Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Grief

The house is so quiet. Erie. A hole of blank space that matches the one in my heart. No one else would see it but I can’t stop staring. It’s the first day without my dog.

We were together nearly eleven years. Last night, after his paws curled under and he couldn’t stand even with help, I made the decision we’d been putting off; the one I didn’t want to have the authority to make – such a power over another’s life or death - the one I’d vaguely hoped we could schedule as if it would be easier if it were a to-do item on a given day. His suddenly all-too-evident pain forced my hand.

The cancer had finally usurped too much of his lungs. His pink tongue was a drab grey and his nose burned hot and cracked as he panted for breath, watching me with desperate eyes that begged me to exercise my authority. I sat with him splayed on the floor where neither of us could move him and waited for my husband to get home. He refused treats as I held him and petted him. Good dog ‘til the end, however, he held his bowels even as he lost control of his limbs.

We took him to the 24-hour vet where they hoisted him onto the exam table with an old towel under him. I held his head as the vet administered the injections. Slowly, he leaned over. He seemed relieved. He shut his eyes. I put my forehead against his trying to cram as many I-love-yous into the moments left. He took a shallow breath in and that was it. No breath out. No sigh. Just gone. He looked like he was sleeping. He looked like he wasn’t in pain anymore and it struck me how long it’s been since he looked like that. How long had I made him hold on for? How selfish had I been?

I held onto his ears until they were cool. It’d been months since the fever made them burn. They felt good cool. Soft and silky and cool. I wished I could somehow have a piece of his fur as a keepsake like a lucky rabbit foot. But that would be macabre. His beautiful soft fur that I will never pet again. I held onto him for far too long. We stood to go and the vet asked me if I needed more time. I said no; he was already gone.

We walked into the hallway, my husband keeping me up on my feet like he had with the dog. It was nearly nine and the two women who’d been waiting in the lobby when we carried him in were still there. Their voices carried around the corner to where we walked.

“That beautiful big dog that just came in here?”

“Yeah”

“Oh no, that’s so sad. Ohhhh.”

I collapsed into my husband’s chest in sobs. We crossed into the lobby. I gurgled a teary thank you to the night nurse and stumbled outside. It was a night bright with frost and wind. Clear. The moon stared back at me and I hyperventilated. He had to be just up there now. Just past the roofs, heading for the stars. Or maybe spiraling in confusion. I stared wildly at the black sky. “Where are you? I love you. Go. You’re done with pain now.” I didn’t dare say “how do I do my life without you?” in case it made him reluctant to leave.

My home is empty today. The strangest part is the shift in the minute calculations of my everyday. I wake up and as my brain comes into focus it jumps to “I have to get the dog outside” but I don’t and I slow my scurry from the sheets to a slow stumble. I swing my feet to the floor careful not to – there’s no dog to step on. I feed the cats, passing the nearly empty bag of dog food that still sits there. I shower and realize I don’t know what to wear because I haven’t been outside yet on the dog walk so I have no clue about the temperature. I get my breakfast ready and finish the milk. I turn to dump the dregs in a bowl that’s not there anymore. I rinse the container and chuck it in recycling. Unfurling my yoga mat to stretch, I don’t know where to put it. I always put it close to where he was laying so we could talk while I stretched. I finally settle by the table

I grab my purse to go. I’m twenty minutes early – one less body to care for in the morning, the routine doesn’t take so long, doesn’t take as long as it’s taken for a decade. How strange to recalibrate. One last glance at the curiously still house and I shut the solitude behind me.

In the car I pick stray fur from my sweater and wonder for how much longer I will find it there. In the car upholstery. In the rugs. In my coats. In my suitcase. In hidden nooks of the house. In the very fiber of my being.

“Hi, furballs!” I call out as I come home later. I’m bruised by the silence. The house feels empty. I don’t have to rush the dog out for his afternoon walk. I don’t have a reason to pass through the lobby so I leave the mail another day. A song catches my ear from the radio I’ve left on, still, to keep the dog company. I start to sing along changing all the words to be about him. There is no smile back at me or earnest face, head cocked as if trying so very hard to decipher my meaning. I feel foolish. I stop singing.

I sit at my desk to work, can’t find my pen. “Simon, what did you do with my pen?” slips out before I realize we can’t play the no-opposable-thumbs routine anymore. After a while I reach out my foot for his paw. Of course it’s not there to hold paws with me.

The afternoon passes and I think it might be nice out but I have no reason just to go out just for me.

Evening comes and there is no clackety clack of nails following me into the bedroom. No ears to pet and wish goodnight, no furry body to step over into the bed and promise to never leave. And through the night I stir awake listening for the sounds of need. There are none, no insistent paw steps that mean “I need to go out” no deep sigh saying “did you forget to pet me again?” I eventually drift into sleep and wake later into the silence of the grey morning that comes after and always will now.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Andrew G. Carson said...

I’d firstly like to extend my condolences for the loss of your furry companion as someone who has gone through the process of having to say goodbye to a loyal friend I can understand what you are going through and relate big time. I’d secondly like to congratulate you on your wonderful blog it’s not often I stumble across such a well written little gem like this one and I look forward to reading your future blog posts.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Thank you so much, Andrew. I am honored by both your condolences and your compliment. From your keyboard to the publishing gods' ears! I hope you keep reading.

4:38 PM  
Blogger John Frank said...

That is one of the most sad and beautiful pieces that I've ever read... it needs publishing. Once upon a time it would have gone into The Reader's Digest, where would it go now I wonder? Parade Magazine? Huffington Post?

There is nothing in life like a beloved dog. Mine was named Josephine, we were together from age 12 to 27. I wanted to give my daughter that name but I was overruled by the saner people in my life!

7:48 PM  

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