Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Amputee


Today, the sky is draped in mourning as clouds cover the valley and snow returns to the higher summits. Today, I listened to our friend Roy Prescott of WMWV radio break down in tears while offering a tribute to Atticus. Today, when I woke up, I moved slowly in bed so as not to disturb Atticus, just as I got up to let him out last night.

I’m now like one of those amputees you read about who still feels his missing leg.  It’s fitting because I too feel as if something has been amputated.

When Dr. De came up to me in the parking lot a half an hour after I held Atticus in my arms for the last time, she was concerned for me.

“I’m about to do something I haven’t done in fourteen years. I’m going home without Atticus. I’m afraid.”

We were inseparable, especially since moving north to New Hampshire. Every decision was based on his and our well-being. Whether it was about when to go to the store, dating, or even book tours. From the day we first met when he was only eight weeks old, Atticus and I became “we.” Heck, even two months ago when a beautiful woman invited me to an Avett Brothers concert with her, I told her I couldn’t go because I didn’t want to leave Atticus alone.

When a well-intentioned person suggested her relationship with her dog was just like ours, it was the fiftieth time I heard it this weekend. Finally, I had to point out, “No, it wasn’t. What we had was unique to us, just as yours was unique to you. Not better, just unique.”

Our course was different from the moment I followed Paige Foster’s advice to “Carry him everywhere you go for the first two months and don’t let anyone else hold him.” Add to that the many sacrifices so we could always be together. And finally, ask any hiking partners about intimacy. It’s a rare thing to share several mountains with a good friend. You end up sharing things others can never imagine, especially if hundreds of those mountains were climbed in winter.

I don’t know how many mountains we climbed. I guesstimate we stood on more than two thousand summits. That’s a lot of work, a ton of trust, emotion, and effort.

Through the years we dealt with Atticus’s blindness, his first cancer scare, his eventual cancer and chemotherapy, my septic shock six years ago, Will’s needs, a tumultuous relationship with a woman who we discovered had histrionic personality disorder (a form of narcissism), and as of late my near death experiences, and what turned out to be Atticus’s brain tumor.

Most importantly, the differing factor right from the beginning is that Atticus was never treated like a dog. Hell, he was never referred to as one, just as I ignored whenever anyone referred to him by his breed. For what I wanted for him from the very beginning was to be himself and not someone else’s idea of what he was or should be.  The terms master and owner were never used. Neither was pet. And as much as some people like to refer to him as a baby, I’d point out he was an adult. When they referred to him as my son or me as his dad, I corrected them, “He’s my friend.”

When a New Haven, Connecticut police officer wanted to give me a ticket for Atticus being off leash and sitting calmly outside a downtown Subway restaurant as I ordered breakfast sandwiches for the homeless in a nearby park, I went outside to see what the problem was.

“Is this your dog?”

“Mmmm, I wouldn’t say it that way.”

“What do you mean? Is this YOUR dog?”

“I wouldn’t say he’s mine. He’s his own dog. But we do hang out together.”

He looked at me like I was crazy.

“Listen, I don’t like the ownership thing.”

“Listen, I’m going to have to give you a ticket because he’s off leash.”

“Give him the ticket; he’s the one who is off leash.”

Eventually, the officer said, “Wait a minute, is this Atticus?”  And then he proceeded to help us distribute breakfast sandwiches to the homeless sprinkled on the park benches.

Atticus was many things through the years. He was his own dog. He was my hiking partner. He was a pacifist. He was a great athlete. He was a record setter. But most importantly, he was my friend, and as much as an equal as a non-human animal can be with a human in a society controlled by humankind.

There is much more to be written about Atticus. You’ll read about him a great deal in “Will’s Red Coat” when it comes out in March. And there are other stories to be shared. In the future, when another dog lives with me, his or her path will have been smoothed by the lessons Atticus and I learned together. You’ll hear about that.

For now, I’m going to end with three out of the thousands of various forms of communication that came to me this weekend.  You see, I’m okay with death. I mourn my loss and I’m fighting to keep my heart together, but I do recognize death as the final miracle of life. And just as I never wanted Atticus to be referred to as a cliché in life, I abhor clichés about death. My moderators do their best to wipe out all such clichés: “The rainbow bridge;” “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” etc…)

Most good friends have it right when they know if they don’t have the right words, it’s best just to say, “I have no words…”

But when the right words appear, they are golden medicine for a seared soul who is missing his other half. This weekend I read through so thousands of comments and emails, and I was moved by the genuine nature of most of them. Astounded really. Atticus would have been thrilled if he cared about such things. But since I do, I was thrilled for him and me.

 It was our vet and friend Rachael Kleidon who pointed out that she believed Atticus waited for me to get home from the hospital so he could die in my arms. I honestly believe this for this is the kind of relationship we had.

‪@TomandAtticus‪ He waited. What a gift he gave you.  You came home.  What a gift you gave him.  #onwardbyallmeans

Correspondence from Wendy Anthony, a librarian at Skidmore College who came to see us at a book event:
"When I saw you guys at the Rocks (Estate), I had never seen a dog as happy as Atticus in my whole long life of being fascinated by dogs. The way he looked at you explained it all: You gave him everything. You were the deepest and best of friends, and you fulfilled every promise. His eyes were universes speaking this. I have never known such a lucky person in my life as Atticus because of that.

"Yours was the greatest love story I have ever known. And oh, the cost is dear. Oh, Tom. That is so weird that he left fourteen years to the weekend. Your connection was made of other stuff."

From book blogger, Ashley Williams at @mybookfetish:
There's a scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where Dobby the House-Elf is fatally injured rescuing and protecting Harry and his friends from certain death. As Dobby passes, on a beach they've escaped to, he says, “What a beautiful place to be with friends. Dobby is happy to be with his friend.”  Ever since I read the post on Friday, this is the scene that's been going through my head. That as painful as this is, Atticus was with his friend. I don't know if that's any comfort or not. But I am thinking about you. And hugging my own little cats a bit more.

Now, as I step away from the computer for a bit, I’m reminded that life goes on. I have work to do. My rehab calls to me. It will be harder without Atticus by my side. (The other day I took my first walk without him in fourteen years.) The dishes have piled up in the sink. There are bills to pay. I have to drive to North Country Animal Hospital to pay our final bill from the other night. There’s that needed appointment to fix the car. Beans and rice and onions are on my grocery list. Laundry needs to be done. I have to prepare for tomorrow’s appointment with my kidney doctor to see how I’m doing.

Among these mundane things that make up the duties of a life, my heart will continue to ache. As I wrote the other night, there are times I’m so bereft I feel like the moon if the sun were ever to disappear. I feel hollow and have to remind myself to take one more step, to take another breath. Then I remember the magic, and I feel gratitude for a unique friendship and fourteen years where I was never bored. These are the things I reminded the crows of in our backyard this morning as I fed them some of Atti’s food. They ate and listened and cocked their heads in my direction. Sometimes, that’s all a man needs when it seems so much has been taken from him.

Onward, by all means, everyone.



47 comments:

Kay said...

I remember something you wrote a long time about Atticus's breeder. When she saw you two for the first time in seven years someone asked her if it was what she expected. She said something like, "Nothing at all. It was so much more. They are like one instead of two." I think she also said in the book, "Thankyou for not training the Atticus out of Atticus."

Thank you for always treating him as an individual.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. It was a beautiful friendship.

Fran Carona said...

Tom, thank you for letting us know how you are doing. There have been many tears shed for the loss of Atticus, and a heaviness remains. Thank you for sharing this special creature with the rest of the world. Meanwhile, prayers and good thoughts continue.

Fran Carona

AWBookGirl said...

A beautiful tribute, Tom. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Jay Simser said...

And there is always LOVE. Thank you for the Love you have shared.

Melissa Cruz said...

Atticus was blessed with you as you were with him... we should all be so lucky to find that special friend. Onward my all means my dear friend.

Patti said...

Your comment to remind yourself to "take another breath" hit home for me. When I lost my cat Jazz after sharing her in my life for almost 20 years I literally found it hard to breathe. Well-wishers would call and I wouldn't answer the phone, not because I didn't want to talk with them but because I literally couldn't get words out of my mouth. I've never had as close a relationship, either human or nonhuman, as I had with Jazz. And although I've gone on and adopted two more cats, and love them to no ends, there's that small place in my heart that will never heal, and I'm okay with that. My deepest condolences to you. I hope the gut-wrenching pain you're feeling now will subside with the passage of time.

Onesnap said...

The outpouring of support has been amazing to read.

Rest in peace, Dear Atticus.

Charlotte Lundewall said...

This is such a perfect quote for you and Atticus.

“You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing. ~ E.B. White

Sending healing thoughts....Love never fails.

Unknown said...

You were both "Blessed to be a blessing"

Pat Umbarger said...

Thank you for letting me know Atticus. I expect to find the right puppy soon, and you can bet I'll be the only one holding him for at least 2months.

Regina_Michelle said...

Thank you for sharing dear Atticus with us.

Rebecca Wish Esche said...

When Jeff and I read of Atticus's death on Friday evening as we sat in the Firehouse Theatre, we both wept. We agreed not to discuss it with our beloved Arlo. Yet as soon as we arrived home later that evening, he looked deeply into Jeff's eyes and knew. We hold you and Atti in our hearts and thoughts here in Newburyport.

jean said...

The wonderful part of this journey to me wasn't just Atti, even though he did amazing things, but it was the surreal bond that you had with each other. The way you seemed to just know exactly what each of you needed with just a look. My heart felt that look in good times and now feels it in sad times. It always will.

walker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marx Mom said...

Thank you for sharing and thank you for your honesty. While our experiences are not the same, I do feel that I can relate to what you are going through. My thoughts are with you.

Kathy Nolan Deschenes said...

As a lover of physics I've always believed that matter is matter. We are made of the same moledules as the stars. And that's where I expect to go when my time is up. With the stars and all the others whose matter mattered.
Blessings to you, Tom.

karen koszuta said...

Dear Tom,

I have no words. There are no words.............................
When my mother died in 1994, I wrote about the Miracle of Death. Not since then has anyone else ever written the Miracle of Death, until now.
Thank you Tom, for sharing your life and best friend with me. Yes, this is personal. You shared Atticus with the world but you personally touched my life.
Forever grateful,

Karen

Marilyn Hughes said...

Thank you so much for your honest answers and comments regarding the passing of your beloved friend. Yes he will be missed but he has given so much to all who have read His book and will read Will's book in the future. Blessings to you and thank yu.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful friendship. He will be missed but he will never be forgotten and he will always be close to you because he will always be in your heart.

Marv said...

Since "meeting" you and Atticus by way of your book and then by Facebook and these blogs, I have stopped referring to our canine friends as "dogs". Of course there is a time and place to refer to them as what they are but it does not explain who they are. I volunteer for two animal rescue groups and, of course, we rescue dogs but when I'm one on one with each of them, they are treated and spoke to with dignity (something I've always done from a young girl). Thank you for lending that inspiration and insight. I was actually volunteering at a function on Friday night when I looked at my phone and saw the news of Atticus. I had to leave the room for a moment to compose myself; you have not been off my mind since. Unique is a good word for the relationship the two of you had but even with that it doesn't fully encompass the scope of your bond. Watching videos, seeing pictures, reading your words of when Atticus would stop to see that you were okay on the trails, seeing him gaze stoically and peacefully on the peaks and the unbreakable trusting companionship you enjoyed is immense. I'm sure you and Atticus have enriched and improved many a human-dog relationship throughout the years. A part of your heart will be always be reserved for Atticus, and rightly so, and time will lessen the pain. Stay well Tom - meet each morning with sheer elation of experiencing such wonder with your friend for 14 years and look forward to so many chapters ahead enriched with Atticus's spirit within.

Mary Klinepier said...

What is there to say except you have lost a great friend in the flesh but he will be with you every single day...encouraging you to continue moving forward....onward indeed Tom!!!

Cheri McCain said...

When I first read Following Atticus Max's story brought tears to my eyes. I knew he had known a deep friendship with you during his short time with you and your being with him in his final moments really brought that home to me. His part in the story is a remembrance of the life he had with you and he will never be forgotten because of that and his opening the door for Atticus and Will to enter into your life. Without that little sheep there would have been no Atticus or Will!

Now with Atticus' passing my tears are back again even though I know that he had a special and good life with his friend and partner. I knew on his last day that you were letting him say goodbye to others that he knew and that loved him. And I knew that you would be releasing him soon from this life and tears flowed for him, and for you, that he would be leaving soon.

But I also knew that he would live on with not only his adventures in this blog and both books but also in all of our memories of him with the things you shared to us about him. He is not truly lost to you or to any of us with that legacy.

I am sure that you also share his ashes with those places that he loved so much so that he will always be in those special places. And I do hope that one day you will share past adventures and other new adventures with another friend that you open your life to.

Anonymous said...

You and Stticus newer fortunate to have found each other because you were a perfect match. Thank you for sharing him with all of us. It's something I looked forward to every day. Prayers and may God comfort you in this time of sorrow.

Mary Ann Lowrance said...

Tom, I have absolutely nothing to offer other than to say Thank You for being a writer. Your writing has taught me so much ... old dogs can learn new tricks ... I'll be 75 in October!! My companion is heading toward 14 in January. His name is Little Bit and we are a team. I know the "No, I don't want to leave Bit alone but thanks" response and the confused, bemused and sometimes sarcastic eye-roll from those who don't know the beauty of our relationship. Until I began following you he was my "baby" or "my little boy" and then I began to realize how foolish I was being. You made me a better partner for my friend, Little Bit. I know you will have all kinds of heartache as you mourn but your beautiful words put so much in perspective. R.I.P. Atticus and Tom, know that you and Atticus made a huge difference for non-human companions. MaryAnn

Anonymous said...

The final Paragraph just made me cry and cry. Reminded me of losing my sweet elderly dog Zhyox three years ago.. I feel the truth of these words deeply in my heart.

Paul Ilmer said...

Though I hardly knew you, little fella, bless you from the bottom of my heart. And that goes for the bigger fella, Tom, as well. Namaste.

Tim M. said...

Thank you Tom for sharing your thoughts today and Atticus with us for all these years. I have also experienced the loss of a very close 4 legged best friend. But I am not going to pretend I know how you feel. Our grief over such a loss is as unique as the relationship that came before. God bless you both.

Earl said...

I remember the hurt to lose this kind of friend. I guess Albus Dumbledore said it best : “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

GreatAV said...

Thank you for the stories of Atticus, Will and yourself, I have lived with them for quite some time now and I have just had a long cry. Feel like I have lost a good friend though I know neither of you. I will not forget Atticus, please take care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful tribute to a well deserved friend.I have been grievfing for 3 years and your writings have helped me.I felt as though I knew Will and Atticus personally.Take care of yourself and I will be looking forward to your bloggs when ever.Your friend from Texas.

Donna Safford said...

Tom, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Atticus was a wonderful friend to you, as you were to him, which has inspired so many of us to look into the eyes of the animals around us and wonder what they are thinking. I love watching the video of your hike on "Windows to the Wild." The love and care you had for each other was clearly evident. I decided to pick up my copy of "Following Atticus" and enjoy the journey again. Thank you for writing. Thank you for caring. Know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of many, many people. Be well!

Honey Bear said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful friend and many adventures. I learned so much from both of you. I have read your book to my special needs chihuahua several times. He listened to every chapter. It helped when he has bad days. RIP Atticus. We will never forget you. Take care of your self Tom.

LjonesNapa said...

I am thankful for your post today, Tom, and I look forward to hearing how you're doing as the days, weeks and months go by. I'm fairly new to the "Following Atticus" family and desperately wish I'd learned of the two of you sooner! You have an amazing way of sharing your adventures and life, and although I've had furry canine companions for decades, you've opened my eyes to life from their perspective. It's a wonderful and amazing thing. Coming from Atticus, it's also very inspirational!
I wish you peace and happy memories of your Little Buddha.

Unknown said...

Have no idea what to say other than it hit me like family. My the spirits enjoy his company.

Laurie Olk said...

Yes, no words, but thoughts of love, compaionship, a oneness with each other, s bond that will never be broken. Atticus filled your heart and that is where he will always be. You know that you filled his and that is where you will always be.

dandlmoney said...

Such beautiful words Tom. I understand the depth of your grief. I don't know it, because each of us grieves in our own way, but I do understand it. I have read this several times today because it's so beautiful. I adore what you said to the police officer about Atticus being off leash. Just too clever! Know that much love and many prayers are with you as you grieve the loss of your friend. Thank you for making him our friend too. We loved him so. He was a blessing to many because you allowed us in. Love, peace and comfort, Lisa

Beckie Jani said...

Dear Tom, we did not know about this until last night (Sunday), but for some reason Atticus had entered my thoughts several times over the weekend. I even mentioned him to my daughter yesterday when we went to Greeley Ponds. Perhaps on a higher level he was saying good bye to many souls he had not even met. He was - NO! - is a blessing to all who read about him or saw some of the videos. Thank you for sharing him with so many people and animals. It is a difficult transition for those left behind; no one needs to tell you that. Hang in there, Tom, God bless you.

Ro F said...

Simply, beautiful. Thank you and Atticus for this.

Plebius said...

Atticus and friend will be will noted and long remembered. Many of us have experienced being a pack member. Bounty ,love and hard times shared equally. My wish is others open their minds and hearts, allowing us to live and travel in peace, tearing down those not needed walls. Peace.

Shannon Zapf said...

Thank you for just letting Atticus "be." Your friend, hiking partner, whatever the two of you needed...

Heather Wilson said...

Tom .. as you move onward, without Atticus by your side, may the memories of your times together keep you company, and may you know how much you and Atticus and Will have touched the lives of so many people. You shared your lives together - you passed on wisdom, and you sthared stories of your walks and hikes and times together. May all of us remember always the wise words you have shared here today, and that you chose to share your lives with us here on your blog, and on your FB page. You are an excellent writer, with a way of putting words together that capture the hearts of many...may you continue to find those words to share with others as you continue ..onward...

Heather (owner of a cat named Phil who I appreciate more now that I am reading more about Attituc and Will!

Anonymous said...

Thank You! this brought tears to my eyes... You and Atticus had an amazing journey! In some small way I hope my rescue dog Roxie and I can carry on the love you and Atticus have for hiking. Roxie is a 4 y/o australian shepard/Gr Pyrenees mix rescue and a cardiac patient. She had emergency heart surgery at Tufts Foster Hospital (on 5/15/13) at the age of 8 mo to plug a hole in her heart. I was told I could expect 1-2 years with her and 3 years later she is going strong. I made a promise to her that she would have a a wonderful life and hope I can come close to the life you provided for Atticus. I was taken aback by the picture you posted at the top because I believe that is the Lafayette loop trail, and I have an eerily similar picture of Roxie on the ridge trail although a little closer to the summit. I hope to get as many years of hiking as you an Atticus had and I completely agree with your comment to the New Haven Police officer, Roxie and I hang out together as you and Atticus. Thank You! and Rest in Peace Atticus. Rick Graichen rgraichen@me.com.

Unknown said...

That is beautiful, Tom. Thank you for sharing your world with us, and for being a TRUE friend to dogs. I hope you receive much love, support, and appreciation for all you do.

Cynthia said...

Tom,
I have not been following your blog for very long - a dear friend sent me the link about a year ago. But, my gosh, you and Atticus have been so inspirational! He was your soul-mate, and always will be. He isn't going anywhere. I rescued an abused cat, Spenser, on the grounds of an outdoor classical musical festival in 1986. He was being kicked like a football by several teenagers. I saw this as I was entering the outside arena, handed my front row tickets to a stranger and threw myself at the group. Luckily there were mounted police officers there to assist. Spenser was my companion for 20 years. Not pet, not cat, but companion. We didn't hike together but were soul to soul. He finally got sick and died in my arms, peacefully. I have never felt such loss, but Spenser was, and still is, there with me. All these years later I dream of him or sense him. Atticus will have your back despite not being on the earth anymore. Let him guide you, like he always did. Take it a step at a time, like when you hiked together. A bond that is as strong as you shared with Atticus will never be broken. I wish you comfort and peace.
Best, Cynthia

Anonymous said...

We lost our dear friend, Lucky, who was also 14 just days before you lost Atticus. The stages are difficult and we wish you all the best as you continue without your furry friend.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Thanks for sharing him with so many.
Mike and Par Prossee

Sandra Strickland said...

I've been reading Following Atticus. My dog Teddy looks just like him and some people stopped me when I was walking him by the beach to pet him. They said he looks just like Atticus you should read the book. So I'm almost finished with it and came across your blog. I'm heartbroken now to know you lost Atticus. Tears streaming. I've lost four pets in my life that all grew old. It never gets any easier. I got Teddy before my last pet passed. It helped me having a little dog to take care of in my grief. All the best to you and your new puppy. Happy trails.