LIVING SIMPLY | How I grieved for my little dog

You’re thinking this is a strange topic for a column on Simplicity — talking about how I grieved for the passing of my little dog. But Simplicity is a lens that we use to look at all aspects of our lives. 

Simplicity is the examined life. It’s about making conscious choices instead of living by rote. It’s looking at the consequences of our actions and asking how they affect the well-being of people and the planet. 

It’s easy to see Simplicity as just being about consumerism. Because, of course, we need to transform the consumer society. We desperately need to cut back on our stuff — we’d save money and we’d help the planet by using fewer resources, polluting less and reducing global warming. So, yes, Simplicity is about consuming less.

But even if that were all it is, how do you decide what stuff to buy and what stuff to ignore? You not only ask yourself what effect your action has on the planet, but how it contributes to your well-being, your happiness.

So we’re back to making conscious choices and living deliberately

Thoreau said it best: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately; to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear. I wanted to live deeply and suck out all the marrow.”

Simplicity is about living fully because life is so dear. It’s about stripping away the inessential so you have time for the essential.


Finding support

And what’s essential? My little, white dog Maggie. 

My little Bichon, who was in my life for 16 years, almost always in my consciousness — knowing where she was in the house, checking to see if it was time for her dinner, taking her for a walk, taking her with us on trips, taking a nap with her.

She was one of the essential things of life. 

She was always there, and now she’s gone. She was old. I knew it had to come sometime. But it’s so hard.

So how have I coped? What are the essential steps of grieving?

First and foremost: turning to others. The heartache only eases when I’m with others. It’s feeling their support. It’s being distracted by our conversation. It’s being able to laugh with others. 

Family is the most important. Our daughter, Rebecca, came with us to the vet to help Maggie die. She came to our little service. She’s come to dinner, had us to dinner, gone to movies, gone on walks. She’s helped us the most. 

And all of our friends have come through. No one even hinted that, “It was just a dog.” They all said, “We know how much you loved her. She was a very special dog.” 

But the surprising thing is the comfort from strangers. I was walking around Green Lake with my friend, Barb, and a passerby stopped us, asking if she could pet Lucy, my friend’s golden retriever. 

“Our dog passed away this morning, and I’ve been looking for a dog to pet. Your dog seemed to be the right one.” 

I looked at her and said, “My dog died two days ago.” 

We hugged each other. Again, the heartache eased, this time with a stranger.


Connecting with life

Connecting with others was the most essential thing, but also connecting with nature. 

What a comfort Green Lake is. For the last few weeks, I’ve tried to get down there as quickly as I could, knowing I would feel better. 

And sitting in my back yard, watching the birds at my bird feeder. Keeping an eye on the new babies in the robin’s nest in the ivy on our back porch.

What have I learned? As Thoreau says, we must “front only the essential facts of life and see if we could not learn what it had to teach.” 

I relearned the values of Simplicity. Happiness doesn’t lie in making lots of money. It doesn’t lie in being “No. 1.” It doesn’t lie in having lots of stuff. 

It lies in connection — with life. With family, friends, nature and with little dogs. Goodbye, Maggie. I love you.

That’s the essential thing in life.

CECILE ANDREWS is the author of “Less is More,” “Slow is Beautiful” and “Circle of Simplicity.” She can be reached at

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