On a dull, gray january morning, I watched the wet, heavy snow fall beyond my Wash Park window, hushing the outside world. Inside, too, it was quiet. Painfully quiet. Bodhi, the boxer my husband and I had loved for nine years, had died the evening before, and I was waiting for a cremation service to arrive. I ran my hands over Bodhi’s burnt sienna coat for the last time. I leaned in close, breathed in his earthy aroma, and nuzzled his floppy ears. I love you, I said. I’m so grateful you were ours.
Anyone who has ever owned a dog—and there are 142,631 Denver households that do—likely knows the exquisite anguish of losing one…and also the limitless joy pooches bring. My husband, Matt, named Bodhi after the Buddhist concept of enlightenment. The Sanskrit word is synonymous with nirvana, a place beyond sorrows where one is freed from hate, greed, and ego and where delightedness reigns. It was a spot-on name for a sweet animal who, at six weeks old, crawled into my lap, fell asleep, and set up his place in our hearts—and lives.
Dogs do that; they wriggle into life’s empty spaces, filling the gaps and transforming us in the process. Bodhi entered our lives in all his wrinkled glory when my husband was a bleary-eyed medical resident and I was a young editor. Far from family and childless by choice, we received love from Bodhi we didn’t even know we needed. He was a steadfast companion for me every time the hospital called my husband away; he became a giddy nap-time cuddler when Matt fell asleep on the floor. He gave both of us something to care about more than ourselves. Most important, he made us laugh just by being himself. And for nine years, he never asked anything of us in return (except for bowls of chow, walks in the park, and good, hard neck scratches). He was always there, a quirky, cherubic presence in our lives.
As a puppy, Bodhi had a penchant for snatching the loose end of the toilet paper—and then running like hell. I would hear the roll unwind and find my little fawn boy luxuriating atop a mound of Charmin. He fancied any kind of ball because he learned if he reared back on his hind legs and landed on one with his front paws, it would squirt across the hardwood floors in our Denver bungalow, allowing him to race after it. He was fond of the water that came out of our bathtub’s faucet—we don’t know why—so each night we would splash some of Denver Water’s finest out on the rim for him. Although he was 70 pounds, he preferred sitting in our laps to lounging on the floor. He loved lying on his back, dead bug–style, in the sun. In the fall, he delighted in hiding toys in the pile of cottonwood leaves we were actively raking. And he performed the boxer “waggle”—a full-body shimmy—when we came home each day. It is, maybe, the greatest way a person can be greeted. All of this made us smile and laugh and brought a dose of lightheartedness to what may have otherwise been a giggle-free day.
The thing is, though, 3,287 happiness-filled days with Bodhi were simply not enough. I know it’s part of some cosmic contract that we get to have these beautiful beings in our lives with the caveat that we will someday have to bury them, but that doesn’t make it easier. And now, our house is silent. We can no longer hear his paws padding on the floor or his breathing outside the bedroom door; the spaces he once filled—in our home and our hearts—are now so obviously vacant. Those who do not have pets probably cannot understand how these divine little creatures fill up even the smallest moments with so much love. In fact, I don’t think I fully understood it until our sweet Bodhi enlightened me.