When Lucky died; a grief observed on social media

LuckyandBobShoulderGOLDEN, Colo. — There’s a reason the expression goes “You look like your dog just died.” Losing a dog is a sadness so profound that it’s useless to explain to anyone who hasn’t been through it.

In fact, finding others who understand is probably the only way to get through it. This story will explain how this devoted skeptic of social media found it to be a great source of comfort during my time of great need.

Many of you know that last year I traveled America with my golden retriever, sniffing out scams and ripoffs as part of “Bob and Lucky’s Hidden Fee Tour of America.” (There was even a theme song.) Naturally, Lucky stole the show, getting on national TV twiceand appearing live on local TV in several towns along the way from Washington to Seattle. His pawprint was far more popular than my signature at every book signing. We made hundreds of friends in dozens of newsrooms, bookstores, hotels and rest stops along the way. He spent nearly all of those 3,000 miles with his head nudged onto my right shoulder, leaving drool stains on the right arm of every shirt I had brought for the trip.

We were all set to make the same trip this summer, but Lucky decided to go on a longer road trip instead, taking the expressway to dog Heaven on June 11. He was roughly 10 years old — he was a rescue, and he landed in my life eight years ago — and the calendar said I should be ready for this. I was not. He acted like a puppy until the day he died. Right to his last afternoon, every muscle of his oversize body was desperate to say hello to every man, woman and squirrel we encountered. So it was a complete shock when he died of heart trouble — an enlarged heart, to no surprise — during one horrible night at the vet a few weeks ago.

I am writing this piece in Golden, Colo. — that’s an accident, but a good one. Lucky sure would have liked it here: My hotel is crawling with dogs.

* * *

Comparing personal tragedies is a game you should never play, and I would never dare say my sadness is equal to that of anyone who’s lost a job, a home or a child. I will say simply that in losing Lucky this month, my sorrow is complete. When I finally got home to my family about 5 a.m. that awful night, I lay in bed wide awake and could feel every cell of my body hurt. I can still feel that as I type now. No one, nowhere, will ever love me like Lucky did. He was typically food-obsessed, scarfing every meal in seconds, but there was one time he wouldn’t eat — if I were rushing in the morning and threw food in his bowl on my way out the door. On those occasions, when I came home after work, I would find his food still in the bowl. In the morning, he’d followed me to the door, laid down and waited there for me all day. The second I opened the door, he’d say a quick hello, and then the poor starved animal would run to eat his breakfast at 6 p.m. He just couldn’t eat without me. Now, I feel the same way.

LuckyOutWindowThis kind of loss leaves you searching for answers, and in the sleepless nights that followed I spent a lot of time fruitlessly reading about enlarged hearts, alternatively looking for an explanation that might calm my racing analytical mind or an excuse to blame myself for the ailment to distract my aching heart.

You probably know the ending to that trip. I found no answers. But I did find a lot of places to share. For all its faults, the Internet is very good at sharing. In particular, for all the scary things about social media — Facebook’s consistent abuse of privacy and the Twitterverse’s self-absorption — I found these tools indispensible in my grief.

Sharing makes nothing better. It doesn’t replace a wet nose, a joyful face, the endless presence of love that follows you everywhere. But still, sharing eases pain.

* * *

Of course, there’s nothing new about online grieving. People have been finding new and sometimes strange ways to express loss and mourning since the arrival of the Internet. Virtual wakes appeared almost as soon as Web pages did.

Among the newest forms of digital mourning: following someone on Twitter who has recently died. Ryan Dunn, a TV personality made famous through the TV and movie franchise Jackass, had 30,000 followers before he died in an automobile crash June 22. Now, he has 145,000 after a surge of followers arrived when the news hit. Why would someone follow a recently deceased person? The urge to connect, and the Internet’s ability to deliver it, sometimes both seem to be stronger than even mortality itself.

Online mourning raises sticky issues. You might have noticed not all Web users maintain a sense of decorum or class. Posting a page describing your grief opens you up to hurtful sarcasm, or worse. For that reason, Facebook now offers a “memorial” state for accounts of the deceased that blocks strangers from making posts.

Still, the urge to virtually eulogize — even among strangers — is strong, as evidenced by the success of a relatively new site named 1000Memories.com, which makes it easy for loved ones to create a memorial page for the deceased. It promises to never allow advertising or to charge a subscription fee. Bring your Kleenex if you click.

* * *

As in “real” life, mourning the loss of a pet doesn’t get quite the same regard as mourning the loss of a person, and perhaps it shouldn’t. You can’t tell me that right now, however.

When Lucky first died, I spent a lot of time reading Web sites that offer advice on surviving the loss of a beloved pet. There’s many places offering tips on how to cope. I suspect some would find them helpful. I did not. The sheer amount of people discussing the problem helped me hang on to my sanity, however. A couple of the better sites are here and here.

There are also a number of sites that allow grieving pet owners to post memorials of their lost dogs, with pictures and paragraphs that serve as online odes to the beloved pets. Some of these post advertisements; some promise not to. I chose not to put Lucky on any of these sites, but reading through the stories there, I found,  helped a little. Misery loves company. Here’s a few:

http://www.dogquotations.com/write-a-memorial.html

http://www.critters.com/

http://www.ilovedmypet.com/

http://www.pets-memories.com/

http://www.petsremembrance.com/

But using the Internet as part of the mourning process, rather than just a source of information, was much more effective, I learned. Plus, I was facing an immediate problem. Lucky was a social butterfly and had hundreds of close friends. And I’d already promised readers another Red Tape road trip with Lucky as the mascot for my blog. How would I tell everyone?

Continue reading the original story at NBCNews.com

http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/when-lucky-died-grief-observed-social-media-122397

About Bob Sullivan 1286 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

1 Comment

  1. Bob, thanks for your weekly newsletters – and for being there with your condolences when we lost our little Tessa who was an 8 year old Papillion. She died suddenly (no warning whatsoever) in my arms after a spell of gagging and running around the family room. She jumped into my arms and she was gone. One of the most emotional experiences of my life. Her ashes are on my desk in my office in an urn with an inscription and her little pink collar as well as an assortment of responses from friends, etc. It’s been over 3 years and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Thank you for sharing your story about the loss of Lucky – just re-read it and have sent it on to a friend of mine who just lost his best friend named Kiley – 12 1/2 years old. Got sick suddenly and required 5 or 6 blood transfusions to no avail. Jeff is still grieving the loss that’s only been a little over a month so I thought he could get some consolation from your story.

    We have since (actually 6 weeks after the loss of Tessa) adopted a Morkie named Pepper to join our male Papillion Arley who is 11 and was Tessa’s brother.

    Just wanted you to know that I’ll always be appreciative of someone that could actually relate to the loss of man’s best friend.

    Namaste’ – and keep up the good work with the newsletters.

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