I left today on a six-day trip for my airline, but before I left, I had to do the most painful and difficult thing I've ever had to do. I had to end the life of my closest, most loving, and most faithful companion, my dog Maggie. She was with me for 15 years, from the time when she was just a tiny puppy, and she lived through the most difficult and painful times of my life with me, always there for me, the single thing that I've been able to depend upon without fail and without question for very nearly a third of my years on this earth. She passed away from euthanasia as I held her in my arms, lying in her favorite spot, on her bed looking out "her window" into the grass of my front yard down below. It was the most peaceful parting I could have imagined.

Loss is never easy, and I don't believe it's necessarily even possible to measure one loss against another, to gauge or ordinate the losses we encounter through the arc of our existences in terms of their relative effects on us. Each loss we experience is unique unto itself, and our response to it and the emotions and lessons we carry away from it are no more easily articulated or categorized or quantified than the colors of the rainbow. But I do believe we "know what we know" about our losses, and the very personal comprehension of what each loss means to us makes it unnecessary and irrelevant to try to superordinate them against one another. They all have import, and they all have meaning, and each one has its own significance and its own station apart from all the others. But moreover, I think we feel them all to different degrees and in different flavors based on the experiences and memories they represent, the immediacy of their relevance to our day-to-day existences, and their implications for our lives going forward. When we lose something that is emblematic of or closely interwoven with other very significant and defining life experiences, then that loss is magnified and assigned unique meaning, and as a result it can assume a status along our life's trajectory that it otherwise might never be afforded. Such is the case with my Maggie.

Maggie came into my life in a most unexpected way at a most unexpected time. My daughters Molly and Emma were four years and three months old, respectively, and we were visiting my parents in Auburn one weekend. Maggie -- same age as Emma -- was frolicking with two older dogs in the yard next door, and Molly immediately fell in love with her. Seeing how much Molly wanted her, the neighbor informed me that she had been left in a cardboard box on the steps of a vet's office, and needed a home. As Avril Levigne once said in a song, "Could I make it any more obvious?" Precious little did I realize what the next 15 years held in store for Maggie and me, and how life would shape her significance to me. I mean, she was just a dog....ya know?

But "just a dog" can mean so much more than just that when it's juxtaposed against the reality of life, when life happens with or without one's consent.

As I've said, Maggie was the one constant in my life from that day in 1999 until I told her goodbye this morning. Through more than a dozen moves during that time, all over Georgia and Florida and back to Georgia, she was always ready to hop in the car and "go with" to new and unfamiliar digs. When I was very nearly killed in a car accident in 2001, she sat vigil by me as I recovered, always there to offer comfort with a lick of the hand. When I lost my job in the post-9/11 aviation world and had to resort to freelance flying to feed my young family, she was always there to greet me with joy and no judgment when I walked in the door after long absences. When I returned home from a three-week trip on New Year's in 2003, she was there for me, albeit with a look of bewilderment on her face, as I walked into a house that had been utterly denuded by my wife as she took my daughters and left me for greener pastures. She was my comfort in the deaths of my parents, mom in 2003 and dad in 2005, and my brother Rob just last year, as well as several other family tragedies and untimely deaths of loved ones along the way. Through years of itinerant existence and overseas military deployments and health challenges and personal upheaval, she was always there for me. And that's why I say that the character of a loss is most clearly defined not by who is lost, nor what is lost, nor how nor why nor when the loss occurs...but rather by the greater shared frame of reference surrounding the loss. There is more to loss than the thing that is lost; it is the framework of one's life experience inextricably entangled with that which is lost that defines the significance of the loss. The singularity of what is lost is merely a patch in a great tapestry of life experience...but with that patch missing, the tapestry is both never the same as it once was, and also more unique than it ever was before the patch was removed. That is why the patch, and its loss, possess the unique significance that they do.

It's been said that love is what you've been through with someone. That being true, I can say with certainty that the love I shared with Maggie, this "mere canine", is unique and timeless. I miss her terribly already.
Bruce McGeheeRoswell, GeorgiaApril 18, 2014
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You were an angel and I know you're daddy will miss you very much. Rest in peace sweet girl...Katie Billmaier - April 20, 2014

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