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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Buried Grief

It’s funny how we humans bury those deep and painful emotions we all experience, only to have them seep out at inconvenient times. Like in the middle of the night.

I read in yesterday’s Washington Post a story about a man who lost his dog three months ago to pneumonia suddenly, and how he is amazed at the depth of his grief. Sound familiar? This man, Joe Yonan, says he is still grieving the loss of his Doberman, Red, after he suddenly died while he was at work: He says that people relationships are complicated, while your feelings for your pet are sublimely simple and of a purer strain. Your life becomes predictable with your pet’s routine, and he or she loves you for it. No complicated egos, messy feelings of disappointment or anger. So elegantly beautiful—that pet relationship. Until they get sick.

Joe’s dog, similar in age to Saylor, became sick and he dutifully took him to the vet’s who diagnosed pneumonia and sent him back home with antibiotics. Joe left for work after giving Red a dose, and then came home to find him dead. The last image of his beloved Red lying on the floor burns in his mind, tearing him apart, cell by cell. I know that feeling. I remember Saylor, shortly after Thanksgiving, lying on the floor and I could see her heart beating in her chest, laboring to overcome the pneumonia we still did not know she had.

My ego stops me here:  “Wait a minute—tell them about how many times you took her to the vet that fall, how many days you spent worrying about her, how much money you spent on her care…” All fall we had been making trips to the vet, for anal gland expressions (she had several appointments; one of which, I assume, was the fatal time that she caught the pneumonia.) On November 11, I took her in and complained to one of the vets that she didn’t seem right, she was lethargic, and was losing weight, we found. She also drank too much water it seemed. But the vet missed the diagnosis. She looked for cancer, didn’t find it, and sent her home. The rest of that month, her pneumonia set in and raged through her body like German panzers in WWII. I was basically half conscious of her the rest of that month, worrying about her, wondering why her heart beat so rapidly, but assuring myself that she was okay. I asked Jeff about her, and he too was puzzled. She took shorter walks, ate her food, drank a lot of water. And I didn’t know.

I finally asked Jeff to take her in for another appointment the first week of December. After spending the entire day in a cage at the vet’s, we came to get her, having learned that the diagnosis was diabetes and probably a virus of some kind. She came from that back room where they keep the sick animals, and she could barely walk. Yet her tail wagged when she saw me. Her legs sprawled out from under her, she needed help from the technician to get up, but she couldn’t get to me fast enough. Then she settled down near me as I began to discuss this total horrific transformation of my dog with my soon to be former vet. I am angry to this day.

That’s the thing:  anger can disguise grief. There were other things that happened during Saylor’s long weekend that made me very, very angry. It also cheated me out of feeling my grief. But Saylor helped me out there, too. On that Saturday afternoon, we had reason for hope that Saylor would make it. She was almost stable at the emergency vet clinic, on oxygen support. I went grocery shopping. As I drove down a hill on the way home, I became acutely aware of Saylor and that she was saying goodbye to me. The tears threatened to entirely blind me, and I had to pull over for a minute. I was so overcome with grief, and love, and the need to see my dog. But still, I didn’t have a clue that she would die the very next day. I thought the stress of the last few days was taking its toll. Today, I like to think it was Saylor, telling me goodbye. She was giving me one last opportunity for pure grief, and I took it, thankfully.

And of course, happiness certainly plays a role in grief. It takes the edge off of grief, allowing you to absorb its pain slowly. And for this, we blame Singer. Our bell ringer. She is such a joy and love and balm to our grieving hearts. We love her so. And I am so thankful she is in our lives, hopefully for a long time. 

I hope Joe finds another dog soon. 

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