Our Hearts Are Full, And They Are Heavy

The baggage claim at Oakland Airport hums with quiet anticipation this seemingly uneventful morning. A small group of parents chats casually as they cross and uncross their arms. Every now and then we glance toward the escalator. We’re waiting.

Waiting for the flight to land. For the luggage to come out. For the kids to sail down the escalator, with backpacks and smiles and stories of new friends, loud songs and whose team won the color war. From the moment they left for Camp Ramah weeks before, we have looked forward to this day.

My heart beats a little faster. Nervous. I am not ready.

It’s been a wonderfully long, hot and adventurous summer and this day, which brings the kids and endless loads of laundry home from camp (will the socks ever be white again?), signals the almost-end. Emails bursting with back-to-school info already flood my inbox. She needs a new backpack, he has outgrown his shorts, and I wish we had all read more books.

I am not ready for school to start, I am not ready for summer to be over, and I am not ready for my daughter and two sons to come down that escalator. I am not ready to pierce their happy, anticipating balloon of home-at-last with my sharp and distressing news.

The hum at the foot of the escalator swells to applause and cheers. They’re home! My now sixth-grader leads the way, his feet barely touching the ground. He must have leapt over that short flight of moving steps, because suddenly he is in my arms, all bony elbows and shoulders, and I notice I don’t have to bend down to hug him.

“Hi Mom. I had a great time! What’s for dinner?”

I laugh and blink back tears of relief and delight, burying my news with its jagged edge under layers of bubbling chatter about his overnight trip and new Hebrew words and which day was the best day.

They have two big duffel bags each, and I wonder if they have come home with more than they left with.

Outside, I am distracted by a plane taking off loudly above us. When I look back down, everything has changed. The bags are scattered on the ground, lifeless and forgotten. Their tears and grief-stricken faces tell me everything.

“He was so old, guys,” I hear my husband say over and over, as he holds them close.

It’s been a week since our beloved dachshund, Pretzel, passed away. These three who were at camp have just heard the news. The air rushes out of their homecoming happiness with an audible pop.

He died an old and happy dog, but none of us were ready.

They are quiet on the drive home, each lost in memories of the silly little dog who was part of their whole lives. Their teen and tween imaginations did not allow for the possibility that their last goodbye was the last goodbye. They could not imagine he wouldn’t welcome them home with licks and a frantically wagging tail. That he wouldn’t sniff their dirty socks for clues of their adventures or curl himself into his signature pretzel right next to them on the couch.

I knew which one would feel this the most. He flew into my arms at the airport and now his mournful cries pull my heart apart, and I know his is in pieces, too. His eyes shine deep and brown with bewildered tears of hurt and confusion. He sobs on and off all day, caught between the happiness of home and the devastating finality of loss.

I want to help him hurt less. I haltingly assure him things I don’t know for sure: that Pretzel wasn’t in pain when he died, that his last thoughts were of his human brothers and sister, that he is so happy we are all together again at the end of this wandering summer. I want to believe these things myself.

But all I really know for sure is that we were not ready, and it is an unavoidable truth that hello and goodbye are always intertwined.

Pretzel: 3/16/2000 - 8/3/2001

Pretzel: 3/16/2000 – 8/3/2015

This post originally appeared in my “In Real Life” column in the J. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather together to share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt was, “What I’ll miss about summer…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Lisa (this week’s sentence thinker-upper) of Flingo and Allie of The Latchkey Mom.

26 thoughts on “Our Hearts Are Full, And They Are Heavy

  1. Just read it in the J. Wonderful! And with tears in my eyes….Once things settle down with the new school year and ‘after the holidays’ let’s make a date for tea. Hugs, Barbara

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nix. Nix. NICKI. This was such a perfect and horribly sad (which is perfect because it IS horribly sad) way to honor Pretzel and your kids’ reactions. I read this and could hear it in my ears in your accent and it was all even more amazing for it. Your “I want to help him hurt less” especially got to me. When my dog died, Tucker seemed to not notice. It was so much longer when I realized how much it hurt him.

    Sending you love and light and thank you for the fact that you reminded me what was important tonight after being upset about a terrible haircut and having to pay to have it fixed. Life is love. Thank you, and I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so sorry about Pretzel. So sad. My first broken heart came when my dog died. I remember everything about that day. It’s one of the things that stops me from getting a dog for my kids. I don’t think I could witness their sadness in f something happened.

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    • I hear you Allie. It really was very traumatic, their absolute shock and sadness. But I am happy we all got to love and enjoy that silly little dog for so many wonderful years!

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  4. I’m so glad you shared this here – I wanted to leave a comment on the J. but it felt strange…I like to comment on your own page. This piece touched me in a few ways – sorrow for you and your kids, the difficulty in seeing your children so sad, and the inevitability of the same thing happening in my own family.

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    • I know what you mean about the commenting! And I always so appreciate your comments, Dana, thank you so much. It’s been almost a month since he died, and I admit it’s still difficult for me to accept that he’s not coming back. The kids are desperate for another dog already, to fill the void I think. Part of me wants to protect them from the inevitable sadness (like Allie says above) but I know we all have so much love to give another pup!

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  5. I feel your pain! It is so hard to lose a furry family member, and it can be just as hard as losing a best friend. I remember coming home from school early at age 14, because we’d had a half day and I’d forgotten to tell my mother about it, or maybe I purposely didn’t because I wanted a few hours of freedom before having to check in with my mom, who was at work. Our dog had been sick for a while, but I totally wasn’t expecting to walk into an empty house. When no dog greeted me, I looked around and saw that her food dish, her leash, her toys, etc, were all gone. My mom had taken her to be put to sleep while I was at school! I bawled so loudly, a neighbor came running over because he thought I was being attacked! For a week all I could do was wander around the neighborhood, because I couldn’t stand to be in the empty house. Your kids are lucky, though, to be going through this experience with such supportive parents. In the end, loving an animal is worth the inevitable heartbreak.

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    • Oh how heartbreaking for you! So sorry. It was awful having to do this while the kids were away but he couldn’t hang on anymore. I so agree that the love and time with our furry friends is with it.

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  6. Oh, Nicki, this cut me to the core. I am so sorry about the loss of your beloved Pretzel. I, too, am not ready for summer to be over, not ready for so many other things to be over or to begin. It brings great comfort to read your words, especially the very last line.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I honestly thought about you all summer and the adventure you guys were having! I’m going to Israel in Oct, but on a women’s trip. Would be so amazing to be there with a family, but I am not at all graceful (or remotely close to it) traveling with the kids. Maybe with the littlest one is older . . . ! It was really great to follow your posts about the experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todah Nina!
      The good thing about a long plane ride is that the kids can’t escape :). Wishing you nesiya tovah in October – going to Israel without kids sounds very amazing to me!

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