Oh Susan


Fresh grief so far as a parent of a child with his first broken heart

Spoiler alert: this is sad. 

Back to dogs, our dog, Susi, specifically. 

“Walking home, we let her off-leash in the field beside Crystal Pool. In retrospect, that could have been super stupid. But Susi bounded off, tongue out, bouncing like a rabbit, leaning at an unwieldy 20% angle. Her super-weird unbridled joy was a show-stopper. That seed, pressed into my heart, how many years ago? Bursting into a radiant bloom. My partner also fell for her. That night, I called Marlene, “we’re not giving her back”.” – Quote from two posts ago.

Three days ago, Susi lost control of her back legs. She’s fourteen-ish, so we anticipated some decline in this perpetually healthy dog. Susi hammered-swayed and toppled over. Two days ago, she couldn’t get up. She didn’t appear so much in pain, but confused as she struggled. I took her to the vet on Monday.  Bloodwork revealed she was extremely anemic, which in a dog means her blood cells were trying to repair for some loss of blood. They didn’t know how or from where. The next step was to be X-rays and an ultrasound to see if anything could be done. Monday evening, I chopped up chicken kale sausage super fine and fed it to her. Her head bobbed as she ate, hoovering that deliciousness. Felix cuddled and stroked her. I placed her at the foot of the bed, all wrapped up in her usual spot. Susi liked to sleep resting her head on my calf. We’d find out more tomorrow.

I had a dream I was walking down the beach, Susi way far ahead, and a huge swell  swept over the sand up to the walkway. I couldn’t find her. I knew she would be bobbing somewhere. She loathed water. The one time I put her in the Potholes, she did a dog paddle while stink eyeing me, saying “of course I know how to dog paddle, dickhead, I just hate it…get me the hell outta here.”  There was so much water in my dream.  Susi was so small. She had to be there somewhere. I had to find her. 

I woke up. Susi was grumbling a little. I figured she needed to pee but couldn’t get up. Susi never cried, save when she caught her claw in her ear hair—then she yowled in frustration, irritation and maybe embarrassment. I carried Susi to the backyard and held her up to pee. Back in the house, I curled her onto towels on the living room rug, and lay with her, trying to feed her some water on my finger,  petting her, talking to her. 

Two small noises, like a short clearing of the throat and she died. Gone. Fled. Exited. Simply not there. Have you ever been privilege to that? I have with a cat, I have with a lamb, and now, I did with my Susi. Life leaves and she’s gone. The air sucks out of the room and there’s no other moment, place, or time anywhere else right fucking there, with this soft dog body on this pale sage towel. Silent.

Susi jumped into strangers’ cars happily. 

Susi refused to eat anything not 100% animal protein until she was 12.

Susi drew her face along sofas because it felt good. 

Susi dragged her face across carpets because it felt good. 

Susi stole the shower mat and ran down the hall with it while I was in the shower more than once. 

Susi ripped the neck off one of Andrea and Scott’s chickens (Princess Layah lived).

Susi cuddled with Felix (my son) since the day he was born.

Susi wasn’t a poo-eater (except Naomi’s N’s once). 

Susi was obsessed with sand and would sprint in circles. When she went blind, we had to spot her so she wouldn’t nail boulders.

Susi appropriated another dog’s play toy (sorry, Rufus).

Susi was blind for most of her life.

Susi was spooked by plastic bags blowing across the streets but nearly rolled off multiple cliffs stress-free.

So, at 4am, with Susi’s body still warm. Do you wake your ten-year-old for a last cuddle or do you tell him after a good sleep when her body is cold. I woke him, texted his dad. 

I’ve not had to grieve hard since becoming a parent. I have grieved a few great people since his birth, but not close. My child has never grieved hard. He knew Susi was old, that she would be dying one day. But not really. Really, Susi would probably die the day he did, at the age of 98 or something like that. The chasm between the “I know it will”, and the “it did”. Then, space between “one day” and “today”. A shitty and hard milestone for something so beautiful he will never forget and will change him.

We buried Susi at Felix’s father’s home. We all dug the grave (well, Felix and I helped). Our tears all watered the grave. Her best blankets and a few dried lamb lung pieces all joined her. Working hard to be the calm so my child can be the storm. That’s my job, my goal. Intertwined with the fact that I longed for this dog for years and I’ve a leaky face on the best of days. That dog has seen me at my best and my very worst and just loved me. Loved everyone. I adore that dog. But it’s not my first heartbreak – and I need to be here for this young human on his first heartbreak. I won’t go into his words, because he would not want them here, in public. Denial, confusion, sorrow. We, his dad and I, laid a strong, caring foundation for him, and in doing so, for ourselves. 

We returned to our home. A dear friend texted she was leaving “sad food”, a mind-boggling, heart swelling bag of 2- minute noodles, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, fuzzy peaches, sesame sticks, nuts and bolts, burgers, buns, Chef Boyardee ravioli, gyoza and much more. I was floored, and my son was amazed. I’ve shared our loss with some who loved Susi – and now more of you who knew her know now too. Thanks for your kind words and big love. Later, while playing Nintendo for a bit, a friend who was also online expressed his sympathy. When Felix told me about it, he was smiling. He will be okay. Friendship, family, connection, grief draws hearts and sweetness to remind you that there is good still here. Lots of good still here. Precious thoughtfulness is it. In so many ways, I think that’s the whole point. Thank fuck for love in every form.     

Last night, we slept for ten hours. Less numb, less dazed, still sad. Sleep’s a potent balm. I’ve already cried today. Felix is mellow, sad, but a little better. Susi, Susan, Boozan, Ding Dong, Princess, Our Litte Weirdo, The Shnoodlest, we love you forever. 



  1. Hi Gillie & Felix,

    I’m very sad to hear about Susi. She was a very sweet little girl and I’ll miss her lots. I’m glad she didn’t have to suffer and that the end came quickly. The story was very touching Gillie.

    Hugs to all four of you.

    Love from Grandpa Merrill


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