Today was the first day in over 14 years I came home without Cocoa there to greet me. Cocoa, the eldest of our three beloved family dogs, passed away yesterday morning on Sunday, September 26, 2010.
Earlier today, my mother took my son Rhett and me over to Mapleton, Iowa, to the veterinary clinic Cocoa just visited a week ago today, and where he will be cremated and then returned to us.
Losing Cocoa has stripped my emotions raw, but anyone who’s ever truly loved and lost a family dog or pet fully understands what we are going through.
Most dogs have one family member whom they own, but over the years we never were really able to determine which one of us Cocoa had chosen because he’d laid his claim of unconditional love with all of us.
He’d started out as my daughter Jenny’s dog. Back in June 1996 when my sister Kim’s dog Shelby gave birth to Cocoa, we already had two dogs — Sam, a Cocker spaniel/Golden retriever mix, and Chelsea, a Shar-pei mix — and felt they were enough to make our lives complete. But 15-year-old Jenny, who very seldom asked for anything, had fallen in love with this little brown and black bundle who’d spent part of one of his first days locked in the glovebox of my brother-in-law’s pick-up, where my two young nephews had put him “just for fun,” they said, to see if anyone missed him.
“I’ll even take him off to college with me when I go,” Jenny had promised, and I simply could not say no. Two and one-half years later when she left for college where she’d live in the dorm, Cocoa remained behind and alternated sleeping with my youngest son, Rhett, and then me.
On Valentine’s Day 2001, Sam died three months shy of his 13th birthday, and both Chelsea and Cocoa grieved along with us. In 2002 when Dennis and his Golden Lab/Retriever mix, Bear, joined our family, Cocoa joyously welcomed them both.
The year 2002 wasn’t good for our new family. Dennis lost his 24-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to cancer on June 30, and on December 12 we lost 10-year-old Chelsea, also to cancer. For a while, it was just Cocoa and Bear, and we tried to take them with us everywhere we went.
On Sept. 1, 2004, we moved into a 100-year-old home that at one time had been converted into apartments, but there was a unit on the ground floor for Bill Bowley — one of my late father’s best friends who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and for whom I cared.
Bill brought with him his Chesapeake Retriever, Hagan, and his African Gray parrot, Clyde. So in 2006 when Bill finally had to leave to go to a nursing home, we welcomed Hagan and Clyde into our family, and once again had three dogs in our household.
They became the best of friends. We’d no longer refer to them as “the dogs,” but “the boys.”
All three had always been house dogs, and Cocoa — as the alpha male — continued to sleep on the bed with us until a few months ago when he began to fall backwards after his attempt to make the upward jump.
Some days, Cocoa would let me lift him up to the bed without a fuss, but more often than not, he’d growl under his breath — nothing threatening, but more as if to say “How dare you imply I need any help?” — and he’d quickly jump right back down and settle in between Bear and Hagan on the camping mattresses we kept beside the bed covered with sheets and comforters.
Losing Cocoa hurts. It hurts a lot.
Yes, I know he was 14 years old. I know he had a good, long life surrounded by people he loved and who loved him in return, and I also know he’s in a better place. But, just try to tell that to one’s heart. Try to explain that to Bear, whose eyes stare woefully into ours as he rests his head upon our laps. Try to explain that to Hagan, who keeps burying his face under the pillows on the edge of the sofa.
I tried to play fetch with Hagan this afternoon after returning from the vet without Cocoa. Hagan still chased after the ball, but then kept dropping down in the yard right where he’d found it. He’d rest his head atop the ball and stare off into a yard conspicuously missing his companion and the only other competitor who always raced to get the ball first.
We all miss you Cocoa. We miss you even more than the day you disappeared and lay inside a glovebox waiting for someone to rescue you.
We will always miss you. We will always love you. You brought happiness and joy to so many lives, and you will not be forgotten in all the rest of the days of those lives.