard having to leave without her, knowing she was going to be at the vet’s office in a kennel without me. I was so grateful to the vets and team at the emergency clinic who absolutely saved my bestie’s life that week, and all the friends who were so supportive and kind during that time. I still have a long list of thank you cards I need to send, and it weighs on me constantly that I just haven’t been able to do the damn thing and get them in the mail.

Sometimes it feels like life is just a series of never-ending stressors and calamities, and that I never really catch up or recover from any of it (but that’s likely a combination of my neurodivergence and living through the fall of late-stage capitalism, climate collapse, and now a seemingly never-ending pandemic, in real time. Though it might not seem like it from these stories about all the near-death experiences and mishaps, one of the things that has been so hard about losing Grrizelda is that for the majority of those 12 years we had together, she was just so easy. She was such a good girl. Really, just a perfect dog – to the point that I really didn’t understand what a handful other dogs could be, and was really unprepared for what hot messes Moon and Snowy turned out to be. Though of course I love them both madly, they often really TRY me with their stubbornness and antics!

They are like my little white cloud-clown children – always getting into trouble, and needing a lot of help and attention. Grrizelda really was so much more than a dog – she was an equal, and in many ways, my partner, co-parent to this wild wolf pack, and I’m realizing now, the love of my life. I saw a prompt online recently, asking who are/were the great loves of your life – and I realized that I look back on most of my romantic relationships with some degree of sourness and regret, which made me really sad to contemplate. Grrizelda obviously wasn’t my romantic partner (I’m pretty kinky, but definitely draw a line around bestiality!), but man – I don’t know if I’ve ever been loved so unconditionally by any other being, the way I knew she loved me. Losing that sense of security, stability, and safety when she died has been completely destabilizing. She was my anchor, my rock. I could count on her to be calm, aware, tuned in, and – to let me need her maybe a little bit more than she needed me.

I didn’t have to constantly worry about her – until I did. Then she got sick, and it all came crashing down on us, too fast. She was in so much agony, and getting her to eat enough to take her meds was such a torture for both of us. Putting her through chemo in hopes it would help her, and possibly give us a little more time brought back a lot of really difficult memories around my mother’s cancer treatment. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world – seeing the being that you most need to be okay and healthy (so that they can keep taking care of you) wasting away before your eyes, and feeling like your survival is inherently tied to theirs. So it makes sense that it feels like a big piece of me died when she did.


Out on the pink granite in Lone Grove

When I say that Grrizelda saved my life many times, it’s not an exaggeration – she kept me going emotionally, in my darkest moments, and protected me from making foolish choices in the wilderness that likely would have led to my demise – during a time of great pain and loss, after the relationship that brought her into my life ended.

I wrote about our misadventures atop Enchanted Rock here:

SPIRIT SONG ROCK

Grrizelda was my protector. Having her with me was very healing for my C-PTSD around intruders, because I knew that she would never let anyone harm me. My Aunt Ruth would come pet-sit for me sometimes, and would often watch how the dogs responded to perceived threats. Moon has always been a lot of bluster and loud bark, but Grrizelda would watch silently, growling low in her belly – and Ruthie believed that if it ever came down to it, Grrizzle would kill any person who attempted to hurt me. I believe that, too.


DARK BATTLEphoto of Grrizelda with Adrian by Katie Cowart

The name Grrizelda means “dark battle”, which felt very apt for my beloved black warrior princess dog, though her battles were all fairly gentle. She was black smoke in the shape of a dog, my shadow queen. I was so amazed when I saw this photograph of her with my friend Adrian, in full dark elf battle regalia (or as Hades, the King of the Underworld, himself) – taken by Katie Cowart, who used to take care of the dogs when I would travel. It felt like such an embodiment of the spirit I saw in her sometimes – that fiercely loyal aspect that would fight to protect what she loved – even to the death.

Oh, if I had Orpheus’ voice and poetry

with which to move the Dark Maid and her Lord,

I’d call you back, dear love, from the world below.

I’d go down there for you. Charon or the grim

King’s dog could not prevent me then

from carrying you up into the fields of light.

Euripides

I miss her rich black silk fur, silvery on her haunches like she sat down in powdered sugar and dusted her bloomers. Her coat had so many colors in it – really just one of the most gorgeous canines ever. She was my shadow, and without her I feel as lost as Peter Pan did, crying while trying to sew his shadow back onto to his foot. It just doesn’t work that way. Who am I without my shadow self? She was the first dog that was ever truly mine. Really, we belonged to each other, utterly and completely. I was her person.


PATIENT GRRIZELDA – THE GOODEST GIRL

There was a book of fairytales I loved as a child (I have it still, Idries Shah’s World Tales) that had a story in it about Patient Grizelda, a lovely but put-upon woman who endured all manner of trials and tribulations from her rich merchant husband without ever uttering any kind of protest. Looking back now, it’s not a very feminist folk tale (though luckily I was provided with plenty of those as a child, too) – but it was definitely the first place I’d ever seen the name Grizelda, which I took a shine to. I think about how calmly my Grrizelda put up with me dressing her up in all kinds of hats, wigs, clothing and various costumes (at least for a few moments), as well as baths, brushing (even tooth-brushing!) and all manner of hot-spot ointments and dreaded foot inspecting – and, goddamn…I just wish I could embody more of her incredible patient and giving nature. Patience has never been one my virtues, but I try to emulate all the things I admired most about my dog (along with unconditional love, loyalty, and an exceedingly kind heart), so I can be closer to the person she believed me to be.

Here we are loving on each other when we were just puppies – when her snoot was short, and we wore the same green sweater.

She was an incredibly intelligent dog, and seemed to understand the English language pretty perfectly – including commands like “no begging”, when her big brown puppy dog eyes would be respectfully averted after longing for whatever tantalizing thing I was eating, or “nice to meet you” – always polite, with excellent manners, she would shake hands. My Aunt Ruth taught her not only “Squirrel!” but “SUPER SQUIRREL!” which would always elicit much excitement and frantic yips and whines, as she pursued her nemesis out in the yard.

Grrizelda was an excellent communicator. I knew what she was trying to tell me by the different cadences of her bark, and she rarely barked loudly without good reason. Usually it was a soft whuff of concern, but I could tell whether she was vocalizing about a nocturnal varmint nosing around outside, at other dogs in the neighborhood, or whether the issue was human related. She learned to howl from Snowy, and enjoyed the singing sessions our little choir pack of three would emit with great enthusiasm every time an ambulance or fire truck would go by (which is often, on my street).

“Listen to them, the children of the night – what music they make!”


Grrizelda and Shrimp Scampi. They had a very special friendship, and were always snuggling whenever they got the chance.

Grrizelda was always very gentle with children and kitties, patiently enduring their attentions – even when she hated it. But when it came to wild creatures in her domain – she was a mighty huntress. Her lupine instincts would often take over when it came to squirrels, possums, once a giant raccoon, and unfortunately – a pair of adorable ducklings she thrashed to death. She always seemed a bit surprised after they stopped moving – like she’d broken the toy she’d had so much fun playing with, and now might be in trouble.

She didn’t much enjoy fetch, and ducked out of the way in terror when frisbees came flying – but loved stealing and hiding Moon’s toys, and of course finding a good stick to decimate into splinters. Her favorite game to play with other dogs was “Dominate me Daddy!”, in which Grrizelda was always Daddy – and would chase the naughty babies around until they submitted at her feet, showing their bellies in delighted submission as she play growled and nuzzled their necks. Grrizelda always had immediate seniority, which she sometimes wore uncomfortably. It was always a bit of power struggle, and I think it wore her out sometimes, to always be tested, and have to prove her status by trouncing the other dogs soundly. But since they never play that game anymore without her here, I know they miss getting bossed around by their big sister.

I miss the depths of her gaze, and telling her how much I love her and hearing the steady whump-whump-whump of her tail wagging a morse code “I love you too”, in response.

I miss taking naps with her, and skritching her little whitening chinny-chin-chin and how her nostril was a perfect apostrophe.

These photos were taken during the snowstorm, days before I found out how sick she was. At that time, I was blissfully ignorant, thinking she had a bad tooth that was hurting her, and after the roads thawed out and the power came back on, I’d take her in to have it pulled. I was preoccupied with the trauma of the snowpocalypse, and at that moment, couldn’t imagine things getting much worse. Until they did.

Grrizelda didn’t really adore frolicking in the snow as much as my other pups did, but it was so wonderful watching her explore this novel substance, with snowflakes on her velvety nose, and her sleek blackness like a moving tentatively like a sweet shadow through all that pale sparkle.

Here she is as a young spry and playful critter, from the occasion of her first scant snowfall (which is still rare for us down here in Texas.) I’m treasuring these memories I have from our 12 years together. I had just hoped we’d have time for at least a few more.

I miss her perfect delicate starfish paws, really just the prettiest feet I’ve ever seen on a dog – and I miss how prissy she was. She didn’t like to get muddy and dirty (like some dogs do, MOON!), or be wet, for the most part. She would swim, but usually only out of concern for me – because if I was in the water, she’d be worried that I was drowning, and swim out to try and come save me. She got to run on the beach at the Gulf Coast a few times, which she loved. There’s a crazy story about her and Moon gulping too much saltwater and having intense diarrhea and vomiting that I had to clean up while I was under the influence of strong psychedelics that I won’t recount in detail here, but trust me when I say that it was GNARLY.


Neville and Grrizelda – photo by Justin Wilson

I miss getting to see her frolic with her best friend Neville, who very conveniently happened to be the canine companion of my best friend, Allyson. They were such a good team, and loved getting to hang out together – and it felt really special to have our friendships be so much in alignment. I know he misses her a lot, and I hope they’ll be able to find one another one day, on the other side of the rainbow bridge.

Grrizelda kind of hated car rides, but really liked getting to go places (once she got there). She was perfect on a leash, got along with other dogs, and all people (unless they had bad intentions towards me) and loved going for long walks and rambles in the woods – taking time to deeply sniff all the interesting things she found on our adventures.

When we learned that she had cancer, I was taking her out to the oncology specialist in West Austin weekly for her treatments and monitoring her melanoma. Bull Creek Park is out that way, and we’d always stop for barbecue and sit by the water eating brisket. This image is from one of those hard, cold days – my heart beast sitting near the heart tree. Knowing her days were numbered, and just trying to give her every bit of joy that I could. The chemo was affecting her appetite, and her sense of smell and taste, so she wanted stinky,fatty things. She loved eating liver pate, and rotisserie chicken – but towards the end, she stopped wanting to eat anything. Not cheese, or foie gras, not the tilapia, sweet potato, and rice mush we were making for her. That’s how I knew it was time, and when I realized it, I kind of lost my mind. I wanted to destroy everything. I wanted to die with her.

Receiving that terrible news about Grrizelda’s cancer just shook me. It was so completely unexpected, so inconceivable that the sweetest, wisest, most sage dog I’ve ever known could just…suddenly be dying, and that nothing could really be done to stop it. It all happened so fucking fast – from getting that awful diagnosis to having to make the excruciating decision to put her down barely a month later. It just felt so incredibly cruel.

She had an aggressive and advanced form of melanoma in the back of her mouth, that had spread to her lungs. Surgery would have been too invasive and would require removing too much of her beautiful face. We were recommended palliative care, and some chemotherapy, in hopes that it could slow the spread, and help her be more comfortable. We were told we were looking at a handful of months (between one and four) left together, if we were lucky – but it ended up being all over in just a few short weeks.

Right after first hearing this horrible information, I sat wailing in my car while Grrizzle was inside the animal hospital getting her first chemotherapy dose. It killed me to not be able to be in there with her, comforting her – but because of Covid, I had to let her get with a vet tech, and then wait in the parking lot for hours, losing my mind. That afternoon, I got into an altercation with a horrible woman, as we were trying to finally leave the vets and go home. The bitter, miserable lady parked next to me started screaming in my face with no mask on, waving a big honking diamond ring in my face – all because my car door briefly touched her car (there was no mark, no scratch, nothing) as I was lifting Grrizelda into the seat (because she couldn’t hop in on her own anymore). She scared Grrizelda, and I very nearly did something I could have been arrested for. It took everything in me not to utterly destroy that woman in that moment – but I made myself just walk away, fucking shaking with fury. I’m proud that I was able to restrain myself from responding to that ugliness with more ugliness, but mainly I knew that I couldn’t end up in jail when my dog needed me so much. It was just trauma on top of trauma on top of sorrow on top of overwhelm – all too much. My heart and my nervous system still haven’t recovered from all of it.

I was completely gutted. I’ve never howled in rage and pain like that – just laying on the floor screaming my throat raw, uncontrollably sobbing until I exhausted myself. I know it upset Grrizelda to see me like that, but at that point, we couldn’t protect each other from any of it, anymore.

The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.

~ The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief 
by Francis Weller

In the weeks before Grrizelda died, I spent a lot of time telling her thank you – in between being wracked with sobs, and sometimes during, I would pet her velvety soft black ears and whisper my gratitudes to her for being such a loving and loyal companion, for so long. For loving me so unconditionally. For protecting me and helping me feel safe, when I didn’t feel safe for such a long time. For bringing me cheer and laughter when I felt sad, and for giving me the best dog kisses ever.


TRUE LOVE
I’m so grateful for these beautiful portraits we had made before she passed, taken by two dear friends of mine, who happen to be brilliant photographers. Katie Cowart took the ones where I’m wearing the black dress, and Erica Rich took the ones of me and Grrizzle where I’m wearing the blue dress.

A year and change later, I’m still deep in my grieving process over this massive and quite sudden loss, and there’s still so much to muddle through, emotionally – so I’m giving myself lots of time to just feel it all, and not pressuring myself to be okay or “over it” anytime soon. Our death-denying culture rushes through and past grief and treats it as a temporary state, rather than an ongoing experience. I bought several books on grief at the beginning of the pandemic, in preparing myself for loss in this mass death event where millions of lives have been lost to Covid-19.

I wasn’t expecting my closest losses to be two of my beloved animal companions, who kept me feeling so held during this endlessly long time of isolation. I’m immensely grateful that my parents and elders are still with us (and all vaccinated and boosted now!) and my friends, too. I was so worried about their health and well being all during this terrifying pandemic that just goes on and on.

I’ve been very grateful to have some guidance from these authors in this time of loss – especially from Francis Weller’s Wild Edge of Sorrow, which has been a huge comfort. This book has been reminding me to hold the grief and the gratitude together – and that has been making a huge difference in my process – as I let these big waves of emotion wash over me, and give thanks for the privilege of loving so deeply, and being loved so purely.

Most of all, I am thanking Grrizelda, over and over again – for all the adventures we had, for loving me so deeply and for so long, for teaching me, guiding me, and protecting me. For giving me the best puppy kisses, and for being the most incredible canine companion ever. All I want in this life is to be worthy of her adoration, and to prove myself to be half as good as she thought I was.

This is the last photo of her alive in her body, in the spot where she left it.

To have to willingly choose to end your most beloved companion’s life is the most agonizing decision – but it is also the most loving thing you can do for them, when it’s time. It was traumatizing for both of us to experience what she was going through in those last days and awful nights. The nights were the worst. As her tumor-ridden lungs started filling up with fluid, her breathing became more and more labored, and she was panting with pain – and then she started having seizures that would take hold of her body and make it thrash. I remember my mother having seizures towards the end of her battle with cancer, and I knew she couldn’t take much more. The last thing I wanted was to say goodbye to her, and though I knew how much she hated to be leaving me, it was truly an act of kindness to let her go. To make her stay longer would be incredibly selfish, and just cruel.

I had a friend at the time who wanted to know why she had to be put down, and why I couldn’t just “let her die naturally” – and I had to tell her that there’s nothing “natural” about unnecessarily prolonging the suffering of someone you love, just so you can have more time, or so you can say you let “nature take its course”. I’m not close with that person any longer, for other reasons – but this comment sure didn’t help. Making that choice is hard enough without questions like that – and there will always be guilt involved, even when you know you did the right thing, at the right time.

In the weeks leading up to Grrizelda’s death, I had the great blessing of receiving some animal communication sessions from my friend Lulia of Blue Oracle (a gifted psychic), who what food she was preferring (after chemotherapy messed with her appetite/sense of taste), how she was feeling pain-wise, and when she needed to leave this plane of existence. That last part was really huge for me, because even though I knew that timeframe might shift, it still gave me a space where I could try to mentally prepare myself, and also block off a window of time to get things ready for grieving and for her passage, death, and burial. I had to make sure that I wouldn’t be working in the days preceding or after to give myself time to fall apart – which was tricky, because I tend to book with readings up pretty far in advance (something I’m so grateful for!)

Grrizelda told Lulia that it would be around the Vernal Equinox, and sure enough – the Eve of the Equinox was her time to go. Charity made herself available for us during the time of Grrizzle’s passing, and was able to transmit a vision of the Night Goddess Hecate coming in a batwing headdress to escort Grrizelda through a spider web rainbow crystal portal, with wolves and night-creatures attending. Lulia didn’t know about my and Grrizelda’s deep devotion to Hecate, so that was really wonderful to hear, and such a balm to my heart.

Hecate rules the crossroads, the liminal places and times, and the underworld. Dogs, wolves and bats, as well as all nocturnal creatures and creepy-crawlies are sacred to her, and under her protection. Knowing that she is with our patron goddess brings some peace to my heart, and being able to feel like we could communicate during this last brutal month when she was hurting so much, but unable to speak was just… an immense blessing. We’d had so many past life connections together – she was my horse, my dragon, and my little baby fruit-bat – and I think that we were mother and daughter elephants together once. Hearing details about our deep soul connection over many lifetimes opened up my heart to waves of pure love and profound emotion, and allowed me to feel more acceptance about trusting that it really was her time to go, but that we would be reunited again one day, in this life, or the next – and beyond.

When the day came, we fed her salmon and scrambled eggs and gave her so many pets and kisses. She and I were encircled by a small group of dear friends who loved her very much. She seemed so spry and happy in the yard with us, and it so hard to not just change my mind and call it off, but I knew I couldn’t do that (as much as I wanted to). We laid out a place near the grave that had already been dug for her, but it was too bright and sunny – it was a bit hot that day, and she kept not wanting to lay down there. The spot she chose for herself was one of her favorites – in the shade, underneath the lacebark elm, one of the first trees to leaf out in the springtime.

She was smiling, surrounded by purple spiderworts, in the exact shade of violet that I’ve always associated with her. Her wrists and belly had been shaved for the constant IVs and to suck the fluid from her lungs. When it came time to give her the injections, I had hoped it would be easy – but it was a brutal torture, for her, and for all of us witnessing. It took way too long, and I hate to admit that it wasn’t a gentle death. She was terrified, even though I was holding her, and in so much pain. We want death to be this beautiful process, but all too often, even we do everything we can to make it otherwise, it is difficult, frightening, and ugly. When she finally let go, it felt like a blessing. I cradled her limp body in my lap for a long, long time, whispering goodbyes to my queen.

Then it was time to place her body in the old black wheelbarrow, to carry her to her grave and cover her with flowers. We brought Snowy and Moon out to say goodbye, but they had already said goodbye the night before (Grrizelda let Moon snuggle with her for a long time, which she normally would rarely tolerate) and when they saw her body, they sniffed it briefly, realized she wasn’t in there anymore – and hopped over her like she was a log in the path. The animals know. Being able to be with her body after she’d flown helped me know too, though. I sat for a long time and watched her beautiful, soulful chocolatey eyes almost immediately turn milky and blue, as cobwebbed craquelure spreading over their surface.

As much as I hated to relinquish her soft fur and sweet paws to the earth, I couldn’t keep her with me any longer. She was gone, and what she left behind, we garlanded with blossoms, dusted with lye, and prepared her to become one with everything else – to become nourishment for the creatures of the soil. I’d lay awake and night and think about her out there, under the shovelfuls of rich black dirt, alone in the dark, turning to bones. I wanted to stretch myself out on her grave and sleep with her there – but what comfort would it really bring? At least she is buried next to her brother Thelonious, and with Lowkey and Rusty Jack Knife. My pet cemetery just keeps growing, sadly.

“to live in this world

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go…

Mary Oliver

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

I remember the week after Grrizelda died felt like one of the longest weeks of my life – deeply internal and slow, not expecting much of myself, and just letting myself be in the process. Grief is fucking exhausting. My beautiful dog left her body and went to fly free over the rainbow bridge with Lady Death guiding her to the other realms, but I was left on the edge of the abyss, battered by waves of shock and sadness.

It felt like being held hostage by a constantly shifting storm system – sometimes rocked by hurricane force winds, screaming gales of rage and helplessness that left me raw and ragged, washed up on the shore after hours of weeping. As the months wore on, it felt more like these minor squalls that would move in unexpectedly – like a cloud crossing over the sun. I think of her, and rain still starts pouring down my cheeks.

These thunderstorms of sorrow are always moving through me, and all I can do is allow them to do their work, to carry my love to the her in the spirit realm, and to cloak me in a mantle of shimmering rainbows when they pass. That’s the blessing of the deep griever – to do this alchemical work of transforming love and loss into beauty, into memory, into art.

It can take awhile, and isn’t a process to be rushed. Moving slow through it is key, and allowing myself to just be where I’m at with it – even if that meant just enduring long miserable nights of crying while eating donuts on the sofa and watching lots of facile superhero movies. During this time, I’ve been getting through it, and working on being as gentle and forgiving to myself as possible, throughout this process. The pain of losing my beloved familiar has changed me, transformed me in mysterious ways. Her death also marks the death of a long chapter of my life, over a decade – and the person I was with her at my side.

My wonderful dad sent me these wise words in a text not long after she died, and they continue to help me a lot, even now:

“You are doing the right things. Remember, you are in the process of becoming a different person, which always involves deep pain. You are in a new strange world. Walk through it with determination but always let the grieving happen as it will.”

For months after Grrizelda died, I found myself falling asleep on the sofa – and waking up in the wee hours to stumble in the dark into bed. It took me a while to figure out what that was about – but I realized that the ritual I had of saying goodnight to each of my dogs in their beds, distributing belly rubs and kisses was just too hard to do properly with her missing from the equation. The empty space where she used to be was pulsating. Her presence had been so quiet and regal, but so powerful. Moon and Snowy wouldn’t sleep in her spots after she left us, out of respect, and in their own way of showing grief, perhaps.

Here she is on her last morning on earth, bathed in sunlight, in the kitchen.

Grrizelda was my best girl, my heart-beast, my wise familiar, my shadow. She was the patient and grounded anchor of our household, the elder pack leader, my familiar – my everything. How do you say goodbye to your everything? I don’t know who I am without her by my side, because I have always felt like the best version of myself with her near me. I have to trust that she’s everywhere, in the air, all around me – or that some part of her is, now. The house has felt so strange and empty without her here – but knowing she’s not in pain anymore felt like a weight off of my heart, even though it’s simultaneously shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.

Being able to take the time to ritualize her death and burial properly made an enormous difference in my grieving process. I treasure the photos I took of her on her last day on this earth, in her lovely wolfy body. It really helped me so much to adorn her with flowers and spend time with her after her spirit had flown.

March 19th, 2021 was the hardest day, the most brutal and gutting dying – and also the most beautiful, and the most healing burying. Letting her go felt utterly impossible to do, and also completely unthinkable not to do. The bigger the love, the bigger the grief. Holding these paradoxes is tricky work, and I lose my balance continuously and go back and forth between extremes of emotion – but mostly just the rawest grief, the most immense gratitude, and the deepest, most unconditional and eternal love. Because that’s what she taught me. Along with profound patience – which I’m still trying to learn.


My dear friend the World Famous *BOB* commissioned this portrait of Grrizelda (based on the photograph above from her dying day) from our friend Aaron Damon Porter – which was such a kind and loving gift from both of them.

People were unbelievably kind to me since she died – dropping off bouquets of flowers and offerings of food to help me through. I’ve received some incredibly moving commemorative works of art by generous friends near and far, in the past few months since I lost both Lowkey and Grrizelda, and it has meant so much to me to see how the love we shared touched and inspired so many creative hearts – most of whom never even got to meet my sweet beasts in person! This generous outpouring of creativity, kindness and support has really bolstered my spirit during my grieving process, and has helped me feel so held.

I think that loving and appreciating our animal kindred is a sure sign of a good spirit, & I honestly find it hard to trust people who say they “just don’t like animals”. There’s so much to be learned through loving them, and being loved by them. I feel sad for people who miss out on that.

For all of us who are lucky enough to get to care for our four-legged friends (or in my Shrimp Scampi and Moon’s cases, three!) as the winged and feathered ones, the scaled and finned ones as well as furred – what a blessing. To be so unconditionally loved and adored by them, to delight in their antics, and their company, and to be so totally accepted by them, exactly as we are. That’s a rare and beautiful thing, and truly a privilege.

When I first laid eyes on this beautiful watercolor portrait of my beloved animal companions, painted by my friend Jonathan Krugman I immediately burst into happy tears. Seeing my favorite creatures depicted with such care and kindness, so much humor, whimsy, magic and beauty – just completely melted my heart.

I cling to these talismans, rub them with my thumb for comfort, and wear them when I’m missing her (which is every day). Her tag on a chain with a ruby from my friend Jonah, and a pendant made from her hair in resin which Jonah and Sumer Jo had made for me.

In the interminable and confusing days since she left my side, I have felt so lost without her – like an essential part of me is missing. The closest way I can explain the way it feels is remembering the descriptions from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, of what an aberration it would be for someone in that world to be without their daemon.

Daemons are animal familiars, aspects of the human soul externalized, in animal form. They can talk, think, and act independently, but they are absolutely an extension of their human – or, their human is an extension of them. In those books, there’s a hideous process called “intercision”, where by means of nefarious technology, the villains in the story cut away the daemons of some of the unfortunate young characters.

In that world, this is absolutely the most horrible thing that can happen to anyone – worse than any kind of torture, or the amputation of a limb. The people who survive this hideous process are seen as ghosts – soulless, shivering husks of what they once were, without their animal companion. When they are encountered out in the world, other humans and daemons draw back in horror and pity, shocked at the utter abomination of two souls who were always meant to be connected, never straying very far from one another (in the book, there’s a pull that becomes painful with separation beyond a few yards, unless you’re a witch or a real hard-ass). To be separated from your daemon is a fate worse than death.

Perhaps it sounds dramatic, but this is what the past year has felt like for me. I’ve lost an essential part of myself, the very best part of myself, maybe – and I haven’t known who I am without her. I felt most like myself when I was walking with Grrizelda. I felt such a deep belonging, meandering along wooded trails, with her by my side. That was my favorite version of myself, and I feel like a part of me died when she did.

I’ve tried to bear up under the weight of this grief, but I’m finally beginning to reckon with how much this immense loss shook me. I am not the same. I feel like I’ve aged a thousand years, had an essential limb hacked away, suffered an injury that will mark me for the rest of my life. I know grief is like that – and looking back on all the losses I’ve experienced in my life (my god, there have been so, so many now) I know that some of this is cumulative – scars on top of scars on top of scars.

I know that a big part of how hard it’s all hit me has had much to do with living through multiple massive and collective traumas simultaneously – an ongoing pandemic that has claimed millions of lives now, the grief of climate collapse, war, a terrifyingly unstable political situation, and major uncertainty for any kind of easy or peaceful future. Amidst that, I’m also navigating a wasteland of shattered friendships lost to the cognitive dissonance of the grief-denying, death-denying delusions that have fueled new age anti-vax conspiracy mentality.

It has been extremely difficult to grapple with all of the above, along with being diagnosed with a chronic (incurable and untreatable) illness that makes me especially vulnerable to a virus like Covid-19. I’ve been enduring what’s been years now of pretty intense isolation, and really feeling acutely the lack of support from tangible community – meaning, people physically present to show up during a loss like this in the way I know they would’ve love to, had we not been in the midst of a pandemic. I want to acknowledge that so many people absolutely showed up for me beautifully (from afar) during this time, and the countless kindnesses and love sent me way truly kept me afloat in some of my darkest hours.

It was just already such an incredibly hard version of reality to be living through, for so many of us. When the pandemic really got going, I would say all the time, “The only way I’m managing all this isolation is with the love and companionship from my animals” – so to lose two of them in the space of just a few months felt unspeakably cruel. The brutal revelation of Grrizelda’s illness and rapid decline came on the heels of the traumatic polar vortex ice and snow storm here, and the abrupt and violent death of my kitty Lowkey happened just the month before.

Living through the past two, almost three years now of never-ending pandemic and accompanying worldwide shit-show has sometimes just felt like too much for any heart to bear. And yet – we do, somehow. The heart breaks and breaks, until it opens. Over the past few years, my heart has been shattered into dust over and over, and yet – it keeps on beating, more open than ever, and overflowing with grief, with love, with so many intense emotions.

For a long time after she died, I went underground, into a kind a stasis. I might be starting to emerge a bit, now – but we’ll see. My grief was so raw, it felt like a terrible wound that just needed to be wrapped up, covered with a dirty bandage until it scarred over, and wasn’t quite so tender. But I know these anniversaries have a way of breaking open the scar, and letting any festering pain seep to the surface, so a deeper healing can take place. Lately, I’ve been peeling back the wrappings, and examining what’s underneath. Turns out, it’s still pretty raw under there, but it needed cleaning out, and I’m glad to finally feel ready to tend to it, through writing, looking at photographs of her, crying, and just letting myself really feel it all.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but for the past year, I’ve let the altar in my bedroom accumulate a thick layer of dust. Every day, I’ve looked at it with sadness and some disgust, and thought about cleaning it. I knew I needed to, knew I would feel so much better once I had – but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, until the anniversary of her death. I think I buried myself when I buried my dog, in a way – let myself get covered up in dust and dirt, too. I made a cocoon for myself – or a grave.

This self-neglect was partly a by-product of being in survival mode, low power mode – where all my energy was going to just keeping myself and my remaining animals alive and maintaining. I’ve been so grateful for the company of my funny loving little cloud-clowns, Moon and Snowy – who have kept me laughing and snuggled when I needed it most – and to my irascible ginger kitty Shrimp Scampi, who once loved to cuddle with her friend Grrizelda. Scampi kept me company as I wiped away the layers of schmutz and cleared away everything extraneous off my altar, and lit the candles in front of portraits friends painted of Grrizelda, and added her collar, a little felt poppet in her shape, stuffed with soothing herbs made by another friend, and a box carved with plants for grief made by yet another. Inside that box I’d stowed bits of her fur, the bloody gauze from her blood draws, a torn piece of paper with her name on it from the bag all her pain meds came in. I lit candles and placed and vase of white irises there for her, and finally hung the beautiful portraits of her friends had made after she died. I wasn’t really able to look at them much, for a long time – not until now. It was all just too much for me, the accumulation of wounds too raw – but I’m so incredibly grateful to have her looking over me while I sleep, and to feel like she’s still in the room with me, in a way. Art is magical like that.


This beautiful Grrizelda poppet was made by my friend Melissa Eva Meyer, and is stuffed with healing herbs – rose, lavender, calendula, and chamomile. The magic grief support box she sits atop was made by Emily Plews (of Sacral Vessels), who used pyrography to inscribe images of linden, borage, mimosa, wild rose and hawthorn – all herbs sacred to me, who assist with grief.


This black wolf pendant with a garnet heart (my and Grrizelda’s birthstone) is from Queen of Jackals. When I’m not wearing it, it rests on my altar with her worn edelweiss collar (for a gut German fräulein, natürlich!)

This poem makes me cry every time I read it, which I know is part of the healing:

“Things to do after your dog has died

Sweep the floor

Look out the window

Pant

Make a cup of tea and some toast

But then not eat them

Change the sheets on the bed

Try to sing

Start to cry

Forget what day it is

Stumble into a corner of the floor and hold your knees tightly

Keen

Pull yourself together

Make another cup of tea and this time drink it

Look out a different window

Stare at that spot on the floor where your dog used to stretch out, languid and happy, his paws twitching as he raced across sleep meadows and into dream ravines filled with moss and ferns and the scent of foxes

Look for the Kleenex

Use toilet paper instead

Wander around the house, your heart like a damned anvil in your chest

Heat up leftovers

Push them around the plate before leaving the entire thing in the sink

Look for what is not there

Hear things

Feel the forgotten fur beneath your fingertips

Feel the forgetting begin

Hold a memory, any memory, bright and shining, soft and sad, smelling of wet fur and leaves, with a whisker there and muddy paw prints left on the stairs, of a walk of a hike of a trip to the park with a treat and a bone and a belly rub snacks stolen off the counter and tug of war and the squeaky toy a glance of complicity in play with your hand on head with tail wagging and breath misting in the morning light or the moon over the trees while an owl croons ears are pricked and nose to the ground sniffing, sniffing, sniffing following the invisible trail to its joyful finding

Put on your pajamas

Turn around three times before you curl up by the rope toy and find yourself chasing the echo of a bark into a night that will never end

Grow a tail

Catherine Young
11.27.12


After my dear friend Marcela lost her beloved elderly canine familiar Tulla, she received a memorial tattoo from our longtime pal Pauly Lingerfelt from a drawing by Magda Boreysza, whose art I have loved and admired for many years. I was very moved and inspired by the way it came out, and was so grateful that she didn’t mind me wanting to be dead dog memorial twinsies with her.


Having Grrizelda emblazoned on my skin, walking with me always – until I leave this body and go to find her, has been an immense comfort. She is my Anubis, guiding souls in the land of the dead, and watching over me while I still live.

It took me a really long time to write this – and it was a lot harder than I thought it’d be. Not because I didn’t know what to say – but because once I started, I just don’t know how to stop. I keep finding more and more photographs, thinking of more stories and memories I want to share here, and I just have to accept that it will never feel like enough, and that my love, and my grieving for her will go on and on.

I’ll likely keep wondering if I did her justice with what I shared of her existence here. Did I bring her to life enough for someone who didn’t have to blessing of knowing her to possibly understand how amazing and singular she was?

And did I give her enough while she was here? Enough attention, affection, joy? I can only hope that her 12 years on this earth were as good and happy and fulfilling as I could possibly make them for her.

We go on such a journey with our animals – but there’s a point where they have to walk ahead of us, scouting out the road over the next bend, beyond our sight. I can only hope that she’s waiting for me up there, and that in some way, at some point – we’ll be joined together again.

“Grief is the honour we pay to that which is dear to us.”
 Toko-pa Turner, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home

PRINZESSE GRRIZELDA POLACHECK
JANUARY 15TH, 2009 – MARCH 19TH, 2021

This is Persephone magic, rising back up to life after being hidden away in the darkness. The Vernal Equinox will always hold a space of grieving for me now, as I lost Grrizelda on the day before (the 19th). I still feel like Demeter, grieving her stolen daughter – and then slowly seeing her return in a different form, alive again in the blooming flowers and birdsong. Now roses and datura rise up from the earth over her bones, and whisper to me stories of her next incarnation as I water them with my tears. This season is a scythe’s edge, a translucent eggshell membrane cracking open between the worlds of life and death. After these brutal dark winters, it feels like life is finally winning again. I need that to be true.

I don’t think I truly realized until recently how much I needed to be part of a pack. In my family, and in my friendships (as amazing, loving, and supportive as they are), it’s always been hard for me to shake the feeling of being a bit of a stray. My original family was deeply fractured by my mother’s death, and I was left with relatives (my Aunt Ruth, who I’ve written about here, my Uncle Jimbo who died tragically and unexpectedly in June 2021, and my two cousins, Luke and Betty) for about a year after she succumbed to cancer. I was, and still am, grateful to them for taking me in when they really didn’t have much in the way of room, resources, or emotional energy to share – but it was still hard for me to be torn away from everything I knew. I felt like a foster dog, lost and abandoned – kicked to the curb, and then taken in by people who already had too much on their plates.

It’s taken me a long time to understand it, but that experience of being dumped off on a doorstep, feeling like an interloper into a new pack, with new dynamics, and new rules really messed with me. All my life, under the surface, I’ve always had to be constantly evaluating, scanning for safety, gauging where and how I might be able to fit in and be accepted. A lot of that wariness left me for the first time when I found my wild wolf pack. And it’s part of the reason so many of those difficult feelings returned to me after Grrizelda died in the spring, and then again (even harder) when my uncle died in the summer.

The orphaned, unwanted part of myself was very much rescued by the dogs I rescued – all of whom were neglected and left to roam wild, until we found one another. It’s one of the many reasons I’ll always want a shelter dog instead of one from a breeder – because I know what it’s like to desperately need to chosen, to be cared for, protected, and loved forever. And in offering that to my dogs, it truly has been returned to me, one-thousand fold.

“And do you want to run with my pack?
Do you want to ride on my back?
Pray that what you lack does not distract
And even when you run through my mind
Something else is in front, oh, you’re behind
And I don’t have to remind you
To stick with your kind
And you do say oh oh
That you do pray oh oh
And you say
That you’re ok”

– The Book Of Right-On
by Joanna Newsom


Me and my pack. This is what belonging looks like. We belong to each other, always and forever.

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