Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Forty Years Late by Ken West

Grieving is a strange thing—we all grieve differently.

My wife can grieve instantly. When her mother died last week, she cried as soon as she got the news of her mother’s death. We had just come home from the hospital after seeing her.

I didn’t cry. I still haven’t cried for the death of my mother and father, even when I wrote and delivered their eulogy 18 years ago.

(Don’t get me wrong—I can cry. Parade music makes me cry. Certain movies get to me. I try to hide my tears when the lights come up.)

But when it comes to grieving, it takes me a long time. I don’t know why. 

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this.

When I was 15 years old we had a dog—a boxer named Pammy. We had gotten her fully grown. She was a gentle dog, but very excitable. 

When our doorbell rang she would go to the door to greet the new arrivals. She’d get so excited she’d shake her butt and her jowls at the same time, doing a strange dog dance.

Sometimes she got so excited that she would throw up on our living room rug. My mother and dad never got mad. They just had me clean it up. Eventually our rug took on a strange shade of beige.

I’d take Pammy on walks around the neighborhood. If another big dog came by, Pammy could put on quite a show of bravado, getting up on her hind legs, ready to box her way to fame and glory.

At night, she’d sleep with our cat, who would curl up at Pammy’s tummy. They liked each other.

Back in those days you could let out your dog without a leash. People also had below ground garbage pails. Sometimes the lid was left open and dogs would help themselves to the bounty of leftovers.

Since Pammy already had a nervous stomach, it didn’t take her long to get a stomach infection. We got medicine for her and she was getting better. At least I thought so.

One day when I came home from school, I didn’t see Pammy. I asked my mother where she was.

“She’s gone,” said my mother.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Where is she?”

“Dad had to bring her to the vet to be put to sleep.”

“You mean—she’s dead?”

“Yes,” she said.

I didn’t cry. All I could say was “Oh…”

When my father got home he was obviously upset about it. He told me that it had to be done because of the stomach infection. From then on no one talked about Pammy.

I didn’t cry or grieve. My cat showed more emotion than I did. She wandered around the house for days looking for Pammy.

I never had another dog.

Flash forward forty years.  I was in our living room in a coastal town in Massachusetts. I was 55 years old.

I was looking out our front window. Wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. A young boy walked by with a dog. It was a boxer that looked like Pammy.  I suddenly thought of my only dog. I could see her in my mind’s eye coming up to me, shaking her butt.

Tears starting streaming down my face. Forty years of pent up emotion broke through. I started crying.

“Pammy, I miss you so much. I love you Pammy. I wish you were alive today,” I said to the empty space inside of me. 

I cried for over 20 minutes for a dog I had lost forty years ago.  

Grieving is a strange thing—we all grieve differently. 

If I had my choice, I’d choose the way my wife grieves—and do it right away. 

Ken West, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, is the author of Get What You Want!, available worldwide on and other online booksellers. In the U.S. at