Better to Have Loved and Lost

In the dark days of 2020, I heard from two longtime Tucson fans, Janice and Valerie, both of whom had husbands hospitalized with non-Covid related issues. The two women heartsick and lonely, worried about spouses they were unable to visit. Although they may have been at one or two of my Tucson-area signings, the two of them had never met in person. I took the liberty of introducing them over the Internet, and, because they were stuck in similar boats, they have become fast friends. They were finally able to meet in person for the first time when they went to Mostly Books at the same time to pick up their autographed copies of Unfinished Business. Nonetheless, most of their interactions continue to be virtual ones.

When Janice and Valerie began corresponding, they included me in their email conversations. We’re all women of a certain age with a good deal in common. Shortly after that, I heard from yet another grief-stricken fan—Michelle in Texas. After a concerning dental appointment in October, her husband was immediately referred to an oncologist. After undergoing surgery for that, he was diagnosed with Covid. Michelle was living alone out in the country while her husband was being carted from one distant hospital to another. What could I do? What else? I put her in touch with Janice and Valerie in what we’re now calling the Circle. Later, when Pat, my best friend from fourth grade, suffered a debilitating stroke in Florida, she joined the Circle as well.

Through the months we’ve been a remote control support group, passing along encouraging words along with the occasional joke. Michelle’s husband eventually died of Covid, and we’ve all offered our prayers, condolences, and encouragement as she struggles to find her way into this new phase of life. We’ve cheered each other’s triumphs and mourned our various struggles and losses, one of which happened just last week.

Somewhere along the way, Janice and her husband rescued an elderly gentleman of a dog, a little guy named Benji. He came with some issues, including something that was eventually diagnosed as diabetes. Last week, on a cross-country trip, Benji suddenly went into seizures and had to be put down. The loss hit Janice hard. How could that be, she wondered, since we had him for such a short time? It was a situation I knew all too well. In writing a letter of condolence to Janice, I ended up telling her my own story, and now I’m going to tell it to you.

In the late eighties, our family adopted a dog named Mandy—a silver-haired golden retriever. Bill saw an ad in the local newspaper saying, “Free to good home. Eleven year-old golden retriever.” “That’s looks like a sad story,” he told me. “You should give them a call.”

Despite the fact that we already had two Goldens, Nikki and Tess, later that day, I called the number. The people who owned Mandy lived only blocks away. They were downsizing and moving into an apartment where dogs weren’t allowed. When we went to meet the dog, we took our kids and dogs along for the ride. Mandy was out in the back yard. She was so filthy, that when I tried to pet her, my hand came away dirty. The woman told us that Mandy had always been an only dog, and they wanted her to go to a one-dog home. “Okay,” I said, “but if no one else takes her, let us know.”

Three weeks later, they called. When we went to pick Mandy up, she was still dirty. (If you’re trying to unload an old car, don’t you at least give it a wash polish?) The old girl came to us dirty, arriving with no toys, no blanket, no bed, and no dish, and with a collar that was so tight it was a struggle to remove. The fur on her hind legs had mats three inches thick. It took hours for us cut away those awful tangles. The former owners had told us that Mandy had arthritis, so we began giving her a baby aspirin every day. She was used to doing her business on her own and refused to do anything while on a leash. We didn’t have a fenced yard, but finally I gave up and let her off leash. As soon as I did so, it worked and she immediately did her job. It turns out she was the one who trained Nikki and Tess to go leash-less as well. Despite your having no fence and the fact that her old house was less than a mile away, she never showed the slightest inclination to go back there.

Mandy loved being clean. While she was filthy, I’m sure flies must have tormented her terribly. I noticed that when she spotted flies in our house, she was death on them every time—stalking them until she could snap them out of midair. Wherever I was working, there she was—at my feet. For a time she followed Bill and me upstairs to the bedroom at night, but eventually she chose to sleep on the cool tiles in the front vestibule at the base of the stairs. The first time we took her to our vet—good old Dr. Eighty Bucks—we learned that Mandy was terrified of vets. That was the beginning of a family tradition that meant every trip to the vet included stopping off for a Burger King Junior on the way home.

One morning when I went out to get the papers, there were three crows having a disagreement in the front yard. Seeing them, Mandy flew off the porch to give chase. When she returned, one hind leg wasn’t working. I loaded her into the car and went straight to see Dr. Eighty Bucks. “That leg may be broken,” he said. “She needs an X-ray,” before referring me to a specialist in downtown Seattle. I took her there. When I dropped her off, she was still trembling. They called me a couple of hours later with the sad verdict—bone cancer with nothing to be done other than putting her down. “Should I come back and be there with her?” I asked. “No,” the person on the phone told me. “She’s settled now and comfortable. Seeing you would just make things worse.”

We lost Mandy that day having had her for less than six months. Like Janice with Benji, I was devastated. I was also writing a book—Beaumont #9, Payment in Kind, the one in which Beau finally meets his long-estranged grandfather. When Beau drives up to the house, his grandfather’s beloved dog—a silver-haired golden named Mandy, is there on the front porch with his grandfather. So now both the Circle and my blog readers know the origin of yet another of my characters.

Putting Mandy into the book helped me deal with the grief of losing her. I did the same thing when we lost Bella, passing our beloved rescued miniature dachshund along to Ali Reynolds and B. Simpson by way of telling a fictionalized version of Bella’s story in an ebook novella called A Last Goodbye.

This week Janice’s Benji was cremated and buried in a family yard in Alabama, so although he’s far from Tucson, he’s still close to home. Telling Mandy’s and Bella’s stories in fiction made them live on for me in the same way Janice’s sharing Benji’s story with the Circle makes him live on for all of us and now for my blog readers as well.

And although losing a beloved pet is heartbreaking, I can say that the following is absolutely true–better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

44 thoughts on “Better to Have Loved and Lost

  1. I just love your posts. I always smile when there’s one in my email. Love your story’s on your pups. I’m finally finished with all your series. Just waiting for new ones. My mother in law lives with us in Vegas, she is 93. I got her started on your books. She on the third series. She loves them. Hope you have a great day. ???? Sandy.

    • Have all of you read “The Art of Racing in the Rain”? It illustrates the ultimate of love for a pet. When my 2 sons were about 12 years old and “difficult” I told them “If I had it to do over, I would have stuck with golden retrievers.” My sons knew I was serious.l The cremains of those 2 beautiful pets are in my dresser drawer with instructions to go into my burial site with me – and a tennis ball. I guess it was better to have loved and lost than not to have loved – but I still miss them terribly. I remember well my father’s words, “A man is never so tall as when he stoops to pet a dog.” Words to live by.

  2. I just love your posts. I always smile when there’s one in my email. Love your story’s on your pups. I’m finally finished with all your series. Just waiting for new ones. My mother in law lives with us in Vegas, she is 93. I got her started on your books. She on the third series. She loves them. Hope you have a great day. ???? Sandy.

  3. Having loved (and lost) 5 goldens in my retirement, I grieve for each and so identify with your losses. Happy you incorporate them into your books! Merry Christmas!!!

  4. Having a pet is one of the joys of life.

    Those who have never grieved the loss of a pet will not understand this. I feel bad that they have never experienced the joy of having a beloved family member.

  5. Thank you, Judy…Mandy, Bella, and Benji will be in our hearts always, and as Johnny Cash would say, “The Circle will be unbroken”.

  6. Losing a dog is heart breaking, no matter how long you have had them. My editor told me to stop ending my chapters in my dog book with their deaths. She said it was too heart breaking. So I only included the deaths that had the most impact.

    On another note and totally off subject-
    will you be coming to the Tucson Festival of Books this March?
    I understand they will be holding it again this year.
    I would love to meet you and tell you in person how much I enjoy your books.

  7. Having written primarily non-fiction, research-based works and poetry before, when I began writing fiction, I was surprised by two things. First how much my imagination was open and alive, and second, how much of what I experienced, grieved, or was in conflict about, made its way into my writing and into the lives of the characters and plots. While this might not be true of all fiction and fiction writers, I’m glad to know that it is a part of what goes into make fiction the gift that it is, to both the reader and the author. Thank you for sharing just a bit about the experiences we are all having with our virtual lives during this challenging time.

  8. This story has me tearing up. We lost our little shih tzu and Maltese in March of this year. I am still missing him so much.
    He was 12 and a half yrs old and last couple of years had seizures. His name was Snoopy. He’s buried in our backyard and I’m making a garden around him. He loved being outside, would sit in the yard or on the steps and enjoyed the sunshine.

    • I know I am going to be missing my sweet little Benji for a very long time.

      • I am sure you are- Remember that thanks to you he was in a paradise of love and care in the last months of his life- Even when he was ill he knew you were completely there for him- No one could ask for anything more precious than that gift of love and devotion-
        Blessings to you!

  9. I stop what I’m doing and open and read your blog as soon as I see it posted. I’ve been a fan for 30 years. I remember seeing you at a book table in our local Safeway store in Arlington, Washington! We have adopted a 6 year old boxer – a dog of a friend of a friends. Worth every minute we’ve got him!

  10. Bless you for taking in that poor old girl. She may have been neglected for most of her life but she had love for the last part.
    In early summer 2018 I got a dog off of a Facebook post from an old high school classmate. Her neighbors were getting divorced and their bull terrier was about to go to the pound. I was at least his 4th person. Turns out he had congestive heart failure and terrible allergies. With meds, his heart did okay, the allergies, not so much. But he was a world class snuggler. In January of 2020, we discovered a huge tumor in his belly. So I had him longer than you had your Mandy, about 18 months. He left a big hole in my heart all out proportion to the shortness of the time that I had him. I’m sure that it was the same with your Mandy.

  11. I think anything one does for an animal is wonderful and will be a star in their crowns. I had a dog as a child. His name was Spot and he looked like the RCA Victor dog. He was killed by a car and buried under an apple tree which is where my Grandpa buried pets. The trees and farm are long gone, but Spot is still there.

  12. Good morning. Loved today’s post. I’m very glad Mandy had her last few months being loved and well cared for.

    Here’s a photo I took at Vroman’s, some years back. She looks like a doll. So well behaved. Best wishes, Judy

    Oops, sorry. The photo went by email directly to you.

  13. Thank you for sharing these wonderful pet stories. And thank you for the encouraging words about living in these challenging times.

  14. I had a boy tuxedo cat for a little over a year, a mature guy who was so much like a support animal I was amazed. I have had cat and or dogs all my life and when I found out he was very sick and surgery could be done but not considered often successful and way more money than I could afford I had to have him put down. I still am crying after 7 months and recently adopting a new and younger female tux. She is nothing like my Boots was but we are working on things and she is company. I read all your books and after wintering in Yuma for 14 years and living in Spokane most of my life I am familiar with all the places you write about in the books. Keep them coming. I am a little older than you 85 one month from today.

  15. I dearly love your books! My sister Donna and her daughter Tamara have enjoyed them as well. Tamara moved to Arizona last year and she and my sister that ok a trip to your home town there! My sister sent me your recent blog about The Circle. I can fully relate to this blog! My 2 sisters (10 and 12 years older than me) lost their husbands last year in Sept and Nov, one to cancer and 1 to heart/diabetes. One before selling her house to downsize, gave up her dog to a wonderful family with an autistic boy. Win, win for all! The other sister and her husband made plans to be cremated after they pass. The 2 Chihuahuas and 2 Guinea pigs that she and her husband had they agreed would also be cremated when they die. All of their ashes are to be spread on a lake where our parents had same done with their ashes .
    God bless and Merry Christmas!

  16. Beautiful stories. Losing pets is heartbreaking every time. It never gets easier.

  17. Two things:
    Your Bill is such a prince!
    So these people who couldn’t be bothered to take care of Mandy and keep her clean decided she should only go to a one dog household, and thus almost deprived her of a happy few months? I’d hate to have their karma!


  18. Thank you for sharing this story. It brought back memories of our last rescue dog. She was a 9 year old beagle who had been a stray, in a kill shelter who had been there long enough that she was on the list to be put down. I loved her personality from the moment I saw her so we brought her home. I don’t think she had ever seen the ocean or snow and it brought out this wonderful childlike side in a normally very serious dog. We had her three years before she went into kidney failure, likely from something she ate as a stray according to the vet. We tried home IV treatments and medications for as long as we could, until the point of quality over quantity of life became clear. We had her put to sleep at that point. She still lives on in my heart and soul just as the other dogs we have had do. What I have found is that I am able to find peace when one of my dogs has passed by painting them and working to bring their spirit and personality to life. I have over the past few years also been painting other people’s animals that have passed on or are still alive. Seeing their personality come through in a painting is a wonderful feeling. We recently lost our rat terrier in a freak accident where he jumped off the bed one morning and broke his neck. Painting him, bringing his personality out in the painting, helped heal the pain of seeing him do that. I just finished painting two horses for my sister in law, she lost them both this year. These and my other paintings are now on my website:

  19. Wow – another home run for you. We,also are a rescue family. In our 30 years of marriage we’ve been honored to have more than 20 sweet non humans as part of our family. One from a dumpster, some (whole family of kitties – mom included), reject from a private shelter, one tied up to a signpost, some from friends, many from SPCA etc. We’ve had some for just a few days and some for many many years. Long story short is each one was loved unconditionally and loved us back (not ALWAYS unconditionally – sometimes we did things that irritated one or another from past experiences – we just had to learn and adjust).
    We’ve lost all but our last (Jack – poodle/bijon frise) to many deaths and all were devastating. We did have the comfort tho of knowing we gave them safe loving homes for what time they had left and they reciprocated by loving us right back.
    Our final consolation is knowing that their little essences live on in the One Spirit that connects all of us. And they may come back to visit some day. (And yes, I do believe in ghosts! Haha. Some day I’ll tell you about my arctic fox “Carl” – he’s an amazing story of apparition.)

  20. Seeing that Bella had died, broke my heart, The Last Good bye is my absolute favorite of all your books, I’ve read it numerous times.

  21. What a blessing that Mandy and Benji were so loved and cherished in the last months of their precious lives! Thank you for making Mandy immortal in your writing, Judy, and for sharing the inspiring story of Benji and his wonderful family- Affirming that famous saying, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted-” I hope that in their grief Benji’s parents will take comfort in knowing how very much they mattered to that senior gentleman they brought into their lives-
    There is another saying in Judaism: “To save one life is to save the whole world-”
    I believe that applies as much to our four-legged, furry friends (as well as to Pachyderms, and to those who fly and swim) as it does to the humans we encounter-
    Love is Love! Another glorious Friday with you and this lovely community of Readers-

  22. I agree with the quote about better to have loved. I had to have my wonderful black lab put to sleep in October. My family cried right along with me. The following Saturday my great granddaughter and I took her medicine to a rescue shelter near Phoenix and we found a black lab that had been on the streets for a year. I fostered her for two weeks and adopted her. She is so different but she trusts me and I am forever grateful to have her.
    I love all your books–finally got Beaumonts’ Ring of The Dead today. Almost done with all of your series. Please keep writing them. You are a remarkable writer. Would love to go to a book signing if you have one in Mesa or close by.

  23. crying….but it’s true. and since all of my dogs are big, we have had them cremated. Their boxes are on the top of the china cabinet. And the kids and I still talk about them and about what great dogs they were! Love doesn’t leave.

  24. Love your posts. Better to have loved and lost … made me think of my Scruffy, a stray cat who adopted me and passed way to soon. But because of my Scruffy, I’ve been adopted by more kitties. Each one opens your heart more.
    Thank you for your posts

  25. Yes and thank you. I know you understand all the words that won’t come out.

  26. So sorry to hear about our dear friend Pat. She seems so far away in FL. I would live to have her email address so I can reconnect with her.

    Love your Friday stories. Dogs are so awesome, even after we have said our final goodbye. Ours have been chocolate labs and last a hand me down schnauzer, Dutchess. She traveled with us before we had the trailer, but she was loved and devoted. Cancer was her demise.

  27. Nice story, glad Mandy had a good life at the end with you. Makes me grateful for the 14 plus years our dog had, over 11 with us as his 4th and final home. He died this fall but we enjoyed every day with him. Our pets do bring so much joy!

  28. Boy, can I relate to this story! Last Sunday, 11/28, I had to put my most precious, beloved Papillion, Madeleine, down. She had stopped eating and drinking. Turns out she had end stage renal failure. Although she was 14-1/2, and had a good life, I am heartbroken. My heart actually hurts. I’m so sad, crying at unexpected times. I know it will get better, but meanwhile …………it’s sure tough.
    Thanks for your story, including about the women in The Circle.

  29. Your talk about Mandy and flies reminded me of my golden retriever mix named Jenna. Occasionally we would come home and wonder what happened to her as she wasn’t there to greet us. Eventually we would find her cowering in the bathtub. Immediately we knew that there was some fly buzzing around. That is right, our 70 lb. dog was scared of a little housefly.

  30. When I worked for our local Ems, on my days off I helped my friend who was a vetanarian It was a relief to watch pets pass. You know they did not understand what was happening. When we put one to sleep, I knew i was relieved to know that it was out of pain and would not suffer no more. I also felt the same after watching terminally ill patients pass away. I knew they were at peace. I cried over not pets and patients. I never like to see any body or animal suffer

  31. This was wonderful! And heartbreaking. It made me think of my loves and losses and the stories that go with them. And made me realize that perhaps I should fulfill my wish I had become an author (other than my 3 volume standard operating procedure on banking) and put together the stories for my girls and grandchildren. Thanks for the idea.

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