fb-pixel Skip to main content
Connections | Magazine

When our gentle dog died, our source of comfort during the pandemic was gone too

Still grieving, we’re slowly finding reasons to smile and be grateful.

Licorice at the beach.Elizabeth Pothier

At the beginning of life in coronavirus isolation, my wife and I had everything we needed — two incomes, a comfortable home, and the companionship of Licorice, our gentle goldendoodle whose appetite for treats was rivaled only by the purity of his love. The trusting gaze, the calming feel of his thick black coat, the sight of that oversized head poking above the kitchen table — those and other moments rich with joy supplied daily doses of inner peace to offset the uncertainty outside. He was therapy on four legs, always on call.

Let’s go to the park. Watch me roll on the grass. Here’s my paw. I know what you need. It’s going to be OK.


And then it wasn’t. The morning of April 5, I came downstairs to find him on the living room floor, his front legs splayed at an unnatural angle, a stuffed toy lamb by his chin. Before I reached the landing, I knew he was gone.

In the minutes that followed, my wife and I acted on instinct, fending off a shroud of shock. Elizabeth gently removed Licorice’s collar. She clipped a piece of his hair. I rummaged through the closet for a blanket to wrap him in. Together, we managed to carry his nearly 90-pound body to the car, my legs wobbly, eyes stinging.

At the animal hospital, our veterinarian consoled us from a distance in the parking lot.

“Licorice won,” he said. A long and secure life had ended peacefully in the place where he was content. “Most of us won’t get to die that way.” His words allowed us to take a breath.

At home, though, the crush of sadness became suffocating. We were locked down with our grief, like two gravely injured patients left alone to care for each other. Thirteen years of everyday routines — walks, meals, belly rubs — come to an end. The constancy of his presence had vanished when we needed that steadiness more than ever. With nothing to distract from our sadness, we let it pour through us undiluted.


As each day dissolved into the next, moments of respite slowly surfaced. Tears still came unannounced, but smiles, too. We found reason to be grateful — the strange circumstances of a public health emergency had given us precious uninterrupted time with Licorice. We read that pet adoptions were skyrocketing since the shutdown and immediately understood. Of course they were.

I posted photos of Licorice to my Facebook page, where he’d guest-starred since puppyhood. In one, he’s perched atop a rock at the beach under a radiant sky, long ears swept back by the wind, pink tongue sticking out above a graying muzzle. My one-word caption: happy.

“There is no good time to lose a beloved companion,” someone commented, “but this seems especially cruel.”

“These pictures of him have been invaluable,” wrote another, “because seeing such a sweet and loving creature is quite comforting to me during this time.”

Handwritten notes arrived, a plate of cookies was left outside, friends whose rescued bichon frisé had only recently died sent us Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs. I opened it to a random page.

“See how the violets are opening and the leaves unfolding, the streams gleaming and the birds singing. What does it make you think of? His shining curls, his honest eyes, his beautiful barking.”


Licorice’s bed remains on the floor, and if I lean close, I can still detect his scent. A metal bowl sits on a wooden stool in the front hall — Elizabeth pours water into it sometimes; a soothing sound, a pleasant memory. A visitor might consider this odd, signs that we have not yet “moved on.” But there are no visitors. Just us, and for now it’s what we need. We’ll know when it’s time to put his things away. As we adjust to a world with the coronavirus, we’ll also adapt to life without Licorice. It may never be the same, but someday it will be OK.

Mark Pothier is a senior assistant editor at The Boston Globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.