Double Digits

My life is divided into a “before” and an “after”. On May 30, 2014, my beloved husband, Matt, died in a mountain biking accident during a routine run at Whistler. I always assumed that if I were to lose Matt, I would die too. Life, however, has a way of moving forward, even when you don’t want it to. This is the story of the first 365 days of my journey into grief. It is a road that I never wanted to travel, and yet, here I am. Surviving. If you find yourself here because you also belong to the “club” (the shitty club that none of us ever asked to join), I want you to know how deeply sorry I am for your loss. I also want you to know that you are not alone. We can ride out this journey together, one wave at a time.

February 2018

When I lost my husband, Matt, four years ago, I had a serious conversation with my dog. “You’ve got to make it to double digits, little buddy.” That was our deal. Double digits. He kept his end of the bargain, giving me a bonus year beyond our agreement. Last week, he let me know that it was his time to go. Reluctantly, I honored his sweet life and allowed him to go with as much grace and dignity as I could muster. It was not easy.

I’m no stranger to loss. Heartbreak has been a constant companion of mine since becoming a widow at the ripe age of 39. But losing my Bear dog. I knew this would be a tough one.

Bear, a chocolate brown lab, and Matt Klee, the author's husband. They are both looking at the camera. Matt is wearing a navy t-shirt.

Let me back up a bit. In the last year before his death, Matt and I had decided to give parenting a go. After several months of “trying” (sorry), I was told by my doctor that my best bet was to go the fertility route. Matt and I both agreed that if it didn’t happen the good old fashioned way, we were not interested in forcing nature’s hand. We agreed that we could have a wonderful life, full of adventure, with or without kids. And we were fine with that. Three months later, Matt was gone. I can’t describe how impossibly empty my life felt. My saving grace was my fur child, Bear. He became glued to my side — watching over me constantly and walking faithfully by my side during my darkest moments of grief. And those moments are dark. They pull you under in a way that I can not describe. But each morning, I woke up to his wet nose, prodding me, “Get up, mom! It’s a new day! It’s time for BREAKFAST!” And I got up. Even when I didn’t want to. I wonder if he ever knew how much he saved me?!

I’ve always liked dogs. I’ve always been an animal lover. But I’ve never known “dog love” quite like I found in Bear. If there is such a thing as a pup soulmate, he was mine. I could snuggle his chocolatey brown muppet fur forever. His eyes were human. I swear he could read my mind. We may not have spoken the same language, but he knew me better than anyone. The real me. And he loved me, faults and all.

Bear, sitting on Jen's front porch wearing his leash. Bear is a chocolate brown lab.

It occurred to me, as I was preparing myself to let him go, that my love for him is the purest love I have ever known. Free from conditions. Just pure, heart bursting, unconditional love.

Saying goodbye, while heart wrenching, was also beautiful. I got to be the one to hold him while his life ebbed away. He was surrounded by love. The day was stormy. The wind was howling, and the rain was beating down sideways. Within moments of his passing, I looked out the window and saw that the clouds were beginning to part. “We’re going to get a rainbow,” I said to my support team (I have an army. They are amazing.). Sure enough, within minutes, a beautiful intensely vibrant rainbow arched across the sky. People were posting pictures of it on social media throughout the day. It was so beautiful. That was my Bear. Letting me know that he was ok … that he made it safely to the other side of whatever lies beyond … and I like to think that his dad was there to greet him. Oh, what a joyous moment for them both.


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