May 25, 2010

Grief and my heart

The strange thing about losing a dog, or any animal for that that for the most part - the grieving is, I think, expected by others to end right away.  And for the sake of this post, I'll reference dogs - but just know that you can really apply it to any pet.  

Kaleigh, sweet Kaleigh...died a little over two weeks ago.  You can read about that here. And in some ways it feels like months ago.  Yet in others, I can still remember every vivid detail of those last minutes with her.  A fresh wound that keeps on weeping.

I think to the outside world (using that term broadly) - when you're grieving a pet, you're expected to get over it fairly quickly.  You know, people might not say this to your face - but on the inside they are thinking it.  They are.  Not all, but many.  

Because, it's just a dog.  And you have two children now.  And (squints eyes) it's a dog.  Right?  I mean, she was kind of a disaster, wasn't she?  Always sickly?  That is to say, she had a hard life, right?  It's better this way.  Don't be sad.  You did the right thing.  Look at it this way, she had a much better life with you that she would have with anyone else.  You loved her, right?  So, it's better this way.  She's not in any more pain.  Isn't life a little bit easier now without her?  If you admit it to yourself?  

On. and. on. 

And they mean well. They do.  And I know that.  So I don't harbor ill-will.  I just find it remarkable the way we rationalize the pain of losing a pet.  

If a person you loved passed away, you probably wouldn't undergo this type of "feel better about it" stroking.  They would probably just keep quiet.  Oh, some might say "sorry about your loss" or "she's in a better place" - but they'd think twice when choosing the words.

And it's peculiar, isn't it?  Somehow a pet rates much lower.  And on some levels, I understand that.  But the heart...oh the heart loves who the heart loves.

For almost ten years - Kaleigh was like a child to us.  And I can say that.  Because I now have two children - and aside from the whole human to animal difference (albeit a large difference) - she was still very much a part of us, and we of her, and a very special member of this family.  And not just for AB and I and the kids, but that of our dear friends, our parents, and even our siblings and extended family.  

Yes.  Kaleigh impacted all of us in her own way.

I've mentioned that she slept with me.  In the bed.  Spooned up against me each night.  Had no idea she was a dog.  We kept it on the down-low.  She just had no clue she was not a person.  

We liked it that way.  We liked her to think that way.  Why not?  She was our sweetie.  And her personality was adorable and fun...she was a good, good dog...our good girl.

And so much more.  

So over the past three weeks, we've comforted ourselves with pictures of her and memories of her antics.  Looking over those pictures, I can see just how many milestones she was there for.  And they are many.  It warmed my heart - but made me sick with grief.  Sad that she would not see any more milestones in this family.  And sad that her time with us was over so soon.  

Gone too soon.

We're still crying.  Still grieving.  Still missing her so...

And little Quint....still asking for her almost every day.  We drove by the vet and he asked to see her.  Of course, because we had last seen her and left her there.  I told him she wasn't there anymore...and couldn't come home to us as gently as I could.  Still, he cried for her.  I cried too.

When we had to take Anabelle back to the vet for her vaccinations and to be groomed, Quint was traumatized.  He thought she wasn't coming back either.  Even with all the reassurances in the world.  His relief when we picked her up was palpable.  And heartbreaking...he has lost his sweet playmate and it was vivid the way he was grieving her. 

AB had a dream about her last night, and it was painful to wake up and remember that she's not coming back.

I've been finding reminders of her all over the house - and it's so hard, friends.  I won't even go into the trauma that came with washing out her dog dishes for the last time, hanging up her dog collar after having last taken it off of her before she died, or trying to clean, mop, wash things that have "her" all over them.  Might sound strange, but it feels like we're erasing her in a way.  Like all we have now are the memories and these pictures spanning almost a decade of our time with her.  Somehow cleaning her little paw-prints off the tile was saying goodbye to the little pieces of her I still held onto. 

So it's hard to measure grief.  In all its forms.  Whether it be for a pet or a person.  Who can say how long you should cry?  How long you should still be listening for the sounds of her nails click-clicking on the wood floor?  How long you should wait before washing her paw-prints off the tile?  How long you should dream of her in your sleep or look for her at the vet?  How long you should ask for her, think of her, sit in sorrow over her?  Look at pictures of her until your eyes are blurry from tears?  Who can tell you?

I think, no one...loss and death are so final.  Absolute and overwhelmingly final.  And who can tell you how to grieve but your own broken heart? 

Who can tell you how much to love your dog or how much to grieve when they have to leave you?  A member of the family, is a member of the family.  Four legs or two.

Only the heart.

Missing you so, my sweetie


John & Michelle said...

Oh Christie~my heart aches for all of you. I had to put my golden, Nikki, down several years ago and still have days when I'm weepy and very sad. She was my "baby" and shared some long nights of tears and spooning! Love to you, Michelle

Anonymous said...

This current post bring back so many difficult memeories for me.I share your grief as it has been something I have expereinced myself.You have such an incredible way of expressing yourself and make it so easy to understand what you are really saying.Way too many people are quick to say"it's just a dog" but to some of us they are so much more.In many cases alot of us have had our pets longer than our children.Like it or not ,it is grief,and it is hard!so my heart goes out to you and your family at this difficult time.....

Michal said...

My heart understands the grief of your heart very well. Your sweet Kaleigh deserves to be grieved. I can see in the pictures and hear in your words what a huge part of your life and family she was. Of course you loved her, of course you will grieve for her.
I had Stella for 13 years. She was deaf, and at the end of her life she was arthritic, diabetic, asthmatic and eventually got this bad virus in her eyes that made them run and weep. She died last year, my little Disaster Cat. We miss her everyday- I probably always will.
I know what you mean about erasing their traces- it's so difficult to get that last bit of cleaning done. We still have a Christmas ornament covered in her air ( she loved to sleep under a good Christmas tree) and I just can't bear to toss it of not put it on the tree. It comes out of the box and we hang it and all talk about how she loved Christmas
(darn it now I am crying-...)

Renate said...

Oh, I am so sorry for your pain.I know it takes a long time to get over the lose of a loved one. I tear up often when things remind me of my sweet doggies that are gone. You know she is still with you. Will always be.

Jennifer said...

My dog was just that - my dog - never considered her a child, but I understand how some do - but oh, how I miss her so. How hard it was to take her to the vet that last time. (She was a cock-a-poo, just nine years old, and had a cancerous tumor that started in her bottom and grew into her abdomen.) And I still look for her. Drop a piece of food on the floor, and hesitate before picking it up, because the dog will come. Climb into bed at night and wonder if the dog was let out one last time. Catch a glimpse of something at the back door and reflexively go to let her in. It's been ten months. . . Her collar is in my curio cabinet - jangly "charms" and all - and when I moved it recently to dust that shelf, the cat perked up at the noise of it and was looking around the room, searching for his sparring partner. Three acres of unfenced yards and she never, ever wandered further than to visit the neighbor's dogs. Had her faults to be sure - but I do miss my dog. You just keep right on grieving - when you love much, you grieve much.

Holly said...

This is such a good post Christie. The heart loves whom it doesn't differentiate between human and animal.
And honestly, in a whole different way, this has made me consider the grief that so many of our adopted children experience. And yet people honestly expect them to quickly "get over it" because their lives in their new American families are "so much better".
I know of children...grade school aged with their birth mothers until their American families arrived and then they were ripped away and told to be happy and not make a fuss.
How is that even possible?
I look back and marvel at the way that God has created our human hearts to survive.
I understand your pain, though I'm sure it is not identical.
It's strange when your heart is hurting so much and the rest of the world just goes on, oblivious.
Take your time may find yourself at the end of your days, old and gray, still longing for your precious first furbaby.
It's okay.

Emily said...

I think pain, in general makes others uncomfortable. They want to label it, quantify it, rank it and file it away. They want you to go back to normal, so that they are no longer uncomfortable and can once again be sure of how to deal with you. I am sorry you are hurting. We know how awesome your Kaleigh girl was. I'm sure there is an enormous void in your house and heart.

Becky said...

I am a blog stalker. I'm not even sure how I found you, but have enjoyed following your story. I have a heart for adoption and have traveled your journeys with you even though we don't know each other. I also understand your pets being your children. My childhood dog, Ginger, lived to be 13 years when I was 14, she was gone, and I was devastated. My family then lost 3 pets in 6 weeks just a few years ago. They are family...and the grieving process is the same. Grieve on until the pain has dulled.

Mom said...

Christie, once again, tears are streaming down my face over the loss of our sweet, sweet Kaleigh. She "was" such a special "person". You know how much I loved her "talking", what a cutie. I hurt so much for Quint, who has lost such a special friend and playmate. He may always remember her and miss her and there is nothing we can do to make his grief any less. Hopefully time will heal all of us.
I also cannot tell you how much this made me still cry buckets over Molly. So many of the things you said about Kaleigh reminded me of Molly. Nails click clacking, looking down from the dinner table to feed her a scrap, mopping up her paw prints on the laundry room floor. Those are still there, it's like if I mop up those prints, I am erasing the last physical remnant of her being here. I am still grieving after 5 months of her being gone. I don't know how long it will take and I really don't care. One day it will happen, but until then, those paw prints are just going to stay there.
Missing you dearly little Kaleigh.

Valerie said...

The bond with our animal friends is on a level of it's own. We are able to share a part of ourselves with them that is often too intimate to share with mere mortals.

They keep our secrets safe and are avaialble anytime the need arises for love, comfort and understanding.

My dog, my heartbeat at my feet.

I understand, and the time to heal is directly related to the time given to love...they take a little bit of us with them and leave a bit of themselves in turn.

Love V

Anonymous said...

I, as well , am sitting here just sobbing Christie, I know there is no way you could not still be grieving the loss of such a loved family member. Never just a dog, never.
Kaleigh will be missed always, time is just the friend that helps you deal with the loss so that at some point she becomes a happy memory without the severe pain.
We still miss our guy Butch and he passed in 93, but now we can laugh at his pictures and remember what a great, great guy he was. Time actually brought him back to us because now we can remember the fun, the sweetness, the special way he looked deep into our souls with his beautiful eyes, but we don't feel the pain of the loss, just the joy of having had such a special guy in our lives who left us with such great and special memories.
Time will be your friend, let yourself grieve for as long as it takes, she was worth it.
RIP Kaleigh

love you, deany

Sue said...

You made me cry again...not such a bad thing, but oh so tough. We share many common feelings and experiences with our dogs. My Georgie died a little over two months ago and I am still grieving. We have two other dogs which has eased the pain a bit but they are not cuddlers like she was. Georgie used to curl up against my tummy in the night too and stopped once she got Lymphoma. A week before she died she did it one last time. I knew it was a gift to me. There is still her dog toy next to the water bowl that she left and I still don't have the heart to pick it up. I finally had to throw out her dog bowl because I kept coming across it in the drawer in the garage and I could not bare it anymore. I hate to erase the last memories of her. I just washed her dog bed and removed her crate from our bedroom. Take your time and do things when the timing feels right. There is no right or wrong answer. It just plain stinks and there is no going around it, just through it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christie,
A friend directed me to your dog as we are just experiencing the devastating loss of our dear Jackson (13.5 year old yellow lab). We put him down on May 22. I still expect to see him when I come down the stairs or home from a trip to the store. Our cat, O'Malley, misses his best buddy. We struggled with fertility issues, and Jackson was a great comfort to us. We were his parents; he was our child. He was an incredible older brother - playmate and protector - to our three children. We, too, have pictures documenting our life as a family. One of my favorite is a picture of Jackson peering into the bassinet basket at our 2 day old daughter. Kaleigh will live forever in your heart and memories as Jackson will in ours, but frankly sometimes, that's just not enough.
Thanks for expressing what so many of us feel. All the best to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

You're not the only one, sis. I woke up a few days ago in bed, crying hysterically to a dream I had had of Molly. It had been so long since I'd dreamt of her, but somehow, another snuck up on me. Miguel had to hold me until I calmed down and fell asleep again- sleep that was quite fretful for the next two hours. I was able to understand later the impending move that was going to inevitably come and separate me from the last remaining piece of Molly I had close to me was traumatizing me inside and thoughts of her were popping in and making me tear up daily. It made it worse when I'd sit on my bed in my old room and hear our Freebee coming down the hall... click clack... click clack... and staring at the doorway waiting... just waiting to see Molly's sweet, little face look in at me. But then again, Freebee has helped ease that pain when I'd see him instead and his brown tail wagging at the sight of me, his mommy.
I totally understand all and we share an unfortunate and very similar story since I, too, was on the floor holding Molly in her last moments, singing to her "You Are My Sunshine" one more time as she went.