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My Mother's Best Friend

December 2006

My grandfather gave my mother a beautiful Golden Retriever puppy when I was about four years old. She named the dog Fritz (after a Fraggle Rock episode) and from the moment Fritz entered our home she and my mother were incredibly close.

Fritz was a remarkably intuitive dog and had the sweetest, most loving temperament I've ever seen in an animal. She was protective and indulgent when my brother and I were growing up, and although she was like another sibling to us and we loved her dearly, my mother was her favorite.
If my mother was home, Fritz was by her side, whether she was cooking, reading, sleeping, or cleaning. A few weeks after my thirteenth birthday, Fritz died. The details of her death were never clear, but it was a stomach related problem. I never again want to see my mother cry the way she did that day. It was like she had lost a child or a parent. My grandfather purchased a small headstone for Fritz and buried her outside the living room window. I can remember standing behind my mother as she sat in the rocking chair beside the window, her hand on the glass and her head in her hands, sobbing. It was heart-wrenching and I was just a kid; I didn't know how to comfort her at all.
That night my mother was just as upset but she needed to rest. She said she didn't want to sleep in her own bed; she would feel too alone without Fritz nearby. So she went to bed with me in my room, still crying quietly. After a while, I was still wide awake from the shock of seeing my mother so upset. Her breathing was ragged but even, and I knew she was asleep.
I was always trying to scare myself as a child, looking long and hard at shadows and imagining that they were really crouching intruders or monsters, but not that night. I just lay there missing Fritz and feeling sad.
I always slept with the door slightly ajar, and as I lay in bed that night I heard the door creak suddenly. It was dead quiet and the noise was clear. I looked over at the door, to my left, and saw it open several inches but didn't see anything enter so assumed it was just a draft or something. Suddenly I heard breathing and footsteps at the end of the bed. The footsteps continued to my side of the bed, and although I now wonder why, at the time I just wasn't scared. Fritz emerged from the foot of the bed and walked around to my side. She lay down beside the bed as if nothing was amiss and put her head down between her front paws, emitting one of those heavy dog sighs as she did so. She looked up at me, right into my eyes. I looked back at her for a few moments. It never occurred to me to wake my mother. I closed my eyes for a moment, and when I opened them Fritz was gone.
I never told anyone about that experience, though I think now that maybe I should. I've often wondered why Fritz didn't come at a time when my mother could have seen her one last time, looking beautiful and healthy and not in pain, but I think that, however silly it sounds, Fritz knew it would only make her sadder.
It took my mother a very, very long time to get over Fritz's death. In fact, today, almost ten years later, looking at Fritz's picture will make her cry. I felt so comforted by that experience and wanted to share it with others who have lost pets who were really members of the family. Beloved pets are, to me, the ultimate good and they'll always watch over you even in death.

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