My first day without Carina

by Janice Hoffman

This is a dog tethered to her person
on the last walk they will take together.
When is life and death real
and when is it abstract?
This is about pets
and how we love them.
Sometimes, pets are a stand-in for people
because it’s simply less complex.
Carina’s choice that day,
when we walked through the
park’s playground for the last time,
for the first time, she chose
to walk through the conduit
and lead me through to the other side.
The picture was taken
on our last day together.
I write about my first day without her.

Lama Rod Owens reminds us that when we grieve for someone, we feel the pain of a loss of our own identity, who we were when our life was inextricably intertwined with whomever or whatever we lost. For 14 years, I had identified as Carina’s mom. I’d been that person with the cute little dog, the five-pound wonder photographed on a skateboard wearing an orange halter, on a fishing boat wearing a life vest, bravely floating in a neighbor’s pool, caught mid-stride, all four legs aloft while flying/running on the beach, wearing her own participant number at the Rotary Club’s 5k Turkey Trot, posing with great dignity atop a Steinway, pausing patiently as little children cautiously approached, lounging in wheelchair laps at a nursing home. She was the dog made famous in over 50 limericks my husband wrote.

There once was a dog named Carina,
who had a most pleasant demeanor.
She was tiny and cute,
with a soft tail to boot.
You’d like her if ever you’d seen her.

Now that Carina is no longer with us, with me, I no longer have an automatic conversation starter to describe myself, no built-in buffer. Carina was a good listener too, so now I have fewer idle conversations and fewer opportunities to delve deeper into issues:

“Carina, are you ready to go outside? Ask daddy if he would take you out before dinner.”
“What do you think about today’s economic numbers, huh?”
“Don’t look at me like that, I don’t understand cryptocurrency either.”
“How do you like your new playlist? The ‘174 Hz sound bath’ is for pain.”

Wish we knew what went on in her brain.
Just think of the knowledge we’d gain.
Was she thinking of walks,
or perhaps some TED talks?
That’s assuming, of course, she was sane.

But near the end, it was a lot: daily prescriptions, a .25 ml dropper of this, a .5 ml dropper of that; mixing probiotics and omega-3s into her homemade dog food; breaking up freeze-dried minnows into even tinier pieces and burying them under dog food, one of the few games that still brought her joy.

For some reason, in the weeks preceding her death, she would only chow down if her food was taken out of her bowl and spread around her placemat, so that became our mealtime ritual, anything to keep her eating. Every day I tried to help her find what might bring peace in the late afternoon when she couldn’t get comfortable, and we would both get the blues.

The vet had given up. We needed to accept the situation. It was a lot. For her. For me. For us. Angel Veterinary Services came to our home on the last Sunday in January and helped us let her go. The hole that remains is plugged with poignancy.

“Though I dream in vain
in my heart it will remain
my stardust melody
a memory of love’s refrain.”
— “Stardust,” Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish


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