“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
This is the boy who helped me become real.
He helped me accept myself just the way I am. Too soft around the edges with a lopsided face from Bell’s Palsy that never went away completely to a kind of wonky walk from feet that had been broken and hurt and operated on too many times. To him, I was just his person, his person who adored him. To me, he was the love of my life, the pug that actually had a heart in the middle of his forehead with a sticky-outy tongue. I love pugs with sticky-outy tongues. After he passed in my arms on Friday his tongue hung way out and I touched it softly with the tip of my finger and marveled at how soft and beautiful and perfect it was even in death. And huge bright eyes like black buttons. He was a funny little pug with a very unusual personality, a tad odd to some, that made him ever more precious to me. We were wabi sabi in the world’s eyes, the imperfect-perfect. And he was perfection to me.
One of many endearing things about Sam was that he could not bear for me to be upset and would push himself into me and kind of plant himself there. He nudged me back to life more times than I can count or remember with his precious little smooshy face. What I thought about last night as I looked at pictures of him, of us, was that it would upset him terribly to see the shape I’ve been in. And in that moment, in the moment when I could look at a picture of him and smile through my tears I knew that while I have a long way to go, and while there will be days that I double over in pain, in grief from the loss, I am starting to see a ray of light. I truly believe it is his spirit shining very close to me. I see him, I feel him, I smell him, I know he is still with me.
The picture above was taken in 2008, a year after I had adopted him. I have taken literally hundreds of pictures of him but this remains my absolute favorite. The heart on his forehead was one of the first things people noticed about him, and it never failed to melt mine. He was my funny little man. And my teddy bear. I always told people that he was like a living breathing teddy bear. At night, with all my sweet babies around me, it was Sammy who snuggled up with me and made me feel like a little girl with her teddy bear, and for a little girl that terrible things happened to through her whole childhood I was always afraid at night, sleepless nights and nightmares are part of the tapestry of my life, but when Sammy came, though these things still happened, they happened less. To go to sleep with your hand on a soft warm pug or your arm around him is the best cure for nightmares I have ever found.
So in death, as in life, Sam is nudging me back to the surface, with his funny little face, his soft, warm coat, so thick and lush and soft I loved to lay my face against him and hear his heart beating. The night before he crossed over I thought he was going to die here. For hours that night I held him like a baby in my arms, his little face against my chest just over my heart, and I looked into his eyes for hours, breathed with him, ever more slowly, and told him over and over how much I loved him, how much he had brought into my life, and how very much would remain when he had gone, and it has, and it always will.
There have been many pugs in my life, many, many dogs throughout my 60 years, and the three that I have now I love with all my heart. We are helping one another through this and we will have a wonderful life together, but I think a Velveteen Rabbit comes but once in a lifetime, and he was mine. I’d like to think that I was his. His love made me real, and that is the gift that I carry forward now, after his passing.
They called today to say that they have his ashes. I said I am not yet ready to pick them up and they understood. I adore my vet and everyone there. They all cried with me, they loved little Sam. His passing was a loss to many.
Shine on bright sweet Sam, you are now a star in the firmament of my life, and you shine bright this night, and you always will. Now I can look at pictures and remember our life together, and while I know I will cry, and I know there will by many very hard times to come, it does not honor Sam to allow myself to stay there, and my other babies need me and I love them dearly.
Tonight I will snuggle with my other babies, and we will feel Sam there in the dark with us as we have since his passing. He will always be my teddy bear boy. I will lay my hand on him as I go to sleep…