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Zazu in 2002, my Marine was in Iraq.

Our military world is difficult to navigate for many. I’ve lived more years alone than I’d like and endured through stress, chaos, and loss. Through it all, I relied on the constant love and joy that my dog provided. My black cocker spaniel, Zazu, was the source of so much happiness in all of our lives – I like to think that I adored her the most, because I considered her as my first baby.

She was a wedding gift from my Marine after in 2002 and served as my cuddle buddy during the initial invasion to Iraq. This was a time when didn’t know what this war would bring, how long it would last, or if indeed my husband would face weapons of mass destruction while fighting in Um Qsar and Nasiriyah, Iraq.

She was my source of joy as I found myself alone, pregnant with our first child and felt I couldn’t endure any more when my husband’s unit lost twenty men and sustained over 200 injuries in Fallujah, Iraq.

I relied on her when my husband was in Hellmand Province, Afghanistan fighting Al-Qaeda, where their unit lost twenty more men and suffered over 160 casualties, thirty of which were amputees, just six months after our one year old son passed away.

Zazu and QuaidShe welcomed in all three of our kids, loving on them as they grew. They also loved her, sometimes a bit roughly, but she never growled or snapped. She embraced strangers and family members as one.

At just ten years old, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I guess somehow I imagined that she would navigate our military lifestyle until, we too, were done. But her body couldn’t hold out any longer. We discovered she had cancer when her lung suddenly collapsed. It was a day I wasn’t prepared for. My husband was busy being a Marine and I was left once again, to say goodbye on my own.

My heart was broken as I had to let go of one of my best friends, the source of so much love and happiness in my life. My constant.  She almost made it to her fifth duty station. When we pull out of our driveway the last time in a few short months, there will be so much emptiness as we move on without her.

As I filled out paperwork and answered questions about her cremation process,  the band aid was ripped off the hole in my heart, taking me back to the moment where I had to answer these same questions when my son passed away. And now one of my favorite sources of comfort was no longer.

My heart is swollen with sadness, but I am still amazed at the kindness of strangers, who were willing to share a few tears and a hug as I grieved my loss, or as one gentleman did, stop to ask if I was okay while I crossed the street with tears running down my face.

Loving is always worth the heartache. We as military spouses toe the line, quietly, and trudge forward through sacrifices and difficulties. To know our life, is to live it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. All we can do is love strongly today, be thankful for the gifts present, and appreciate the gifts of the past. Goodbye, my sweet Zazu. Mommy loves you.

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