THE BLOG
11/25/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Holidays Without Loved Ones Are Tough. On Dogs.

This will be our third Thanksgiving without my father's sidekick for close to 70 years -- my mother. We've all made adjustments -- Dad can leave the toilet seat up without repercussions, after three fails, I'm getting the hang of Mom's apple pie crust and my sister is lot more... tolerable? The only family member who lags behind, is Seamus, my 9-year-old black labrador.

That first motherless Thanksgiving, he greeted the arriving familial hoard with his usual unbridled exuberance, his entire back end fish tailed and I wished I could be that happy. About anything. Coats were taken off and piled on the sofa. Wet boots were removed and put on the radiators out of retrieving range, then everyone came into the kitchen, but, Seamus wasn't among the kerfuffle. He was still looking towards the front door.

Where's the woman?

I expected him to trot in during the critical hoisting-of-turkey-from-pan-to-cutting-board moment, because one year he almost got lucky when the turkey slipped and fell, and I had to assert my alpha dog status and growl, "My turkey!" I also had to up the ten second rule.

Where was my favorite tripping hazard? Under the dining room table. Moping.

Soggy turkey skin did not interest him. He just laid there, in the spot next to the chair my mother used to sit. He let out of puff of air through his flappy lips, a labrador version of whale spout. If this had been any other year, he would have already been sequestered inside his kennel to quiet his stealthy retrieving urges -- gloves, hats, mittens, shoes and wads of used Kleenex (yum!) taken from my mother's purse.

That first motherless Thanksgiving, her absence had to be addressed. But how? I thought about an empty place setting with her favorite chipped coffee cup? Too much. A framed photo of her with a lit candle? Too maudlin. Maybe just the jar of instant coffee she drank that I found buried in the back of the pantry? Too Maxwell House Instant Emotional Trigger.

The toast, then? My father was the go-to-toast-guy, but he had arrived looking as white as boiled breast meat, his eyes rimmed with red, so because I was the hostess, the duty fell to me. I stood, cleared my throat, and then raised my glass of much-needed wine towards my favorite black and white photo of Mom circa 1950s looking very Rita Hayworth in a hammock wearing Ray Bans and a sassy little sundress, "To Marian!" I said. We clinked our glasses. That was it. That was enough for us, but not the dog.

I figured, once we got down to the business of stuffing ourselves, dropping food on the carpet, manna from doggy Heaven, he'd snap out of his funk. We passed platters, plates and stories about Mom that I had heard before, but like videos of dogs and soldiers returning from tours of duty, I could not get enough.

Seamus was so quiet, I thought he had been put outside or was in the kitchen eye-ing up the turkey carcass. I called him. He thumpa-thump-thump-d his tail. He was still under the table.

Pie was cut and critiqued as to the degree of accurate Mom-crust replication, then more football, more stories, more everything. After leftovers parceled out to the starving grad schoolers and under employed, good-byes given, I finally had time to address my dog's mother issues. He was still there. Waiting. For what? For those heavily slippered feet he always laid on? I lifted up the drape of the tablecloth. His brown eyes met mine. "Sorry buddy. No more Grandma." He got up, walked over to me. I gave him a behind-the-ear scratch and a piece of stuffing. It was his job to keep my mother's feet warm. That was his problem! He needed a new job! "Hey," I said to him while he lapped up water from his bowl. "How about next year . . . my feet?" He gave my hand a nudge and a sloppy lick, which in labrador, meant, "Okay." Holidays are tough on humans, and those dogs who miss them.