I've wanted to say something sooner, but I just couldn't find the words. Because, this grief...I'm not really accustomed to it, if I'm honest.
Our family has been very fortunate in avoiding loss. We all agree we've been very fortunate indeed.
Except in one area. Our beloved pets. And even there, we've been blessed to have fairly healthy pets who have lived many years. Even as I write this, my 16 year old kitty sleeps in my room, and my 10 year old puppy snoozes at my feet. But as those of you who are pet lovers know, their lives are painfully short by comparison.
If you aren't a pet-lover, you might not know that usually a pet takes ownership of one person in the family. I was Kaleigh's person. And she was my dog. Through and through.
I loved her well and she loved me better.
Despite having two children now, our pets remain very much our "kids".
Kaleigh was a spooner. With me. With anyone, really. But with me each night, her head on my pillow. And often times she was in bed, finding her perfect spot, before I'd even reach the bedroom. There was comfort there. She kept me warm at night and she would wander to lay on my feet as the night wore on.
I wasn't sure about writing this post. I'm not here to preach about the values of having pets versus not having pets. Or to debate about the type of dog she was, because I can clear up right now that she was a pound puppy who was part pitbull/part "we'll never know". And I realize people who do not or never have owned a pitbull mix can't fully appreciate the intelligence, sweetness, and loyalty they possess. And I know this is somewhat universal because we have two of them (correction: had two...sigh), my parents had sweet Molly for ten years, and my Aunt and Uncle have had two as well. All living late into their dog years. All sweet, docile, and complete members of our extended family in every way.
Still grief is strange. In my sorrow, I keep finding myself waffling. Trying unsuccessfully to convince myself of things that I just can't accept....like
- there are worse things in life than saying goodbye to your dog (which there are. but it doesn't help right now)
- she was just a dog in the big scheme of things (which, she was...but she was so much more)
- you have children now, and that should be enough (which, I do...but somehow it's completely different)
- try to suck it up, Christie, she's finally at peace, no more pain (which is true...she's not in pain anymore, and that gives me some level of comfort - but I cannot seem to suck it up...yet.)
I don't know why I do that. I guess to make myself feel better. But it doesn't. Not at all. And it's silly to think those things anyway, because she was anything but "just a dog".
She was special. That much I would debate with anyone. But I wouldn't need to. Because if you met her, you knew it yourself. She was special. She loved people and people loved her. She was described as sweet, a lover, and a spunky girl. She would put her head on your knee and stare up at you with her big bronze eyes...silently working her way into your heart until you were compelled to give her what she most wanted: love. A pat on the head, or a tummy rub. And if you stopped, she would place her paw on your hand and look longingly at you...you couldn't resist her. Even those who would be intimidated by her at first glance would soon cave to her gentle kindness and be forced to reassess their judgement. She was a people person...a people dog. She was something.
I don't want to go into all the details of what led to Kaleigh's end. It's all irrelevant now. She was sick for many years and getting worse. Keeping her with us was selfish. She was miserable. It just took a turn for the worse over the weekend and when we realized it, we knew that we only had one option left.
But in the space of a couple hours, we went from having her here, to noticing she was not well, to saying goodbye, to watching her die. That still baffles me...how quickly she was gone.
I want to say again how loyal she was. Faithful. Trusting. And it was that trust that got us through those final moments. It felt like betrayal to me, but I've come to know that it was just the only way left for me to help her. By letting her go.
I held her face in my hands, crying - unable to hold back my breaking heart or my buckets of tears, and said "thank you...for everything you did for me...for being my friend, my companion...even being my kiddo when I was heartsick and childless. You were there for me. You have always been a comfort in my time of need. And I love you so much."
And I'm sorry..."
And those big brown eyes calmly looked at me while I spoke. Paw in my hand. Enjoying the love. Blissfully unaware, or so I tell myself.
When I asked her to lay down on the blanket...the blanket where she would leave us, she willingly and calmly obeyed - placing her head in my lap. And in a matter of minutes, after hugging her, kissing her furry face, and reassuring her...she was gone.
Just like that. Very peacefully. Trusting to the last minute. She was gone. My sweet, sweet little dog.
And friends, I don't mind to tell you that afterward..after the staff left me alone in the room with her, and after she had breathed her last deep breath...I wept bitterly. Laying next to her, my head on her side...my tears running from my face to her chest and my grief pouring over both of us. I was sick. Heartsick. Broken. She was not a perfect dog. But oh how I loved her so. And I did not even try to contain my sobs. And despite my tears and moaning, the room was silent and still. She was gone from me, and by my hand...and it devastated me.
I wasn't alone in my grief. The vet staff cried too. Because she was special, and had touched them over the seven years they had treated her...calling her their favorite pitbull ever. Loving her and caring for her. One by one, they made their way into the room to say goodbye, in disbelief that our girl's time had finally come. Crying with me in those final moments. She was special.
Friends called and came over to support us. They knew. They knew Kaleigh and they knew what she meant to us. And we cried and were comforted. We remembered her, we laughed....and we cried some more. We're still crying.
And you may not understand this loss. Maybe you just can't. And that's ok.
But I know some of you do. And I know that for you, it's hard to read because maybe you've been there or dread going there.
Being in our home without her is still heartbreaking in many ways. I half expect her to be on the bed when I head to my room at night. Half expect her to come running when it's dinner time. Half expect to see her bolting out the dog-door to chase birds or bark at neighbor dogs. But no more...
And even harder in many ways is realizing that Kaleigh wasn't just my dog. And I wasn't her only person. Even though I might like to think so.
She had developed a special loyalty to another...and it's breaking my heart to remember him saying goodbye to her. Patting her head, hugging her neck, kissing her..."bye bye da-doh...see ya" All of us crying watching a boy part with his playmate.
We're so sad. It will heal with time. We had her for almost ten years. It will take at least that many to stop looking for her around the corner...