Willow

Willow and Mary camping

My dog Willow died in August of 2008. After more than a year of nursing her failing kidneys and the seizures she had, I ended up putting her down after she stopped eating and struggled to even get out of her bed. 

Right now, I sure could use the comfort and laughter Willow brought into my life.

Willow investigating
Happy Easter

An Easter present, probably left by coyotes

I still have Willow’s ashes. I was planning on spreading them in the woods she loved so much after things greened up.

I’m torn about leaving Willow behind, but I don’t know where I’m going or how long I’ll stay wherever I end up. I’d like to let her rest in the place she knew and loved best, but I’m afraid that might keep me in some way anchored to this place and make it harder for me to let it go. I’m hoping I’ll know the right thing to do when the time comes.

Willow and I were together for 12 years. She was picked up running loose on the freeway, looking as though she’d just recently had puppies. The vet guessed that she was about a year old.

Willow and I had a bond that is hard to replace. We went through some tough times together. I love Java, but she is not as cuddly and close to me as Willow was. 

Willow and LK
Willow and Shy
Willow cuddling

Despite the pit bull’s reputation, I think the love of people and desire to be at your side at all times is one of their traits. 

Each dog is different and special in their own way. Java’s way – keep moving, leaping for joy, and play, play, play – may be just what I need right now.

I found a strange way to deal with my grief over losing Willow. I became somewhat obsessed with getting a tattoo that would somehow represent her and would always be with me. Now this really is not very characteristic of me. I’ve never had a tattoo before. Never seriously sought to get one. I always worried about how those things look as you get older. 

But it was a distraction. I didn’t want a tattoo of Willow the dog but something that represented her spirit. I decided I wanted a tattoo of a willow tree.

I found a lot of tattoos of trees by searching online, but not willow trees. Willows have so many branches and leaves, it’s tough to simplify them so they are tattooable and not have them look stupid. The ones I did find online looked cartoonish, which is not what I wanted. 

So I took photos of willow trees in our neighborhood, hoping something could be designed from one of them.

Willow tree

I even tried sketching my own design, but that was way beyond my drawing skills.

Willow Sketches 1
Willow Sketches 2

I found a woman, Ariel,  that designs and does tattoos and consulted with her. We talked about drawing and how she would like to illustrate children’s books. I got caught up in the artsiness of the whole thing. I got caught up in doing something different, daring (at least for me), a new experience.

My Tattoo

The tattoo is fresh in the photo and has faded a little since. It took a couple of hours to complete, during which I was given several breaks. Laying flat and still on a table with my neck wrenched to the side was more painful than the actual tattooing, although that did get painful at times. 

I haven’t decided yet whether the tattoo will also become one of my “regrets”. I was tattooed last October, so my willow has never been exposed to the light of day or been seen by more than a few select people. So I don’t know what the public reaction will be. Maybe it won’t be noticed?

But I don’t think I’ll regret it. When I look at my willow, I’ll think about the tree’s flexibility, bending as the wind takes it without breaking, reminding me to adjust to life rather than fight it. 

I’ll think about how the willow has the ability to not only survive but thrive in some of the most challenging conditions. It can take root from a single branch that has fallen into a marshy bog. This will remind me of my strengths and how I can keep growing and thriving no matter where life plops me.

Willow bark was used for pain relief before it was replaced by aspirin. My pain is not the type that can be relieved by an anti-inflammatory, still, it’s nice to think of the willow tree as a remedy for suffering.

I know this post is horribly long, but I want to finish with another thought about Willow, the dog.

Soon after Willow died, I tried to capture the things I felt Willow had taught me. Much of what I experienced with Willow could not be expressed in such a simplistic form, but this is what I came up with.

Things I learned from Willow
  • To just sit and be with someone. Your presence can mean so much more than words.
  • To enjoy soaking up the sun.
  • The joys of cuddling.
  • To explore and notice EVERYTHING. To be present in the moment.
  • To see the good and lovable in everyone. How people treat you has a lot to do with how you approach them. Love them first. Don’t wait for them to love you.
  • To not complain – Willow tolerated so much discomfort while looking at me with such complete trust. At times, it was painful having her place that much trust in me, but it’s that trust that leads me to the final lesson on my list.
  • To trust and believe in others, no matter how many times that leads to being hurt. The rewards that can come your way are so much greater than the risk. 

Keep the faith.


Elderly Willow

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7 Comments

  1. What a beautiful post in the memory of your WIllow. She looks like she was a mix breed. She really was beautiful. Can you just scatter some of her ashes and take the rest with you. I think you might regret not having some, it would be hard to let go of them for me. I keep animals collars after they pass, and pull them out from time to time, just to smell them to bring back memories. Love the tatoo! Hugs.

  2. Willow is beautiful and such wonderful memories!
    What a great way to remember your sweet dog, getting a tattoo.
    I lost my 2 beloved dogs a year and a half ago, they were mutts and had been in my life for over 11 years. Tyson blew out his knee and Keysha had hip dysplasia so bad it was getting so hard for her to walk, I didn’t want her to suffer, we took them in and had them euthanized together. It was the hardest decision we ever had to make.
    I will never be without a dog in my life.

  3. I’m so glad that Willow was in your life. It sounds like you had an incredible bond with her. It’s amazing how much a person can learn from a dog like Willow.

    My first dog with whom I had such a bond was Cadi, who died almost 6 years ago. I always wear a golden heart, that has a small capsule of her ashes inside it. She taught me about dog love – and since then, my K has woven herself into my heart in her own way. Just as powerful a love, but different.

    I bet that over time Java will wiggle her way very close to you!

  4. What a beautiful tribute! Willow was meant to come into your life. Your tatoo is beautiful. I have never regretted mine, it is small and in a spot not obvious. I like your list of things that Willow taught you. I think this would be a nice list to create and help one through the loss of any pet or human.

  5. OK, I am REALLY annoyed at Blogger for not informing me of this post when you originally posted it! Willow was such a sweet looking dog…she looks like a mini, slightly fuzzier version of my mom’s old dog, Bonnie (Pit/Bullmastiff mix rescue dog, passed away just last year at some ungodly old age, probably 17, they think). I’m so glad you had her in your life. It sounds like your bond with her is similar to my bond with Miss Bow, so I can imagine how much you must miss her. I think the tattoo is really awesome, by the way. Very artistic and beautiful, and such a nice tribute.

  6. Hi Mary, just read your post about Willow. Very moving – dogs take our hearts don’t they? It’s almost too painful to contemplate them not being with us. Willow looks gorgeous. You were lucky to have found each other.

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