These Are the Good Ol’ Days.

By: Jen Shoop

Last week, Mr. Magpie took our eight-year-old Airedale terrier, Tilly, to the vet for some routine vaccinations and to inquire after some strange eating habits and behaviors we’d noticed recently. About thirty minutes after he’d left, he sent me a text: “Cancel Tilly’s grooming appointment,” which had been scheduled for the day following (up-to-date vaccines being a pre-requisite for groomings), and I thought: “Not good. Maybe the vet was closed, or couldn’t squeeze her in, or…” I would not fill that blank. Even a catastrophizer like myself knows when to keep the basement door firmly shut.

When I heard our front door open, I walked out onto the landing:

“What’s going on with Tilly?” I asked.

A deep pause followed, and in it, I saw the truth: Tilly is dying.

Mr. Magpie explained that she has tumors on her liver, and that the vet estimated that she has a few months left with us. It has been a strange, somber time, living with what Wendell Berry once described as “the forethought of grief.” In some ways, we feel lucky to have this time to draw her to ourselves, to enjoy her before she is too-soon gone. In other ways, the looseness of the timeline is fraying: is this snuggle my last? I worry each time I leave that she will be dead when I return.

I have noticed myself reaching for guilt, my favorite form of personal torment: how many morning walks have I treated like chores rather than the gift they are? In some ways, I survived those long weeks of pandemic lockdown in New York City because of Tilly. We had to take her out, and those ten minute stretches on the streets of the Upper West Side were often our only contact with the burning outside world. There was also the week during which I was deeply unwell with COVID and she laid on the bed next to me, accommodating my feverishness and moaning, as steady as the weather in the window. Dogs are this way: they receive you in whatever form you arrive. Sick, short-tempered, distracted. Still, Tilly will press her enormous black nose against the window pane by the front door, tail a-wag, as though you are the greatest creature on God’s green earth.

As always, I seek and find small glimmers of good. For one thing, to have had this dog a part of our lives, period. She has seen us through rocky climbs, our stout companion. She has played Puck in our thinnest-lipped moments of stress. Oh, the things you lose in life! But the having makes the pain of parting worth it a million times over.

Another reassuring streak: feeling myself lean on Mr. Magpie, with his open-arms approach to communication, to grief. We have cried together and talked up and down about our heartbreak and wrapped our arms around one another, as close as bark to the tree: no space between.

I also feel heartened by how we have navigated the situation with our children. We wanted them to know, and we decided to approach it as simply and straight-forwardly as possible, no euphemisms on the docket. Over breakfast on the weekend (strategically not when exhausted from a day of school), we sat down with them, and Mr. Magpie said: “Tilly is very sick. She’s going to die. We don’t know when, but soon. We can use this time to show her lots of love.” I shed a tear — something I’d not thought I would — but I also explained: “It is OK to cry. It is OK to express how you feel.” And then we answered their litany of questions, which ranged from: “Can we get a puppy?” to “Why is she dying of cancer, when my teacher had it and is still alive?” and “Can Tilly die at home so I can watch her float up into heaven?” This last one from my four-year-old son, a reminder of the clover sweetness of youth. Later, he climbed onto my lap, and said: “My head feels sad for Tilly,” and I told him “So does mine, and it’s OK to feel sad. It just means we love her, and it reminds us of how lucky we are to have her.” We have had a lot of meandering conversations about death and specifically how the soul leaves the body since, and I find myself relieved each time I am able to normalize his feelings. It has occurred to me many times that this is an important modeling moment: their first brush with death.

One final lamp that’s lit the gray skies: the wise and generous things our friends have said. How did I get so lucky? These people know how to console, and I will be borrowing their sentiments should I ever need to comfort a friend in a similar situation. Some of the most powerful:

“I completely understand. A dog is a family member.”

“We know how hard this is. Tilly’s been on my mind all day.”

“She’s a lucky dog to have lived such a full and joyful life with the Shoops.”

“Isn’t it an amazing privilege to help these animals exit? Geez they teach us so much.”

And from our vet: “We support you in this and are going to make it as painless as possible for Tilly.”

The goodness of people! You open the door and there they are, with the right words at the right time.

We do not how much longer we’ll have Tilly around, so instead we are taking things day by day, focusing on what we can control: making her feel loved and comfortable. She likes to lay on the rug of my writing studio while I peck at my computer, and I savor her company, taking ample breaks to pet her, thinking always: these are the good ol days; let me press them to my heart.


+Life takes root around the perimeter.

+In case you need to hear it today: you are enough.

+In praise of a normal day.

+My missa cantata.

+You can sign up for my Magpie newsletter here — I send out a Magpie Digest each Friday with the week’s highlights (quotes, comments, finds) and a Magpie Diary with loose and roaming thoughts each Sunday.

Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+J. Crew released an answer to the $850 High Sport pants that have been informally dubbed “the newsletter pants” because so many fashion writers with their own Substacks have been raving about them. Chic chic! My Donnis are another contender for this silhouette.

+I own and ADORE my Frances dress from Emerson Fry, and I cannot get over how chic this new color/pattern is! Runs TTS. Also love this blouse from their latest collection.

+Everything from Mira Mikati puts such a big smile on my face. The definition of chasing rainbows!

+Ordered a few new office supplies: these white out pens, these highlighters, and these dotted pads. More of my favorite gear for creative workspaces here.

+Have heard such good things about this undereye product from Trish McEvoy — finally going to test it myself!

+So many of you are urging me to jump on the Dyson AirWrap wagon! I’m committed. I’m setting it as a reward if I hit a personal goal this month. One of you mentioned this organizer is very handy for stowing all the parts. I will say I have been using and really loving the T3 Airebrush. It’s very similar to the Revlon but I’m actually able to achieve more volume — it’s higher-powered, and I think my hair looks shinier afterward, too? I find I’m better able to keep tension in my hair strands while using it.

+Cutest lounge pants. Matching sweatshirt available, too.

+For my expecting mamas: Addison Bay just launched a maternity collection!

+And for my fellow petites: an entire denim brand dedicated to women under 5’4. My fellow petite friend, Chrissy Ward, has been raving about this pair of ecru jeans for us shorties.

+Can’t get over this striped dress. So chic!

+Eyeing these for my children’s tennis camps this summer.

+Ordered this little gel pen set for my daughter.

+How FUN are these rope sandals?!

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57 thoughts on “These Are the Good Ol’ Days.

  1. Hi Jen – I am so saddened to read about Tilly. It is not fair, and it sucks. It sucks so much. And I am so sorry. There’s a short post that I have found helpful about how grief comes in waves:https://thelossfoundation.org/grief-comes-in-waves/ . I would also recommend the book Tear Soup which is a sweet book for children (and adults) experiencing loss.

    I have been reading your blog for years, and I always took note of Tilly references in your posts since I long-dreamed of bringing an Airedale into my life. Today, my husband and I have almost 5yo Finn (an atypical Airedale, my well-behaved “firstborn”) and 3.5yo Henry (my counter surfing, snapping turtle, spicy younger son), and we love them dearly. They are the heart and soul of our household, and they recently became older brothers to our rainbow baby. It is difficult to imagine a world without their fierceness and high velocity energy – I know exactly what you mean by going “butt-down” when they transform into German Shepherd-Tasmanian devil hybrids.

    Sending you so much empathy and love. Your family is in my thoughts.

    1. Hi Taryn – Thank you so much for the note. It brought a smile to my face hearing you so accurately describe the Airedale temperament! Tilly was also a “snapping turtle” — I had no idea other Airedales did this, but it always made us laugh…and sometimes annoyed us. Haha. Tilly was also very spicy, like your Henry. Once in New York City, a man ran down after me on the street while I was walking Tilly, and Tilly started leaping up, running around, trotting around, parading around and he smiled and said: “I had to stop you because I also have an airedale and you so rarely see them. I can see yours is just as well-behaved as mine.” I thought that was so funny and accurately captured the Airedale “high velocity energy” as you put it. They have such great spirit. And yet those soul-melting eyes balance it all out!

      Thanks for writing in, friend.


  2. I’m so, so sorry to hear about Tilly’s diagnosis. I hope you, Landon, and the kids can cherish whatever remaining time you have with her – lots of snuggles, treats, and people food! We had to put our dog down in 2021 — she had the dog version of ALS — and it was incredibly difficult. Echoing the recommendation for the Mr. Rogers book – my kids were 7 and 4 at the time and the messages seemed to resonate with them without being too over the top. One thought that brought me a lot of peace was that the pandemic gave us essentially an entire year where we were never apart from her. It ended up being her last year with us, and such a silver lining of all of that time stuck at home. Sending you, your family, and Tilly all of the love! xo

    1. This is so sweet – thank you so much for the lovely words, and support, and solidarity! I love your observation about your dog being with you nearly all the time during the pandemic. Landon made a similar point recently: Tilly has been physically around us constantly basically since the start of her life! Either he or I or both of us have worked from home nearly the entirety of her life!! So much love, attention, companionship.


  3. I’m so sorry, Jen. Such devastating news. Sending so much love as you navigate this. I haven’t been through this myself, but we do have an aging cat, so if you are looking for a book, I really like “When a Pet Dies” by Fred Rogers (ie Mr. Rogers). (I bought it preemptively but really appreciate the messages or sharing all grieving emotions with loved ones. It does not go into the afterlife or anything, but states things about death and funerals and grieving. Might be too young for your kids, though.) Ugh, I’m so sorry. Tilly is so so beautiful and lucky to have you! Xoxo.

    1. Oh, books for kids are a great idea to navigate this time. Would also really, really recommend Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. The illustrations are gorgeous.

    2. Thank you, Joyce! I’m so lucky to have these book recs coming through. Ordered a few and will definitely be using! Thank you for those, and for the kind words of support. Feeling lifted 🙂

  4. Oh Jen. I’m so sorry to hear about Tilly’s illness. Sending loving thoughts to your family as you savor the remaining months with her.

  5. You know her diagnosis and prognosis- but she does not. So try to take comfort, when you can, in knowing that every single day with you is her very best day, every day with you she feels love and comfort and the joy of being around the people that love her.When the time comes, please send her off surrounded by those her love her. It will be very very hard, but I do not believe you will regret being the last touch she feels, the last voice she hears, carried off into the great beyond buoyed with all the love she has known. Sending prayers to you and to your sweet girl.

    1. This moved me so much, Cynthia. You are so right. She is blissfully unaware — just lapping up all the extra love and bonus bites of steak :). Thank you.


  6. Very sorry to hear this, Jen.
    I’m thinking of our old family dog in her last days who would stretch out in the afternoon sun and wait for the postman.
    As a younger dog she would excitedly greet him; in the final stages he would reach down to talk and pet her in the most comforting way.
    These little gestures mean everything.

    Have you read The boy, the mole, the fox and horse by Charlie Mackesy? A really gentle and exquisite book that deals with grief so beautifully.
    Sending love and head scratches to Tilly.

    1. Thank you, Jenny – such a sweet remembrance of your pooch and her interactions with the mailman! Tilly is still ferocious (bark-wise) when he pulls up. It actually makes me happy that she’s still got that fighting spirit in her, for now.

      We love that book – thanks for the reminder. Will pull out again.


  7. Jen,
    I thought I saw something recently where you shared personalized embroidered handkerchiefs. My bestfriend recently passed away from ovarian cancer and I want to order some with her name for our circle of friends. Do you have any recommendations?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Kathryn — Let me keep my eye out for this. My first thought was to search on Etsy – this is the exact kind of thing you can find there!


  8. My heart and my best regards go out to you and your family- it’s so difficult to acknowledge that our furry ones are not allowed to be with us for nearly as long as they should be. Hold all of your memories of her close, and enjoy every last inch of her now- it’s those moments that’ll keep her with you forever.

  9. I’m sorry to hear of Tilly’s diagnosis. There’s nothing like a dog’s love. I don’t have children however maybe a meaningful activity for yours could be to draw pictures or write down their favorite memories/things about Tilly. It might bring them comfort after she’s gone. Before finding your blog, I had never met an Airedale owner or an actual Airedale before. How lucky am I that Tilly was the first one I got to know? Give her a nice belly rub or piece of steak from me and my chihuahua, Cookie 🙂

    1. I love the idea of having them draw Tilly portraits! They’ve been drawing her lots of cards and laying them at her paws, too :). I love that Tilly is your first introduction to an airedale!! They are smart, spirited, stubborn, loyal, mischievous creatures. I love her so much!


  10. Dear Jen,
    I am so sorry that Tilly has been diagnosed and grateful that you have such a grace filled veterinarian. The love you all share in this time together is a gift you will have for years. Meanwhile, I will hold you all so close.

    1. Thank you so much, Cheryl — such a sweet sentiment. You are so right on the vet. We’ve felt so supported!


  11. Just wanted to drop in and say that I’ve loved every sporadic story or mention of Tilly through the years I’ve followed you. I feel like I remember so vividly you describing trying to keep her from bouncing off the walls in a hotel when you first moved to New York? It stuck with me and made me smile so much because it reminded me of my own (departed) dog. She was high maintenance and spoiled and perfect, as it sounds like Tilly is as well. Sending love 🙂

    1. Aw – Leanne, this is so sweet. Thanks for seeing her / remembering her in this way! Yes, you are totally right about the hotel! We call it “butt-down run” (others call it “zoomies”) and she just sprints around, really low to the ground, in a tizzy of excitement. That feels like a different life, and different dog in some ways. Anyway, thanks for the sweet message.


  12. Jen, I am so sorry to hear about Tilly. You are handling this with grace. The words from your children; my, what beautiful, loving hearts & minds they have! My Havanese, Beatrice, and I are keeping all the Shoops in our thoughts,.

    1. Thank you so much, Elizabeth! Hi Beatrice! :). It has brought me a surprising amount of joy and comfort hearing from fellow pet-lovers who have taken a pause to snuggle with their cats/dogs today. So sweet 🙂

  13. I am so sorry about Tilly. I am looking at my dog Smudge while I type this and my heart is so heavy for all of you. Impending loss of a pet is so hard. Stay lost in her sweetness while you can.

    1. Thank you so much, Sara — I appreciate it more than you know. Hi Smudge! Give her a scratch / rub for me 🙂

  14. i i am writing this with tears in my eyes. i too have just suffered the loss of a true companion and best friend. my friends offered comfort of course but they stressed, “when i die i want to come back as one of your dogs.” this brought comfort. knowing that i had given the best of me for the best of them. in turn, i received the most comfort and love imagined. i know that you have given tilly the best life. she has given your children love and has taught them to love and know the gift of love that that will enrich their lives. your lives are better because of tilly, and her’s is better because of you. my thoughts and prayers are with you, tilly and your family;

    1. Caryl! What a beautiful compliment / testament to you as a dog mom! How beautiful. Thank you so much for the sweet words — sending you love, too. I’m so sorry for your loss!


    1. Yes, they are! Just the sturdiest companions. A Magpie wrote to me on Instagram to say that her dogs are the heartbeat of her home, and I completely understood what she meant: they keep the house running on a routine, keep things stitched together, even when you feel you are falling apart. You still must walk them, and feed them, and in exchange they are always there to bark at the door and press their faces to yours at night. The best companions!!

      Thank you for the note!


  15. Oh sweet Tilly! Losing a dog is an incomparable loss. Holding your dear family close in my heart as you enjoy your final weeks together.

    1. Thank you, Katherine – I so appreciate that. I keep telling Tilly she’s getting a lot of love from afar today. Meanwhile, cancer or not, she’s still counter-surfing, barking at the UPS guy, etc. Makes me strangely happy to see her up to her old tricks 🙂


  16. I am so sorry – pets are part of the family and the loss is very real. Not quite the same, I am in the process of losing my father, my kids grandfather, and I want to thank you for the idea of the ‘forethought of grief’ as it is precisely what I am experiencing right now and now I have words for it! Thank you also for sharing how you are navigating this with your children, it gives me the confidence to have these conversation with my children. I am so sorry for this impending loss but know that this post is a real gift to me. It’s funny how this post appeared just as I needed it. A blessing.

    1. Oh gosh, Deirdre – I’m so deeply sorry to hear. This must be such a painful time for you. Sending you so much love, as I’m sure all of the Magpies reading this are, too. Lifting you up!


  17. This is so beautifully written, your ability to express in words such deep swells of emotion never ceases to amaze me. What a loving and steadfast companion Tilly is, you captured her spirit and her place in your family so beautifully.

  18. Oh gosh, my heart just breaks for your family this morning…been there a few times and it’s the worst, be gentle with yourself right now. Thinking a good thought for you and your family.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer — it’s been so moving to hear from so many fellow pet owners who have been here, and know the acuteness of the grief. I am specifically dreading the quiet after she’s gone. No more Tilly to pull from the door when she’s going mad about the UPS guy; no more “Tilly, down!” because she’s countersurfing. Oy. Just trying to appreciate these little things while we still have her.


  19. I am so, so sorry to hear about Tilly. My pets are family members so this hits so hard. I hope she has the most wonderful days left yet to spend with you and your family. Enjoy every walk and every belly rub.

  20. My heart breaks for you! I just recently discovered your writing and enjoy it so much – it’s also very nostalgic for me as we left the DC/BCC area after 20 years for a new adventure down South, so I also thoroughly enjoy the little glimpses of DC life you share.

    But I rarely ever comment on any blogs, simply because I read them in feed and it feels like a production to do it (unfairly, I know) but this just moves me so much that I had to make a point to come and share sympathy and love. Our beloved-beyond-beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels passed away at 17 and 14, both pre-Covid — so lucky, I know, to have them for so long — and the grief was incredibly real and so intense when we had to say goodbye. And, special love to Tilly, I grew up with an Airedale and will forever and always have the biggest soft spot for those brilliant, mischevious, and loyal baby horses!

    This is going to get harder before it gets better, but as they say, grief is the price we pay for love – and it’s always worth it. I clung to that like a life raft in the days and weeks after we said goodbye. It really is dogs’ only flaw that they don’t live as long as we do.

    And as a post-script, I was mourning our last “original” dog to pass so acutely that I refused to get another dog at the time. It was 2019 and my kids were 6 and 4 at the time, and I had grand visions of us taking Big Trips now that they were a little older and more independent … ha. And so a few months after the world closing down, I looked at my husband and said “We’ve got to get the kids another dog.” We brought home our newest CKCS baby that November and he has been an absolute, unparalleled, everyday source of joy. I’m confident my other two babies sent him to us to keep us company. There is another side to the sadness, it just takes a while to get there.

    Hang in there!

    1. Brooke! Thank you so much for this gorgeous and thoughtful note, and for your readership, too. I’m so touched you took the time to leave a comment here today. Yoour description of Airedales as “brilliant, mischievous, and loyal baby horses” is spot on. We’ve often said she’s too smart for her own good, and she can really get up to some shenanigans. Specifically, she is a tenured and successful counter-surfer and has claimed entire loaves of bread, cakes, slices of pizza in this manner.

      I love what you said — “grief is the price we pay for love, and it’s always worth it.” Amen amen amen. The sadness is just a permutation of love — nothing to be afraid of. It hurts but it’s a reflection of how special she’s made our lives.


  21. Oh, Jen. You express yourself so beautifully ALL the time; even in the most sad of times. This made me choke up this morning. We do not have a dog. I had one growing up, but have never had one as an adult. I think, in part, one of the reasons I have not pursued it is the fear of having to eventually say farewell in what seems like an unfair short amount of time. Your post describes all of the feelings surrounding being a dog family and all of the gifts that a dog brings to a family so beautifully and exactly. The sentiment that hit me the most, however, is, “But the having makes the pain of parting worth it a million times over.” What a mutually fulfilling relationship you have with Tilly. I am grieving with you.

    1. Thank you so much, Allison. I appreciate your sweet note. This is schmaltzy, but I read a post a few years ago that said something like “dogs are with you for a short time in your personal history, but you’re with your dog for their entire life!” I was so moved by that, by the privilege / honor to be Tilly’s person in her life! I’m trying to think that we have a gift here to help her leave the world painlessly and surrounded by love!


  22. Jen, I am so very sorry to hear about Tilly. I read this beautiful essay with my almost six year old lab at my feet, tears streaming down my face. To love a dog is to always hold a tiny piece of grief knowing how short their lives are compared to ours. It is the strangest kind of anticipatory grief to look at a gangly puppy and know the clock is already ticking on your time together. I joke with my husband that no one will ever love me as much as our dog does, but what a beautiful thing it is to bring this creature into your life with the sole purpose of giving it love and receiving it in return. My heart breaks for you and your family, losing a pet is devastating, but I am relieved for you that you have some time to prepare yourselves and to savor every moment with your girl. Thank you for sharing her with us and I especially appreciate you sharing how you are navigating this with your children. My four year old daughter is an only child, but truly feels that our dog is her “brother”. I have no idea how to handle this situation with her when our time comes, the idea of having to manage my own profound grief with my child’s is daunting. I applaud you for handling as directly as you have. Sending you so much love.

    1. Oh Carolyn — thank you for the beautiful note. All my pet loving Magpies are showing up in full force today – I feel so lifted/supported! And maybe so does Tilly – I keep telling her how loved she is today, and she pants happily and then trots off to bark at a squirrel. I agree that it feels like a gift to have this “borrowed time” with her. It’s given me so many opportunities (already!) to relish the walks, laugh at her strange peccadillos, feed her steak and whatever else she wants, say goodbye over and over again. I feel lucky, honestly — what a privilege to help her out of the world as gracefully as she’s helped us navigate our own lives these past eight years!


  23. So sorry to hear about Tilly. Our pets truly become part of the family and it hurts to lose them.
    We were a terrier family growing up and my parent had three Airedales. My husband and I currently have a Wheaten terrier named Sadie who turns 13 this June. She is slowing down and I get sad just thinking that her time with us could be just a few more years.

    1. Hi Melissa – Thank you so much for the sweet note. You’ll get this as a terrier person: cancer or not, Tilly can be withholding. She’s her own boss and she’ll prance around doing her own thing. The other day, I got down next to her on the rug for another snuggle session, and she literally stood up and walked away. HA! Ever the same sassy girl.


  24. I am so sorry to hear this. Tilly seems like such a lovely dog and how very lucky she is to have you as her family. Thinking about you during this hard time

  25. Oh gosh. I am so sory. What a difficult thing to face for many reasons. Please give sweet Tilly many snuggles for the smiles she has brought to your readers over the years.

    There is a lovely book called Dog Heaven by Cythia Rylant if you are interested in books for your children.

    Thinking of you and your family during this time. What a loved and sweet girl.

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