Does it seem cliche that I truly believe a dog can be a man's best friend? Is it ridiculous that a 40-year-old former entertainment executive would weep over a Chihuahua?
It's not. At least, I don't think so. I believe five pounds of fur and love taught me more about life than my bookshelf of self-help books.
The first time I saw Stella, I was convinced we'd met before. She locked eyes with me at Chihuahua Rescue and I knew the search was over. Her sweet little face, the gentle wag of her tail, and those bright brown eyes that calmly locked onto mine, as if to say "Finally, you made it! I've been here waiting for you." My wife Julie and I had found the perfect addition to our family and a playmate for our dog Rocco.
Rocco and Stella were our "kids" before we had kids. Restaurants, parties, parks -- it didn't matter where we went or what we did. Rocco and Stella were coming with us; we were family, and family sticks together.
When we'd return home, Stella would lay on my chest and gaze up at me with a look of utter contentment and adoration. I learned a thing or two about love looking down at that pure heart on four legs.
Over the next eight years, Julie and I added two non-furry kids to our family: our daughters Jemma and Jolie. Though we knew some Chihuahuas could be testy with children, Stella and Rocco loved and protected the girls like their own. When one of the babies would cry, Stella would howl like a wolf until we reached the crib. She'd stay near us as we rocked the crying little one to sleep, not resting until she was certain all was well.
Unfortunately, despite her mighty heart, Stella fell ill last year. We did everything we could to ease her decline, but when the day came to say goodbye to our first "little girl," our hearts were breaking. Julie and I held her in our arms for as long as we could, whispering tearful farewells before we called the vet into the room to put her to down. We would have done anything for Stella except allow her to suffer.
Stella left our family that day the same way she had entered it -- gently, calmly and safely in our arms. We miss her every day
About six months later, I spotted a post on Facebook titled "10 Things Your Dog Would Tell You." I was barely halfway through number one when the tears started to roll down my cheeks:
1. My life is likely to last 10 to 15 years. Any separation from you will be painful: Remember that before you get me.
2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.
3. Place your trust in me -- it is crucial to my well-being.
4. Do not be angry with me for long, and do not lock me up as punishment.
5. You have your work, your entertainment, and your friends. I only have you.
6. Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don't understand your words, I understand your voice.
7. Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget.
8. Remember before you hit me that I have sharp teeth that could easily hurt you, but I choose not to bite you because I love you.
9. Before you scold me for being uncooperative, obstinate, or lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I might not be getting the right food, or I have been out too long, or my heart is getting too old and weak.
10. Take care of me when I get old. You too will grow old. Accompany me on difficult journeys. Never say: "I cannot bear to watch" or "Let it happen in my absence." Everything is easier for me if you are there -- even my death.
I decided to post the list on my site, www.PositivelyPositive.com, as a tribute to Stella, and the response absolutely blew me away. With more than 16,000 "likes" on Facebook and more than 100 blog comments, I was quickly reminded that loss and heartache are among the most universal experiences in the world. Grief doesn't have to separate us from life, joy or one another. These are the moments that should serve as a catalyst to bring us together and remind us to focus on what really matters.
As I read through the sea of wonderful comments and stories, I came face to face with three truths.
- Sharing the experience of loss can be soul-wrenchingly, beautifully cathartic.
- The sadness of loss cannot keep us from loving.
- I had finally found my place of healing.
Even in our most painful, darkest moments, light is just around the corner. Sometimes positivity comes easily, other times it must be knowingly pursued... but it's always there, waiting to be discovered by those who need it most. The passing of Stella left an empty space in our hearts, but the life she lived and the love she gave to our family is forever. I would do it all over again. And again. And again -- if I could.
If you're currently in pursuit of healing, or maybe unaware you're in need of healing, I'll leave you with a few words of wisdom from Stella herself. Each and every time she'd sit on my chest and rest her eyes with me, I could hear what she needed me to know: "You're not alone. Everything's easier if we do it together. Don't forget what's most important. Smile. Laugh. And and most of all -- never stop playing"
Rest in peace Stella. We miss you.
Eric Handler is the co-founder and publisher of the online go-to destination for inspiration, PositivelyPositive.com. They have more than 1.2 million fans on Facebook.