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.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Walking with Atticus at Thorne Pond

For all the certainty we chase after, what we mostly have in the great unknown.

When I am alone, I sometimes ponder my sickness. Not out of pity, but circumstances.  I contemplate how Atticus and I were both sick at the same time, and both of us could have died, but I’m the one who lived, even though it didn’t seem like I would some days.

I deal with my grief on my own. There is a public me who is mostly okay, and occasionally a flash flood of tears will let loose, but it happens more when I’m alone. I appreciate my friends and all the loving sentiments sent this way from people who know me from our book or from social media, but what I’m doing now is an inside job. It’s up to me to work through it and come out the other side. No one can help with that.

I usually post something on our Facebook page and then retreat, letting my moderators deal with the comments. Occasionally they’ll point out a few to me, and I’ll respond. But for now soul work is all important and what I need and want. Meanwhile, people tell me I should be broken, I should be incomplete, I will never heal. They tell me I should be smiling; I should be happy because of all we shared or thrilled by the public sentiment toward Atticus.

But what I want is for no one to tell me what I should be doing or feeling. I just want to be. This is the cost of social media, I suppose. It helps to step away.

Lately, I’ve been walking at Thorne Pond on my own. This was a favorite place of Atticus once he couldn’t hike anymore. We’d get lost in the woods, and by the river, with one of the only lowland views of the iconic Mount Carrigain. (It's ironic that you can see it from nearly every four thousand footer, but not from most anywhere else down below.)

Whenever I walk by the pond, by the ducks and the birds coming and going, across the stubbled field, and enter in the mint green woods, I feel release. My shoulders are suddenly unbound and unburdened. I feel myself looking around through the sun-dappled woods, and half expect to see him there. At times, I feel like we are walking together, not like we were in the last couple of weeks or even the last year, but before that when his legs had springs in them, and his ears flopped in happiness as he trotted along.

The other day I stopped where he used to get his drink of water. The day before that, when I was tired, I rested and leaned on my trekking poles. When it was time to go, I looked down to where he’d be sitting in the past, right beside me, and I asked, “Do you want to go first?”

Into the afternoon light, we walked as it splashed through the leaves and gave them tips of gold. Along the water, we moved as wind whipped up little waves and diamonds rushed downstream while reflecting the sun. We – my memory and me.

People are always telling me where Atticus is, what he’s doing, or what he’s thinking. They are well-intentioned, but the truth is, no one knows anything. We talk about what we wish was true, or what we want to believe, but in the end, I leave it all in mystery. That to me is gift enough for I believe in the grand unknown.

I have no clue if Atticus’s spirit is waiting for me somewhere. I hope it isn’t. I mean, I hope he’s off on his next adventure, because I may be a while, and I would be selfish to expect him to wait for me. What I feel as company is his inspiration and the love we kindled together into a flame. I will always have that, the beauty of how we touched each other through a fourteen-year-long dance of swinging and swaying, of embraces, and dips and lifts.

As I sat on a fallen birch tree, again to catch my breath, leaning forward on my poles, I found myself smiling. For the powers that be have delivered me through hell, and I’m optimistic enough to think, “What’s next?” in the most positive way. For I had something so special, so special that Atticus waited for me until I got out of the hospital to say goodbye. It was the exclamation point at the end of a love story that will never grow old for me.

During the final stretch of the woods, the sun had dropped from the sky and shadows spread their wings everywhere. But still I smiled, picturing him bounding ahead of me as I hurried along as best I could, my right legs limping out of weakness. And when I took the last turn and climbed a short rise, I grunted because my legs are still so weak, but when I stepped out into the remaining glow of the day, there was the pond and the mountains and green trees, and the only thing I could think to say was, “Thank you.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you.”

A week from this Sunday, I’ll take this still withered body and my trekking poles, which I need for balance and to propel myself uphill, and I’ll climb my first mountain without Atticus leading the way. I’ll do it for him, and I’ll do it for me, one month after getting out of the hospital. It’s been a tradition for us. A month after my gallbladder surgery, he led me, my drainage tubes, large scars, and bag up a mountain. Then, just under a month of having his toe amputated due to cancer, we climbed the same mountain again. So it’s only right I push forward this third time...for him, for me, and for us.

While he won’t be leading me, he’ll be with me nevertheless, inside my heart, just as he’s always been.

One of my main beliefs is that nothing is truly ever taken from us. Things change forms and loss becomes gain. I will forever move forward from the difficult experiences of the past two months knowing I’m alive, and I have been given the gift of arduous experiences knowing they’ve made me stronger, wiser, and more complete. I'm not sure why things happened as they did, or why I'm alive while Atticus isn't. I leave all that up to the mystery of things. Through tears and smiles I move on, through difficulty and joy it's onward, by all means.


It’s like Joseph Campbell said when Bill Moyers asked him the meaning of life.

“I don’t think people are looking for the meaning of life; they’re looking for the experience of being alive.”


(I've created a memorial fund in Atticus's name at the Conway Area Humane Society. To donate to help animals in need, simply click on this link. Thank you.)
 


62 comments:

paintallover me said...

Amen, thank you, thank You!

linmar said...

beautifully said!

AWBookGirl said...

Well said, Tom. And you're right. There is no roadmap for grief. We all go through it in our own way, at our own pace. If the weather permits me walking at the park this weekend, I will think of you and Atticus as I watch the river and whatever creatures I may see along the path.

Honey Bear said...

Oh Tom thanks for this beautiful message. I wish you peace and good health.

Onesnap said...

Beautiful post. Thank you so much for writing this.

Irene Economou said...

I needed to read this today because it speaks to me and my grief that I am dealing with. Your words speak to me directly. Thank you, Tom. God Bless you on this new journey.

Ardith McCloy said...

Amen Tom......it is as it should be!

Anonymous said...

Thank You, Tom! Our little dog, Zeke, died back in February and we were heartbroken. Literally take your breath away heartbroken. You have shown me that it's okay to still cry when memories overtake me, to still look to where he should be and remember. He was such a wonderful dog, a companion and member of the family on such a special level. And so, I smile as I remember, through tears, the special dog named Zeke. Thank you again, Tom. Brenda

PhotographyByBlythe said...

Thank you for sharing... and you're correct. There isn't a timeline for grief, it has to be your path and no one else's. Sending you peaceful thoughts ��

Katherine Beach said...

Perfect.
I do not have appropriate words to express what a wonderful teacher you are, and how grateful I am.

George West said...

The law of conservation of energy says "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another." I agree that what that is when we pass is a mystery; in the meantime, hold him in your heart, and talk to him. You may hear his answer in the wind.

Anonymous said...

I should know better by now that work is not the place to read your blog. It's hard to explain tears to co-workers. As always, so beautifully written. Sorry for the loss of your friend. Thank you for sharing part of Atticus with us.

Fran Carona said...

I still can't read your beautiful words without tearing up. Grief is at once such an individual experience, and yet one that is universal. No one can tell you the "right" way to grieve. You will figure it out. Thank you so much for sharing your love story with us. Blessings as you live out the next chapter of your life.

Laura said...

I'm smiling through tears. Thank you,Tom.

Alex said...

Yes. Onward by all mean So!

Margo Chapski said...

Yes.
Love lives on.

Barb said...

Thank you for sharing your heartfelt words So beautiful Tears won't stop

Linda Logan said...

Tom, again Thank You for putting in to words what I have pretty much experienced when ever I lost a loved animal. We all have our beliefs, I believe that all the animals I have loved and Lost come back to visit me in Spirit when I need them most. But that is just my belief and it helps me to carry on after they are gone. There are no words to comfort you at this time, like you said, you have to grieve and carry on in your own way. Please know that I am thinking of you and of course Atticus and Will.

dennis said...

Tom, to quote you "Thank you", thank you for being and sharing.

Unknown said...

Inspiring as always, Tom.

Christina Crooks said...

That was beautiful! ��

Priscilla Maccallum said...

Thank you, Tom. Beautiful words, as always. We all grieve in our own way. You are doing exactly what you should be doing...for you.

Sherrie Hitchcock said...

In my mind's eye I can see your hike through the woods; and in my heart, I re-visit the loss of beloved pets. Thank you for being willing to share. Your good you and Atticus do in the world continues on.

Jan Reed said...

As poet Kenneth Patchen said, "There are no proportions in death." I know from my own experiences of loss that eventually the good memories soften the edges of the sharp pain, but it takes time. And I know of no more healing places than the woods and the water. Onward, at a slow pace, by all means.

MelS said...

Your writing is sublime. A good example of how to be you and only you. Helpful to me as I move towards the end someday with my wee dog. Thank you.

baltznoah said...

Thank you for reminding us that to tell anyone how he/she should feel is not at all helpful. It is wonderful to read your words and imagine what you describe so clesrly

baltznoah said...

Thank you for reminding us that to tell anyone how he/she should feel is not at all helpful. It is wonderful to read your words and imagine what you describe so clesrly

Anonymous said...

You and Atticus certainly experienced being alive and I wish you continued lively experiences. The two of you gave all of us so many wonderful examples of true friendship and how to enjoy life in a most positive way. Thank you so very much!

Linda Carr said...

So sorry about Atticus, there are no words, but I believe you will take him with you in your heart, he will always be there.

Anonymous said...

Tom, thank you for being you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for be you.

Ramona Chapman said...

Thank you, Tom! As usual, your words bring both tears and smiles. They are so beautiful! I'm very grateful that I found out about "Following Atticus" oh, so many years ago. I feel as if I have personally known both of you. You both are in my thoughts. Onward, by all means...

Anonymous said...

res·o·lute

adjective

admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering

This word springs to mind, reading your recent posts ... whether it be to describe Atticus, or yourself. Onward !

Karen Miller said...

That was thee most beautifully written expression of life,death. love,and hope.I was moved beyond tears,and filled with joy as I remembered Atticus from the video's at that stream.Thank you Tom for sharing such eloquent words.

Les Selzler said...

Tom, you are where your memories take you. Grieve as you will for only you can determine what is right, correct for you. I am happy that you cry and still remember Atticus (and Will)as good, happy memories. They will sustain you for as long as you want or need.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful

Carol West said...

You're right, Tom - grief is a solitary journey, and only you can do the necessary "soul work". Thank you, though, for writing this - by doing so, you're helping others, like myself, who are doing their own soul work. It's been almost 19 weeks since I had to bid farewell to my best friend, Nellie, and it's been a lonely, difficult journey. Your words touched me deeply. Your belief that "nothing is ever truly taken from us" gave me pause, as did your comment that Atticus is inside your heart, "just as he's always been."

I realized that I've allowed the loss of Nellie to overshadow her life and her love. I've been avoiding the places we shared, while you're planning a trek overflowing with memories of Atticus, which is both admirable and inspirational. So thank you, Tom, for leading the way (as Atticus did for you) and for showing us how to "move on through difficulty and joy."

Missymia said...

Beautiful words! Tom you need to be you. You must handle this period in your life as Tom Ryan. Cry, laugh, smile or whatever emotion hits you at any given time. Just like Atticus was "his own dog", you are your own man and must handle it your way. We all love you and Atticus!

Melanye said...

I can't help but shed a few tears as I read this blog. Such beautiful words and emotions you have. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I wish you well.

Billie Graybeal said...

I wish you good health and happiness always. Thanks for sharing your life with Atticus and Will with all of us! When I rescued a mini-schnauzer in 2012 I named him Jake Atticus in honor of your friend as I had just read your book. I have followed you both on the FB page as your journey continued. Live Tom! Onward by all means! So many have kind thoughts of you and a wonderful memory of your friends!

Budala56 said...

That quote from Campbell is one of my favorites - it perfectly captures the human condition!

Cathy Whitt said...

As usual your words I like magic. And I've said this a million times they are like butter on warm biscuits. The words melt into that warm and make us all feel better just knowing you and Atticus and Will and Maxwell. I never get tired of reading what you have written it is beautiful. It is always beautiful. It always paints me the most Vivid picture of those mountains and for that I can never thank you enough. Onward by all means

Barbara Grant said...

Thank you for sharing this time with us. Your journey with Atticus and Will was personal and this grieving period will take it's own time as you have said.
Have a good hike, although it may be with a heavy heart. The mountains are a good place to heal and reflect.

Barbara Grant

Anonymous said...

How fortunate we are that memories can keep love alive. Enjoy every one of them as you stroll/hike through all your favorite spots. You have enough of them for an entire lifetime.

PP said...

You are mighty Tom Ryan ... As was Atticus in the most special of ways!

Susan Goddard said...

You have been the lucky one to have experienced the most special bond between a man and his loyal dog. I'm sure you each could look into each others eyes and know what the other was thinking. Atticus couldn't have understood if you had gone first.

Rohana said...

I have to confess that I've been a wimp. I stopped reading your blog a while back because Atticus was getting old and I didn't want to read about him dying. So, today I decided to quit being a weakling and find out what was happening with you and Atticus. I can't stop crying. It's like losing my own dog (both of my dogs died a few years ago). I know you're not afraid of death; I'm not afraid either, but that doesn't mean it hurts any less. There's something so wrenching about an empty dog (or cat) bowl that will never see food again, about waking up in the morning and your favorite furry face is not there to greet you, about walking out to the mailbox or down the neighborhood street, alone. Even though you don't know me, I'm there with you, along with all of your many readers.

Terrie said...

Thank you for posting this Tom, I read it though tears but I managed to get through all of it. I really needed this, Thank you.......

Carol Acord said...

Thank you, thank you, Tom and Atticus. Thank you for reaffirming that no one has a right to tell us in what manner to grieve nor how long. Thank you that you are still seeing Atticus as you go and still speaking with him as I do with my own dear Naomi girl, who had to go in November. I speak with her and sing our songs to her with tears in my eyes and a heart broken in pieces and see her as we go about our business You and Atticus are on my heart and mind. Thank you again.

mlaiuppa said...

Thorne Pond sounds like a wonderful, soothing place.

I always end up sitting in contemplation after reading one of your posts.

Do you think you will still take that cross country camping trip you had planned with Atticus for April when you are given the go health-wise?

Tandi said...

Beautiful writing, Tom. Inspired words and thoughts are a ministry to others as well as therapy for the soul. I will be thinking of you and Atticus as I do my own trail trekking, which is what I call my run/walk/run method of trail running. Some runners are so concerned about improving their pace or winning a race that they never notice the scenery along the way. Thank you for enhancing my appreciation of nature and contemplative thought with your inspirational writing. Continued prayer for your complete healing. -- Maureen

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom - Our daughter gave me your book a few months back, so I am a very new follower of you and Atticus. When she told me of Atticus' death, immediately I called to mind the loss of my husband's aunt about a year ago. This wonderful woman took over the care of my husband and his brother and sister when they lost their parents when my husband and I were in college. She ran her husband's medical practice, households in two states, another business (where she was hands on), finished raising eight kids and traveled all over the country visiting those kids and their families. Just before her 89th birthday, her heart gave out. It had been repaired, but I think she knew she was at the end of her time. After she was gone, one of the grandchildren commented that she was always so confident. She was confident in herself, but her gift was that she was confident in others. If she asked you to do something, or said that maybe you might try X direction at the fork in the road, she knew you could do it, even if you had major doubts yourself. I believe that Atticus has that same relationship with you. It's a tough act to follow.

jean said...

The only thing worse than losing your soul mate is not having anyone to share your feelings with. (I know this pain.) You are so blessed to have the choice of letting the whole world go through this with you, or just letting your dearest friends and family go through it with you, or just sharing your thoughts with Atti's spirit during quiet walks in the woods. I truly wish you peace in whatever ways you choose to remember your all time best friend.

D Gillette said...

I am a long time follower of your heart. Thank you for sharing Atticus and Will with me.

Linda Marciniszyn said...

Though I had purchased your book some years ago, I only recently rediscovered it. I don't know if any story I've read has made me laugh out loud, multiple times but also moved to me to tears as well. I'm sure you hear from many fans who write to express their gratitude for sharing Atticus, but I would be remiss if I didn't add my name to the list.

I have been checking weekly, with apprehension, for an update, hoping with crossed fingers that you two were off on your cross-country sojourn and too busy to write, but deep down I knew. There is nothing I or anyone can say to make this better for you but I hope the memory of Atticus and of the lives you both touched will eventually give you peace. Thank you, we all look forward to Will's story and more memories of Atticus.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

A fitting tribute to the wonderful life you shared. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this journey. It's been a beautiful "ride".

Jean said...

Soul work...the best work. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Betty F. said...

Simply thank you. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet you and Atticus in CT. It is a very sweet memory that I will keep forever. I stood to the left of you because you were holding Atticus in your right arm. You kindly suggested that I move to your right side so we would have Atticus in-between us. That action was so generous and kind. i really wanted to be closer to Atticus but I didn't want to impose - your suggestion made my heart flutter and that felt so good. In addition to the memory I have the picture that Lenny took that day of you, me, and Atticus. I will cherish it always.

I look forward to seeing you again when you make visits for Will's book.

I'm in the process of making a blanket for you. I'm not a good writer but I do have a big heart and I am a slow knitter but i will send you the blanket as soon as possible.

I wish you healing thoughts, strength, time, love, and peace.

Please take care of you.

Betty

Candy said...

Thank you so much for your perspective, even if your words brings tears; so much appreciate you sharing your experiences written in a way that brings me in.

Joan T. said...

Thank you, Tom! Pondering all that you wrote and the feelings you've expressed. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Tom, I read your book a number of years ago and I just read it again after hearing that Atticus is gone. You've been doing soul work for years and you were so fortunate to have your friend, Atticus, to do it with you. I am grateful that you shared this. Thank you.

ebliss said...

Atticus first came onto my radar on Facebook a couple of years ago. Intrigued and inspired (I spent my first 18 summers in those mountains, and I resonate with your attitude of soul equality--he is not just a pet or even an amazing dog--he is a magnificent soul!), I started "following" Following Atticus, but after a while the posts stopped showing up on my feed. Just a few days ago while visiting friends in NH, I picked up your book and have immersed myself in your lives for these past few days. Tears, laughter, inspiration, gratitude, reverence for nature, renewed determination to overcome physical issues (Lyme & Arthritis) have filled this week. Wanting more, I started exploring social media, only to discover that Atticus is gone, and you nearly were. Tears have been flowing freely as I do my own greiving for the sorrow of parting, for the change in your incredible partnership, and for all the loved ones gone from my life. Your writing is inspired and has touched me deeply. I especially like that you paint Atticus as the hero, when in fact, it took the two of you together to accomplish your unbelievable feats. Yes, Atticus must be the most extraordinary dog this world has seen (I believe this to be true), but without your huge, sensitive and intuitive heart, Atticus as we have known him, would not be the same Atticus. Samwise is one lucky dog to find a new life with you in our beloved White Mts! Thsnk you Tom, for having the courage to share your stories with strangers. You don't feel like strangers to all of us because you and your beloved canine family are now firmly entrenched in our hearts. I have a lot more to say on this subject, but I hope one day to say it in person. Onward, by all means! Blessings on your new journey. ♡ Elizabeth Barrett Johnson