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Love, that four-letter word, means so many things. A display of passion, a show of gratitude, a good deed that needs no reward, paying for a meal for the family standing in line behind you because you can see that the mom is struggling to make ends meet – all displays of love.

But the hardest love to give is the love that comes from the depths of your soul, from the truest part of your heart. Why is it the hardest? Because it means feeling the pain of heartbreak when what you love like this is lost to you forever.

We feel this kind of love and risk this kind of love when we watch our sons and daughters sign up for the military; when we marry our soul mate; when we build best friendships with those in our lives, letting people and pets in; when we have close relationships with aging parents; or even when taking a huge leap of faith on a dream or passion. All of these things create infinite love and can create just as much heartache.

My husband and I just lost one of our first dogs, Phoebe. I say one of our first because we’ve had two. Our other chocolate lab is 8 years old and we got him as a puppy. Phoebe, well, we rescued her at 6 months old.

The amount of energy and personality this dog had was intoxicating. She lit up every room in the house and always made you glad to walk through the door, no matter how horrible your day had gone.

She was so happy her tail would wag constantly; one time so hard it shattered the glass in our bookcase. She was curious about everything and made you feel just as curious and wondrous about the world around you, because she saw the world in a way most humans forget to.

While sometimes timid and shy, she was gentle with everything and everyone. She barked out of shear excitement. There was no way to not love life and this beautiful Earth when you saw how happy she was to be in it.

Dogs fill a part of us that sometimes humans cannot. There’s an instinctual connection, an unspoken bond between man and man’s best friend. They teach us so much.

Phoebe was just 4½ years old and died very suddenly without much warning. We always worried that it would be her living without our other older dog. We tried every avenue, took every measure and saw specialists. She fought valiantly but it wasn’t enough. We had only four years with her. When we got home, I never realized how quiet life was before her.

My heart hurts in ways I could only describe in wretched poems, and yet I wouldn’t take back a single day. Without love our world has nothing, without heartbreaking love we are shells walking around a chaotic planet filled with wars and terrorism, hatred and jealousy. Without love we are soulless and void of the greatest experience known to all nature kind.

Other species, other mammals love just as fiercely as we do. Our world was created to love and I will love again, because love gives me something no other emotion ever could – hope.

I will hope for tomorrow, I will hope for kindness, I will hope for marriages to last forever, I will hope for children to be adopted. I have hope because I am filled with love, and being able to love our dog Phoebe was the greatest gift.