My First Holiday Season Without My Best Friend

My First Holiday Season Without My Best Friend

I wish that you were still here.

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A little under a year ago, but coming up on a year really soon, I lost my elderly dog Deacon. It definitely as I would describe it one of the worst days of 2018. Don't get me wrong, I had an amazing 2018. But I think that it was just one of the dents in my year that when I think back to when I got the news, I still cry. I spent the rest of 2018 without a dog in my life, and I knew as the year went on that spring break and summer break was going to be weird without him.

But it flew over my head that this would be my first winter break without him as well.

When we adopted him back when I was about seven, it was still the summer before second grade and he, of course, was still a puppy. That meant that every year of his life, there was at least one Christmas and New Year's celebrated with him. After New Year's 2018, I had this gut feeling inside of me that he was not going to make it to the end of the year with how his health was going.

That gut feeling was correct. But he didn't even make it to the end of the first month of 2018. So like I said before, I spent the rest of 2018 without my best friend.

Then, when winter break began and I realized that this was going to be my first Christmas without Deacon, it hit me like a wall falling on top of me and smashing me to my death. While the tree was up and decorated and the stockings were hung, it all felt weird. We were not telling Deacon to stay away from the tree, and we did not hang up the stocking that was specifically made for him (it had the letter D on it for Deacon).

Then New Year's came around, and the thought came up again a few days after we said goodbye to 2018 and said hello to 2019. He was not barking at everyone cheering and wondering why everyone was counting down from 10 and yelling Happy New Year. I didn't hear his barks as fireworks would go off to celebrate the New Year. He wasn't around the dinner table at Christmas Eve or New Year's Day. Everything just felt like that hole grew a little bit during the holiday season.

For Christmas, I got my family this one ornament from when my sorority had our semi-formal in Frankenmuth, Michigan and we went to Bronner's. It was an ornament talking about the rainbow bridge and the reason I got it was that it felt like it could help in memory of how this was the first holiday season without Deacon and that he was now in a better place. Which he was.

My family made it through our first holiday season without Deacon, but as the one year of his passing is coming up, I know my heart is going to be heavy during this time.

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A Letter To My Freshman Dorm Room As I Pack Up My Things

Somehow a 15' x 12' room became a home.

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Dear Geary 411,

With your creaky beds, concrete walls, and mismatched tile floors, you are easily overlooked as just another room we were randomly assigned to— but you were different. Inside your old walls, I have made some of the best memories of my life that I will hold on to forever.

Thank you for welcoming my neighbors in with open arms who quickly became friends who didn't knock and walked in like you were their own.

I feel like an apology is needed.

We're sorry for blaring the music so loud while getting ready and acting like we can actually sing when, in reality, we know we can't. Sorry for the dance parties that got a bit out of control and ended with us standing on the desks. Sorry for the cases of the late-night giggles that came out of nowhere and just would not go away. Sorry for the homesick cries and the "I failed my test" cries and the "I'm dropping out" cries. We're sorry for hating you at first. All we saw was a tiny and insanely hot room, we had no idea what you would bring to us.

Thank you for providing me with memories of my first college friends and college experiences.

As I stand at the door looking at the bare room that I first walked into nine months ago I see so much more than just a room. I see lots and lots of dinners being eaten at the desks filled with stories of our days. I see three girls sitting on the floor laughing at God knows what. I see late night ice cream runs and dance battles. I see long nights of homework and much-needed naps. Most importantly, I look at the bed and see a girl who sat and watched her parents leave in August and was absolutely terrified, and as I lock you up for the last time today, I am so proud of who that terrified girl is now and how much she has grown.

Thank you for being a space where I could grow, where I was tested physically, mentally and emotionally and for being my home for a year.

Sincerely,

A girl who is sad to go

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To My Rescue Dog, Thank You For Teaching Me A Lesson In Unconditional Love And Strength

Your perseverance taught me I can get through anything with love.

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To my rescue dog Xena,

When I first heard of you, I had no idea you were going to pop into my life. I fought long and hard to get Mom and Dad to let me have your brother, Bolt, and after five years of having him, I did not expect them to want to welcome in another furry friend. I hardly expected them to want to do so as a major hurricane that had just destroyed Puerto Rico barreled its way here, but they did.

Mom called me and told me you existed as I was about to come home. Here, I thought classes finally being canceled was going to be the best news I got all day. She sent me a picture of you in your crate and I did not even have to hear the rest. I knew I wanted to have you. Even if I had to force Bolt to learn to share and be nice, I knew you were mine.

Mom knew too and, after asking me if I was sure I wanted you—can you believe she had to ask?—we set off to bring you home. Bags packed, I met you an hour from home at some shady restaurant in the middle of Melrose. You were tinier than I expected and far skinnier than Bolt, but you wagged your tail at me and even jumped up to give me a kiss without any hesitation, and I fell for you.

I had no idea what you had been through leading up to that moment. They told us you were rescued from Hurricane Harvey only two weeks before, but that was all I knew. I had no clue your foster home had been flooded and that you were forced to float on a couch cushion to stay alive. I had no idea that you were covered in mud when they found you. All I knew when I got to hold you for the first time was that you were a very sweet girl who immediately showed me love.

What the wonders of unconditional love can show you.

You should have seen all of our faces when you first met Bolt. You were too busy sniffing him and already showing him you were the alpha dog to notice, but we were smitten by you. I felt my heart grow full knowing you were getting along with him. I felt utter joy knowing you were allowing us to give you a permanent home.

I was worried though about our future. About your future. We were not in the direct path of Hurricane Irma at the time, but I knew Irma was coming, and I was scared of how you would react. I saw you begin to tremble as it started to rain, and I noticed you begin to follow us around more skittishly than before. You probably thought Bolt was dumb for lounging around like normal. You also probably thought we were ridiculous for trying to get you to go out before things got bad.

That night when things did get bad, I will never forget the lesson you taught me. As I sat in bed, I watched as the path of Irma changed and put us right in the middle of a Category 2 storm and became afraid. I heard the wind start to pick up and I saw the lights flicker and soon go out, and I was terrified. This was the worst storm I was ever going to face. Even as an adult, I felt like crying.

But, then I looked at you. I saw you curled at my side, licking my arm, pawing at me to keep petting you, and I realized something. If a little dog like you could weather a massive hurricane like Harvey, I could get through this storm, too. Even though the wind sounded like a freight train and some trees in our neighborhood fell, you gave me the courage to get through it, Xena. You showed that you can weather any storm and find the happy ending after it if you just keep your strength and march on.

You also showed me, through completely trusting me to keep you safe during Irma, the power of unconditional love. You had known me for only twenty-four hours at the time, and you had just survived probably the scariest event of your life, yet you believed I would not let anything hurt you. You loved me. You blindly trusted I would protect you even when nature did its worst, and I will never forget that.

Bolt (tan) and Xena (black and tan) the day after Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Photo Credit: Laurel Swiderski

I remember it every time I see you now, whether it is at home bothering Bolt or in the picture frame on my apartment desk. You had the strength and love inside you to weather two storms no dog should have to endure alone and came out just fine. If you can do it, my warrior princess of hurricanes, so can I.

So can we all.

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