There has been a great deal of loss in my life in the past five years, seeming to culminate after the big one - my mother's death in 2010 - with the deaths of a childhood friend, both of my old dogs and the letting go of my illustrious dream of a young dressage horse to bring up in 2013. I tend to have a delayed emotional reaction to things, which helps to explain why the end of 2013 into early 2014 were an especially dark time for me, and at which point my long-term relationship also disintegrated. Chance, fate, the universe - what have you - gave me two gifts around that same time. The first was Cheryl Strayed's book Wild, which I'd had on my shelf for years but was drawn to read as my fourth Mother's Day as a motherless daughter approached. While I was in no position to abandon my life in Denver and seek out identity and solitude in an existential wilderness expedition like the author, what the book gave me was permission to still not be okay, as Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail four years after losing her mother to lung cancer. Our lives were different, but our mothers were radiant forces whose absence could not be quantified and which defined our unwillingly transformed selves. I clung to her words with such desperate gratitude, and the book and subsequent film remain deeply important to me.
The second gift was a red and white gremlin-eared dog with an endearing smile from a tropical island who had suffered hardship and loss of her own. I truly did intend to love her and let her go in order to continue fostering more dogs, but Boca's nurturing presence was an incredible comfort to me and from the beginning she seemed to know she was already home. In the way she intuited when I was having an especially difficult or lonely night and fit herself against me and pressed her chin to my heart, she offered a kind of mothering I had been missing. She was a perfect counterpoint to Ruby's intensity and whether hiking with both dogs or taking Boca on a solo walk, her cheerful untroubled personality was a balm to my anxieties. Boca was the sugar to Ruby's spice and the honey to my tea - she completed us in a way that made me feel sorry for who we were without her. The timing of her arrival into Colorado - into my life - was almost uncanny in its significance. I had no idea how much I would need her, how much I had been needing her.
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss my mother in ways vast and mundane. I wish she could have met Ruby and Boca and that we could have seen Wild together. It's incomprehensible sometimes that I still have to live the rest of my life without her. Surviving her loss prepared me in a way for the ones that inevitably follow and the ones that blindside in the midst of spring, but each one references the last until sometimes it can feel too much to bear. What keeps me asking, reaching, loving is the promise of two delighted faces every time I come home, two sweet warm bodies curled next to me every time I go to sleep. Every day, we walk and play and share and rescue each other. They've been witness to the discovery of strength I didn't know I had, wells of devotion to other living creatures I'd only ever skimmed the surface of before. The weight of loss is something I'll always carry, but with the journey flanked by two remarkable dogs who have taught me so much about love, acceptance, resilience and joy as well as forming my own small family that my mother would have been proud of, the weight is a little bit lighter.