What The Loss Of Our Family Dog Taught Me About Gratitude

03/13/2016 04:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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I thought starting a gratitude jar was a bright idea.

That was back in December.

I would jot down the things that I'm grateful for, bank them in my handy-dandy jar until the end of 2016, and then read through those little notes. By year's end I'd be rich with fortune-cookie-like messages, only instead of predicting the future, these would offer a dash through the recent past. The idea hit me while surfing the Internet and then I wrote about it on BetterAfter50.com.

My Gratitude Project moved along swimmingly through most of January, a time when I coasted on calm waters.

Then life happened.

As it always does.

At the end of January, the cosmos dumped a giant bucket of heartache over my head. Our family's beloved dog Midnite, an ever-handsome, black lab/beagle mix that we rescued 12 years ago, suddenly grew ill. Then a few days later he passed away.

Grieving the loss of a pet was new to me. Midnite was my first dog. Ever. I was--and still am--heartbroken.

And what happened to my gratitude jar? I gave it a hefty dose of stink-eye and walked around muttering, "What was I thinking?"

I wondered if my gratitude jar had somehow opened the door to bad luck. Had I tempted fate to drop cement shoes on me? Following our dear pup's death, the jar was a taunting, glass finger; one that nah, nah, nah-nah, nah dared me to find something good in my life.

About a week after Midnite died, I plunked down at my desk with the jar in view and willed myself to come up with something to put in the jar. I wouldn't let myself cop out with I ate a yummy piece of chocolate. I do that every day; it didn't count.

Then something came to mind. I was grateful for 12 years with Midnite, the best dog ever. And I wrote it down.
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After that the memories flowed, stories about my Midnite--some funny, some embarrassing, and some that brought tears to my eyes.

Here are a few....

I'm grateful for when on one morning Midnite surreptitiously ate half of my father's breakfast sandwich-- three halves, three times in a row, three stealthy chomps, because after the first two my father didn't remember whether or not he'd made both sides of the sandwich. He caught our dog on the third try, mid-chew. We all--my father included--still laugh about that one.

Then there's the time Midnite threw up in the back seat of the car, setting off a chain reaction of everyone in the car puking, too, all except me. It was disgusting and hilarious and after I cleaned up the bulk of it, I realized something valuable: I have a superhuman gag reflex.

I'll always cherish the time Midnite stretched out beside me after I fell while running, the two of us on the sofa, me with ice on my banged up knee and him stretched out on the side of my leg comforting me. We stayed like that for hours.

Our Midnite was many things and I am grateful for all of them: sweet as could be and filled with puppy-like exuberance, loving, good-natured, quirky, smart, loyal, a lover of walks, never met a rock he didn't want to eat, enthralled forever and always with his butt, happy to know everyone, tail wagging with joy and larger-than-life in every way.
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I will always miss him and be forever grateful that in the end our rescue dog rescued us.

As for my gratitude jar...in less than two months my bright idea has taught me something important; when the going gets tough, the ability to ferret out some good can make hell feel more like Hades with a high-speed fan.

For better or worse, and with some months overflowing more than others, I'm grateful I started this little project and I look forward to filling my jar.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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