Meet The New Puppy: A Lesson In Loving After Loss

When my beloved eight year old Bichon Frise pup Grendel died unexpectedly, my heart was broken. I cried almost all day, every day, for over a week, feeling as if the pain would never end. I woke up in the middle of the night with my pillow wet with tears. I prayed the whole thing was a nightmare. I wished I could turn back time, if only for a few minutes, so I could hold Grendel just a few more moments, treasure her just a little while longer.  When you’re rolling in grief, you wonder if you’ll ever come out the other side. The pain is visceral. The void is palpable. It hurts so much you pray you’ll never have to feel it again. In fact, you feel like you’d do almost anything to avoid such abject misery.

But as I told Siena when she was mourning her friend Vivien, who had to return to Chicago after an extended visit, and as I warned her when she took in two baby rat-coons who died soon after, when we fall in love – whether it’s with pets, parents, lovers, or dear friends – we must give those we love permission to break our hearts. Otherwise, we can’t really fully experience the gifts of love and life.

Permission To Break My Heart

When I married Kirk at 24 – and we later divorced – I felt so lost, so hurt, so profoundly alone and woefully unlovable that I found myself tempted to shut down, to close my heart, to make myself less vulnerable, to protect myself from ever feeling so much pain again.

Then when I took a chance, opening my heart and marrying rebellious, tattooed, sexy bad boy Paul at 30, I once again gave a man permission to break my heart. This time, when the relationship ended in the worst possible way and I decided to walk away from the marriage, the heartbreak was even more traumatic. I’ll never forget sobbing on the dock of the marina where we kept our boat, after Paul stopped coming to our marriage counseling session and I realized the marriage was over, feeling the jagged jolts of raw nerve exposed in every body part. After that divorce, the temptation to lock the doors of my heart was even greater.

Then Matt came along, with his wild tenderness and exceptional emotional availability, right as I was ready to write off men for good. Somehow, he managed to pry open the creaky closing doors of my heart, and I took an even greater risk, not only marrying him, but choosing to have a child with him – the ultimate exercise in giving someone permission to break your heart.

As if marriage doesn’t feel risky enough, the minute you become a parent, you also become profoundly aware of how much you have to lose. The idea of having your child die before you becomes impossible to even conceptualize, much less indulge. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life as when they handed me my baby girl in the recovery room after my C-section.

Matt and I have now been together for ten years, and yet, even still, I know nothing in life is guaranteed. He could stop loving me. He could leave me. He could even die.

So could Siena.

But it’s a risk I know I have to take.

Giving My Heart Away – Again

As an exercise in heart opening, I have also just brought into my family’s life a new puppy. For over a year, we have been searching animal shelters, trying to find a hypoallergenic rescue dog (Siena and I are both allergic to some breeds) to bring into our home, first as a companion for Grendel, and then after Grendel died, as a new dog to bring light and love to our home. But we have been unsuccessful in finding an older dog that needs a home. The local shelters tell us that cute little poodles, bichons, malteses, yorkies, and other such fur-free, hypoallergenic pets simply get swooped up the minute they show up, on the rare occasion when they show up at all.

So since Siena and I have been summering in Ohio with my family, when we met an Ohio puppy who walked right into our wide open, still grieving hearts, we decided to take a risk – to bring home another dog and, knowing we will probably outlive her, give her permission to break our hearts.

Meet Bezoar

Siena and I have spent the past three days falling in love with a Maltese-Yorkie mix we named Bezoar (medical lingo for “hairball,” as in the kind that form in stomachs when girls chew on – and swallow – their hair). Bezoar is a bundle of snuggly, nippy, bouncy, puppy-breathed joy who has won us over already. The bubbling up in my chest feeling of falling in love – which feels exactly the way I felt when I fell in love with Kirk and Paul, when I first met Grendel, when I finally gave my heart to Matt, and when I brought Siena home from the hospital – is a now familiar, deliciously giddy, admittedly terrifying feeling.

I know exactly what comes with such a feeling – guaranteed heartbreak.

One of these days, at least statistically speaking, Matt will leave me a widow. Siena will leave me with an empty nest. And we will bury Bezoar like we buried Grendel.

But between now and then, Matt and I can dance in the rapture of true love, Siena and I can fully explore the sacred mother-daughter bond, in all its juicy complexities, and Bezoar will hopefully spend the next 15+ years keeping me company while I write, the way Grendel did so devotedly.

It’s Worth The Risk

When you lose who you love, the pain is so deep it feels like it will sweep you down, like undertow, to shadows you may never escape.  You may worry that light will never replace the darkness, that you won’t be able to handle yet another loss, that you might – dramatic though it might sound – even die. Closing your heart feels like protection, like your heart’s way of ensuring that it can still keep beating, even amidst the rubble of loss.

But closing your heart only ensures that you will lose, not just one day in the unknowable future, but for the rest of your life. Closing your heart is a guaranteed recipe for loneliness, depression, and the painful absence of intimate connection.

When you’re brave enough to open your heart, even when you’re still grieving a loss, you open the door to the full experience of human emotions – joy, elation, anger, sadness, grief, excitement, fear, faith. And isn’t that what we truly want?

The Gift Of Feeling Radically Alive

We seek not just joy, but the experience of feeling radically alive. There’s a reason we cry both happy and sad tears. Tears show up when we feel alive, fully present, and cracked wide open to our emotional experience. Tears remind us we are human, not automatons numb to emotion, but warm-blooded, warm-hearted people who crave nothing so much as self-actualization. Laughter reminds us of the same, that we are here to experience pleasure, to feel good, to know love and joy and bliss, which we can only recognize because we’ve also felt pain.

The full range of the human experience is what we truly crave – not some sheltered, guarded, protected life that keeps us “safe” but robs us of the blessing of living courageously, but all the rollercoaster ups and downs of a life well lived.

Are You Brave Enough To Open Your Heart?

It’s a radical act. You might get hurt. Hell – you will get hurt.

But I promise you this. You will also experience joy beyond your wildest imaginings, just as I am right now, while Bezoar snuggles beside me, moving closer and closer to me as if trying to merge her tiny warm body with mine, while trying to bite my fingers as I type.

Will you grant permission to break your heart?

With my heart swelling,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities and, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.


Life Is Unsafe, So Why Not Take Risks?
The Fragility of Life & How to Love Dangerously
How To Keep Your Heart Open When You Lose A Pet: Part 2


Rhonda Bird
Rhonda B5 years ago

Thank you for sharing. Uplifting story:)

Susanne R.
Susanne R5 years ago

Lissa, the author, had an awful lot of heartbreak in her life, but she didn't let that keep her from living and loving. Although she endured a tremendous amount of pain, she now has a life that many would envy. Kudos to Lissa! Her courage paid off!

Patricia D.
Patricia D5 years ago

Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Valerie A.
Valerie A5 years ago


Elizabeth O.
Elizabeth O5 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Alison A.
Alison A5 years ago

I totally agree it is like that brave saying 'it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all'.

In my life I have suffered many pet losses, last year we adopted a 6 year old (aprox), disabled rabbit (aprox life span for a rabbit is 8 years), in the past year I have often wished that we could have found him earlier, his 6 years had been wasted in a tiny 3ft hutch by his previous owner..... we could have given him so much more!

But we have him now and we cherish every moment because he is the most loving rabbit I have ever known, he knows his name and he comes when we call him; my other rabbits only respond to treats!

Do we regret taking him on knowing that we may only have a very short time with him? Never! We would not give up this past year for the world, he has filled a place in our hearts which only he could have done, because every love is special and unique.

Skipping love because you are scared will only mean that YOU will miss out!

Always adopt! There are millions of pets waiting for homes, please give your love to them.

David N.
David N5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Suze O.
Suze Q5 years ago

Where there once was love there will be love in the future. But there simply are no words to describe the beauty of mutual love and bonding with an animal. It indeed is heaven on earth!

Barbara N.
Barbara Niklas5 years ago

What an adorable puppy! I also had two female Bichons who I loved dearly and spoiled. They filled our days with love and laughter. We lost Buffy due to illness and two years later we lost baby, even though she gave us 16 1/2 years. My husband and I cried for weeks. I kept all their collars, name tags and even the little diapers we had for baby. It is two years later and I still cry over the loss. We have two more Bichon's to love and spoil and create new memories.