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Stephanie Anderson

Grief in Miniature

Eos, A Favorite Greyhound of Prince Albert by Edwin Landseer

For months after she was gone, I cleaned up my greyhound’s hair. I lint-rolled hair off my clothes and vacuumed it from the couches, wiped it off mirrors and sliding glass doors. I swept it from the wooden floors, the white baseboards, and the bottom tiers of the office bookshelves. I peeled hair off the dryer’s lint screen and, somehow, picked hairs from inside the refrigerator. I found them clinging to the headboard and hiding in the sheets of the bed I share with my husband, although during the day it belonged to Dakota.

At the time of this writing, ten months after her passing, I regularly find short, golden hair woven into the black carpet of our Jeep. The house continues to disgorge bits of it in unexpected places. Her hair is so insistent, as she was, that it feels like she’s still alive, low-growling me awake at 6 a.m. Or maybe her ghost that I see in the familiar spaces—upside down on the rug with all four feet in the air or catching a frisbee on the Florida beach—is shedding.

Grief. I try to sweep it away, clean up my heart, but like the hair grief both appears in unexpected places and feels woven into me now. This is grief in miniature, small compared to the loss of a child, spouse, parent, sibling, friend. It’s just a dog, I tell myself. Grief the size of a single hair. I know this.

I think about miniature grief’s opposite, giant grief. Grief the size of your entire life. Or grief big enough for all of America: the sudden extinguishing of more than 610,000 souls and climbing. At this moment, a wife plucks her dead husband’s hair from her sweater and considers saving it. A father finds a long strand of his daughter’s hair on a windowsill. A grandson rolls a white hair between his fingers; it was his grandfather’s. A woman treasures a hairbrush that belonged to a best friend. Are these remnants of bodies overcome by a virus, or traces of ghosts moving in their familiar spaces—typing behind desks, hugging their children, stirring a pot at the stove, combing their tresses?

I complained endlessly about Dakota’s hair. Greyhounds typically shed very little, but our girl had a fuzzy undercoat and thick topcoat to boot. When my husband and I moved to a home with wooden floors and could see exactly how much hair she produced—I was sweeping every day— we bought a Roomba. I realized I hadn’t vacuumed the carpet in our previous home nearly enough. I washed Dakota with de-shedding shampoo and brushed her with a shedding blade. I shuttled her to grooming appointments that promised to shrink the fuzzy undercoat. I shut the doors to rooms I wanted hair-free. I hate messes. All I wanted was for her hair to vanish.

“Why can’t she shed like a normal greyhound?” I demanded in weaker moments. My husband, who likes things clean and organized but is also easygoing and mostly unbothered by dog hair, would shrug and say, “I don’t know. She is who she is.” I wonder how many of the wives, fathers, grandsons, and friends had a version of this conversation about their husbands, daughters, grandfathers, or best friends.

I like tidiness. My floors are cleaner now. The tube of sticky sheets on the lint-roller lasts a long time. But I’d take a houseful of dog hair, a lifetime of it, if I could convert the hours I spent dusting and vacuuming and complaining into walks, bouts of fetch, or lazy naps on the bed.

Few of the bereaved were allowed to stroke the heads of their loved ones as they died, a final comfort. Before the virus, they could have reached out and touched that hair so many times. Could have said, “I love you the way you are.” Should have, they realize now.

How unprepared we are for the mess of grief in any size. Or the mess of life: the mistakes, the should-haves, the wasted time. But I was unprepared, too, for the way love lingers, a happy ghost. The way love reveals itself in unexpected places that help you see just how deeply it’s woven in.


About the writer:
Stephanie Anderson holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Florida Atlantic University. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Hotel Amerika, The Rumpus, Flyway, The Pinch, The Chronicle Review, Sweet, and others. Anderson is an instructor in FAU’s English department, and her book on regenerative agriculture, One Size Fits None, was published by University of Nebraska Press in January 2019.

Image: Eos, A Favorite Greyhound of Prince Albert by Edwin Landseer (1802-1873). No medium specified. No size specified. 1841. Public domain.

Header image: Girl with Greyhounds by Jan van Beers (1852-1927). No medium specified, No size specified. Before 1927. Public domain.


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