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Weeping for Rose

People display grief differently. When I am extremely sad about something, I weep.

If I am grieving significant loss, I cry uncontrollably — endless sobbing, followed by breathy gulping and gasping. People nearby fear my ability to return to a composed state. The sadness of a significant loss envelops me completely, and I cannot seem to halt the rainfall of tears that keep sliding from my eyes.

I debated about telling you this — but in the same sense that journaling is an effective way to cope with grief and loss, writing a column on this topic may help me get through my week of sadness. I know I am not the only one mourning loss, so it may help you, too.

Rose, our sweet-tempered Spaniel, died yesterday. She was only 8 years old. She was born on Sept. 11, reportedly at exactly the same moment the Trade Towers collapsed. So you see, her birthday came a few days before her death. I cried about that, too.

Rose's long-diagnosed heart condition had prepared us for the possibility of an early death. Or so I thought. We were unswervingly attentive to her health situation and had a wonderful veterinarian (Susan Konecny, www.HomePetVet.net). Susan used to take Rose's blood pressure with a tiny cuff wrapped around her hairy, little leg. Our sweet-tempered dog would calmly accept the procedure, looking up at us with huge, brown, trusting eyes. When it was over, she would roll on her back, exposing her soft, furry underside, hoping for a belly rub. If you succumbed to her charms (people almost always did), Rose would give your hand a gentle gratitude-lick — and, yes, sometimes she would even smile.

It was not heart problems that caused Rose's death, it was a rare and fast-moving, terrorist-tumor close to her adrenal gland. I provide that detail because when I am grieving, having specifics seems to help ground me and aids me in returning to my rational self more quickly. That may be true for you, as well.

I offer without exaggeration that Rose was perfect in every way. (That is always the best way to remember someone you have loved and lost). On early weekend mornings while I wrote my column, she slept on the red-striped chair in my study. When I was done, I would read what I had written aloud, and Rose would wake up and listen attentively.

Rose loved everyone — greeting guests with little "hello-how-are-you" whimpering sounds. She provided lap therapy to my aging mother and aunt while they were dying and happiness to everyone she encountered, well-evidenced by the way neighbors dropped by to say tender and heartfelt good-byes to her on the day of her death.

Except for a huge amount of shedding (we had to buy lint removers in six-packs), Rose gave us only delight. My husband, who was more moved by Rose's passing than I would have predicted, uses humor to lighten a tense situation. He assured me that Rose would be with us forever in the hair on our clothes and furniture and in the lint screen of our dryer. He was trying to pull me out of being so morose — and it did help. But I noted there was a tear in the corner of his eye as he tried to make mine go away.

Pets like Rose are something very special. If you have one, rub her (or his) belly often. Watch for the smile.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.