Grief

Lolo (left) and Pig taking a snack break just 20 miles from the 2004 Iditarod finish line

Lolo (left) and Pig taking a snack break just 20 miles from the 2004 Iditarod finish line

Lolo is waiting in the Rav. After pacing the length of my yard for an hour, I decided to give the poor girl a break. It’s 50 degrees here in Martinsdale, and a steady breeze pushes the cool Montana air through the wide-open car windows. Glancing at the vehicle parked in front of my house, no one would know a dog’s in there. Lolo sleeps curled up in the backseat.

Since Lolo was a tiny pup, she’s been a little bit “different.” Hyper-alert, serious, always wanting to please — these characteristics make for a good lead dog, and that’s what Lolo became after I bought her for $100. Terry Adkins — annoyed by Lolo’s spooky, yet stubborn nature — didn’t want to waste his time on her. “Good luck…” he said, taking the check from my hand. “Thanks… I’ll need it,” I replied, restraining my excitement for fear Terry would change his mind.

Lolo (left) and Pig lead us off of Norton Sound onto the main street of Nome, Alaska. 2004

Lolo (left) and Pig lead us off of Norton Sound onto the main street of Nome, Alaska. 2004

I made that purchase over 13 years ago. Today is Lolo’s 14th birthday. Like my beloved Borage, she was born in the year 2000. I witnessed both of their births. Sadly, Borage did not make it to June 13, 2014, which would have been his 14th birthday, too. Even Lolo seems to sense it is a bittersweet time. Or, more realistically, Lolo still grieves her loss. Borage was her buddy, her constant sidekick. Lolo likes my little dogs, yet her behavior shows she longs for something more. Sled dogs know their own. They were raised in a giant pack, fed raw meat, trained as working dogs. They ran literally thousands of miles together. When one member of a string passes, the others feel as if they’ve lost a limb… or a heart. I know — that’s how I’ve felt since March 11th, the day I had to put Borage to sleep.

The last time Lolo and Borage were together here at the Martinsdale house, June 2013.

The last time Lolo and Borage were together here at the Martinsdale house, June 2013.

After Borage died, Lolo howled for weeks. The only time she stopped her mournful crying was when I put her in the car. Sitting in her usual place, right behind the driver’s seat, she feels safe. Like Borage always did, Lolo loves the Rav. Whenever I hear her wailing out in the yard, or see her trotting the fenceline, I know it’s time to open the car door and say, “Load up!” Lolo no longer leads an Iditarod sled dog team. Her friend, Borage, is gone. But inside our car, Lolo knows she’s still part of a string. And that I’ll be out to join her soon, loading up Jigs and Chloe, taking us all somewhere good, for a long walk together. 

Lolo ready to go to the Martinsdale Reservoir for her 14th birthday.

Lolo ready to go to the Martinsdale Reservoir for her 14th birthday.

Mom, Dad, Grandpa Land, and Aunt Dot ready to drive WEST. Indianapolis, 1967.

Mom, Dad, Grandpa Land, and Aunt Dot ready to drive WEST. Indianapolis, 1967.

In the last 21 years, I’ve driven back and forth between Indiana and Montana over 40 times (I lost count). To give my Iditarod presentations, Borage, Jigs, and I traveled over 30,000 miles a year by car, ricocheting from state to state like a steel marble in a pinball machine. When it was time to go, it never took me long to gather a few belongings (that’s all that fits in a Toyota Rav with 2 to 4 dogs), and pack the vehicle. When I departed from my parents’ house (which was often — I loved spending time at home), my dad would appear in the driveway with a bottle of windex and paper towels. He carefully washed the inside and outside of the glass, backing up to search for missed streaks. It took forever to get out of the driveway. We took photos. Both Mom and Dad petted each of my dogs… and kissed them… and said, “Behave yourself. Listen to your mother…” My mom always cried (even if I’d be back in a few days), insisting on not just one hug but several. Dad stood back and waited for his embrace. To the both of them, I said, “I love you.”

Mom, Borage, Jigs (he's in the car), and I leaving for 2 weeks of talks in Texas.

Mom, Borage, Jigs (he’s in the car), and I leaving for 2 weeks of talks in Texas.

Nowadays, leaving is hard. I dread pulling out of the driveway knowing that if I look back over my shoulder neither of them will be there. No one will be standing on the blacktop waving goodbye, not moving until my car fades from sight.

People often say, “I hate good-byes…” But when I think of all the love wrapped up in a parting — whether a brief or lifelong separation — I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. Whenever I have a chance, will say, “Good-bye…” No matter where they’re headed, I want to send my loved ones off like they’re boarding a giant ship and heading out onto unknown waters. And, like my parents taught me, I’ll wave until their vessel disappears.

Mom telling Borage to BEHAVE

Mom telling Borage to BEHAVE