Elegy for Gemma

I am trying to write about Gemma,

but the words don’t want to let go.

Like the leaves on the Liquidambar maple tree,
winter has done with them
but they cling to the bare, hard branches
still
Waiting for spring to force them off
to make way for something new.

When I think of Gemma, rich images
flood my heart with blood, my pulse rises,
I see her everywhere out of the corner of my eye
Not in shadows but in sunlight.

Meanwhile the intermittent rain keeps everything moist.
Moss grows thick in unlikely places, and yet how can it be
that the February blossoms opened without a sound
When I wasn’t looking, all around me?

What can I do with nearly 13 years of memories?
What can I tell about my first dog who changed my life?

From the first day I saw her, all eyes and ears, leading the puppy charge,
then holding her small and still in my arms on the drive home,
To her “that’ll do” move away from my strokes and kisses
onto the cool tile just out of my reach
Where I watched her begin to find herself.

I can recall running madly along the lake shore
As she swam in a single-minded trance
After the mallard and her ducklings
Ignoring my pleas to return to me.

And I remember rescuing ground squirrels from her grasp
who had made the mistake of thinking they were faster,
Such wildness in her eyes.

This poem threatens to collapse
under the weight of all my memories.
I try to shuffle them, deal them out like a deck of cards
Hoping that those most valuable will be face up —
But knowing I had already held the winning hand.

Now I see Gemma running through the bracken fern and purple grasses
in the Faraway meadow, where joy always waited for her,
year after year, in every season
Scenting deer droppings, rabbit tracks, and other mysteries
Or gliding through the liquid silver of the pond
Her eyes like a bright beam fixed on the blue ball.

I think of how the clock I hear clicking away the long hours since her passing
Used to be set by her demands for breakfast and dinner
Her dark chocolate eyes setting me with a stare
That could stop small armies advancing.

And how she would bark at me if I made her pose for photographs
Front paws lifting off the ground
Eyes softening when I shushed her, ears dropping back,
Her face looking freshly dipped in a snow drift,
dark against light.

How many miles did we walk together? At the sea, along forest paths
Endless loops at Faraway where she would disappear into the woods
Only to rejoin us farther up the trail,
We, thankful that she hadn’t lost us–
While she never doubted it.
What had she found under the canopy of fir, madrone, tanoak and redwood

That we could never know?

So many memories,

like smoothed stones she loved at the water’s edge–

The one I reach down for now

is of her lifting her head one last time

on that last morning

In the dawn glow, looking full into my heart

Telling me she was ready,

That we must do her bidding,

We have no other choice.

And in that suspended moment when she took her last breath,

when her tired golden body began to give up it’s warmth,
When her soul began it’s passage–
I silently cried out for her not to leave me
Even as I knew, from her still open eyes,

that I couldn’t stop her

But that she never would.

So as I sit here trying to write about her,
The words, I know, will never suffice.
They will seem small, and inadequate, and even trite.
All those things that Gemma wasn’t.

She altered the course and quality of my Life
in ways I am still discovering.
Her body defined grace and softness,
Her devotion
Taught me what it meant,
steadfast and majestic as a mountain —
Her love has carved me slow and deep like a glacier.

Gemma has led me to believe in angels, and
I will thank her every day of my life.

-Suzanne Bria

Chardon’s Chantilly Lace ‘n Levity 4/17/97 – 2/15/10

Gemma's last swim, 2 Feb 2010


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42 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marie & Pat
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 13:08:46

    So soft and so beautifully written – you did capture Gemma at her finest.

    We are there with you in your sadness because we’re feeling the loss too – even before it happens…

    Reply

  2. Noreen
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 13:09:30

    Such a magnificent tribute that I read through tear filled eyes.

    Reply

  3. Hilde
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 13:53:48

    Weeping with you, Suzanne.

    Reply

  4. Ro Vinson
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 14:01:44

    What a lovely, passionate remembrance of your beautiful girl. She will always be with you Suzanne – in your heart!

    Reply

  5. Michelle
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 14:12:02

    Perfect.

    Reply

  6. Robin Bowen
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 14:15:18

    You did hold the winning hand, Suzanne.
    And the writing did not collapse, you are such a magnificent wordsmith.
    Love to you and to Ted, and to Finn, who must surely wonder where Gemma has gone.

    Reply

  7. Nicole (Sam & Spencer's mom)
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 14:16:53

    That was truely beautiful!
    I have to agree with you, many times I have sat wanting to journal my feelings about my “little” Sam before that inevitable time comes (and I know it is lurking around the corner). But the right words fail me time and again. How can you even begin to describe these beautiful, humble creatures that teach us what it means to love? I don’t think we can.
    I wish I had had the opportunity to meet Gemma. I was lucky enough to meet you and feel like I know her yet the same. 2 lucky girls you both were, she gave you a lifetime of memories, you gave her your heart.

    Reply

  8. Tess
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:08:09

    My heart breaks for you Suzanne and Ted. Your words are such a beautiful testiment to your love of of Gemma.

    Reply

  9. Mark (Kaelen's Dad)
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:19:28

    I was here to witness the love.

    Reply

  10. Carolyn
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:30:03

    Beautiful!

    Reply

  11. Elizabeth
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:51:31

    so beautiful …a great loss .. you had many wonderful years together for that you are fortunate

    Reply

  12. Donna Becker
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 16:10:37

    You are so lucky to be blessed with the gift to express your love so beautifully and so deeply. All I could do when i lost my beloved Sara ( and my special boy Sam) was cry. That was such a wonderful tribute to your best friend. Godpseed, Gemma….

    Reply

  13. Cindy (Lavette's mom)
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 16:20:48

    Suzanne, you wrote a beautiful tribute to Gemma that shows your love and devotion to her. You gave her a wonderful life and knowing Goldens, she knew that and basked in it every time she looked at you adoringly and wagged her tail. For that blessing, you will gain a peace in time that will heal some of the pain. I continue to raise only Goldens for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Yes, they’re needy, high maintenance for attention!, too too beautiful, but is there any other type of dog that we would have??? I don’t think so…… Thinking of you. Hugs, Cindy

    Reply

  14. Tiffany Taylor
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 16:42:55

    A beautiful tribute, Suzanne. We are thinking of you, and your family.

    Reply

  15. Carole Mukai-Rose
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 16:55:00

    Any of us who’ve lost our first dog and “heart dog” ache for your loss. What a lovely tribute to your dear girl whom you’ll carry in your heart forever.
    XO,
    Carole & Jeff

    Reply

  16. Lee
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 19:18:40

    Such a soft and loving piece in the begining…..then the feeling
    of your loss just explodes and the tears flow again. And this for a dog I’ve never even petted.

    Reply

  17. Wendy
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 19:51:28

    That was beautiful Suz. A wonderful tribute to a truly golden girl.
    Blessings.

    Reply

  18. Cindy Zelbst
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 19:52:02

    Beautiful tribute!!! It’s so hard to let them go and you miss them everyday. I know how your heart hurts. What wonderful memories she gave you. Remember her and smile.

    Reply

  19. Chandler
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 20:00:40

    Simply beautiful, dear Suzanne. A wonderful tribute for a precious soul. Run free sweet Gemma.

    Reply

  20. Diana Maberry
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 20:46:39

    Your words speak from the depth of your heart and soul. Your lives were intertwined amid the wonderful treasures you discovered together. The words will never end, the memories will grow fonder, your life together…always a blessing.

    Reply

  21. Deidra
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 01:25:45

    The words did come and are beautiful and fitting. Thank you for sharing Gemma with us in this tribute – you let us look into your life together through the simple pleasures that make life full.
    “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan…….” “The Once Again Prince” Irving Townsend

    Reply

  22. Anne
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 07:29:40

    It was very difficult reading this through my tears……..what a lovely tribute to Gemma.

    Reply

  23. Susan Droke
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 08:38:48

    ahh Suzanne, well done, well done. Robin is right ,you are a wordsmith, and your gift has healing powers. Please continue to share your therapy with those of us who have lost our beloved first golden and still feel the loss keenly no matter the time passage.

    Reply

  24. Karen Mier
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 08:48:27

    Suzanne, beautiful words for a beautiful girl.

    Reply

  25. rick in chgo
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 08:49:21

    Suzanne…
    Thru the years your words about Gemma have always made me feel as If I knew her. Your words above refresh my memory of all the adventures in Gem’s time with you. What a GReat dog she was,so loving of you and you of her. If only they could stay a little while longer with us…
    Thinking of you and Ted.
    rick in chgo

    Reply

  26. Susan Bates
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 09:00:38

    Lovely words for a lovely dog and my eyes are wet as wet can be. Just returned from picking out my new baby golden boy. Will be bringing that little soul home next Sunday where he will grow with his aunt and great aunt from puppy hood to big boy dog. Hugs to you and yours from me and mine.

    Reply

  27. Charlene & Don Vorous
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 10:46:58

    Suzanne and Ted,
    What a beautiful poem of Gemma’s life. My heart aches for you. We felt the the same way about Sandy, Gemma’s mother. It was so hard for us. Gemma was unique and so were all the other pups in her litter and hold a special place in my heart. We will always remember them growing up , seeing and hearing about them. We miss all of them. Harris and Bocci are still here and doing OK. Soon they will all be together in doggie heaven chasing each other and having fun together. Thank you for giving Gemma such a wonderful life.
    Our Love,
    Charlene and Don Vorous

    Reply

    • suzbria
      Mar 03, 2010 @ 00:03:46

      She changed my life for the better, Charlene! I am so glad you got to see her again not that long ago– still jumping in your pool. She blessed every day of our lives with her. I hope Gemma is reunited with her Dam Sandy and Cooper and Quila again!

      Reply

  28. Scott & Darla Vorous
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 17:08:34

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Ours is quite similiar, as we had the privilidge of raising Gemma’s sister, Quila. She was our first child (and often our favorite) and we are better people because she was in our lives. There really is no other love like that of a dog (especially a Golden) and I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience it, even for a day. We hope the many wonderful memories you have of Gemma keep you smiling like she clearly did when she was with you. We are truly sorry for your loss. It’s a big one.
    Sincerely, Scott & Darla Vorous

    Reply

  29. Marj
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 20:50:03

    Suzanne, a beautiful poem but the photo of Gemma’s last swim got my tears flowing. That ache is so familiar. Thinking of you daily. Sending peace and love.

    Reply

  30. Ann
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 21:20:55

    What a perfectly beautiful tribute to Gemma. Your words shine with lovely golden memories.

    Reply

  31. Liz Davis
    Feb 24, 2010 @ 09:44:05

    “Into my heart’s treasury
    I slipped a coin
    that time cannot take
    nor thief purloin.

    Oh better than the minting
    of a gold crowned king
    is the safe kept memory
    of a lovely thing.”

    by the poet, Sara Teasdale

    Reply

  32. Sally
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 01:51:05

    Suzanne, you said it all – the emptiness, the memories, the loss – just what I felt for my Gemma last autumn, but believe me, the pain gets less, the loss is still there, but the joyful memories come to the fore. Thinking of you, abrazos, Sally

    Reply

  33. Katie, Paula, Larissa
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 08:12:17

    Dear Suzanne:
    What a dear tribute to a wonderful friend. These pups just become such a part of our hearts and soul. Your expression of love for Gemma is “Priceless”.
    Katie
    Paula
    Larissa

    Reply

  34. Bari
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 15:24:19

    That was lovely.

    Reply

  35. Linda
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 09:30:26

    Dear Suzanne
    A beautiful tribute. Gemma may be gone but she will always live in your heart. God bless.
    Hugs.
    Linda, Phoebe and Savvy

    Reply

  36. Jacqueline Morasco
    Mar 07, 2010 @ 04:44:42

    I’m so sad to read of your Gemma’s passing. I think you were both very lucky to have each other. It it clear you loved her, your words make it possible tor the reader to understand exactly how.
    Hugs to you. May your heart soon begin to heal and though no other will ever take Gemma’s place in your heart, I know there is room in your heart for another.

    Reply

  37. Lisa & Cadie
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 11:49:04

    Very beautiful tribute to a dog that was well-loved and appreciated. In reading this, I know that Gemma lived a wonderful, happy, blessed life.

    Reply

  38. Teresa Bullard
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 20:26:42

    Reading this beautiful tribute on December 24, 2010…. remembering your wonderful Gemma and my Cinnamon and Ginger… what blessings they were. Love, Teresa

    Reply

  39. Anel Irving
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 22:23:15

    Suzanne, thank you for your beautiful poignant poem. We recently lost our dog, 6-year-old Lovey, to lymphoma after a long struggle and chemotherapy. We are raw with grief. Herewith a heartfelt poem, written by my 11-year-old son, that sums up our deep sadness:

    LOVEY

    My late dog,
    My Lovey,
    The lover of me.
    The dog who was there through
    The sad and the glee.

    The killers called cancer
    Took away her life,
    Cut open her heart
    With a dull silver knife.

    My Lovey no longer
    Is there to love me.
    The killers called cancer
    Took away all her glee.

    Reply

  40. Elisabeth
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 00:04:51

    You are amazing. Thank you for such a lovely story about your dog. I have my first dog now and I love him so much. I want to give him a great life. Clearly you did for Gemma.

    Reply

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