"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting.
Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me . . .
An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m afraid of being an
embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t . . .
And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness . . ."
C. S. Lewis
My bed has been colder these past two nights.
I dreaded this, for so many years. Even since I was a child, I knew this day would come, deep down, though I hoped that, somehow, my family was touched with a sort of immortality.
On Wednesday, January 25, my little dog Minnie slipped quietly into eternity.
She'd been fighting cancer since sometime in November. I don't remember when. Her breath had just been stinking so bad, so I went to brush her teeth. She didn't mind the finger brush so much, but she didn't want me to grab her jaw and open it this time. She always let me do that before.
That's when I found the lump.
It was greenish and ugly. We thought maybe it was an abscess in her tooth. That would require surgery and removal of a tooth. I was fine with that, as long as my baby would be safe. She was fifteen years old. We'd celebrated our "anniversary" of fifteen years. I got her when I was ten, on my birthday.
It was melanoma, the most aggressive form.
We opted out of traditional treatments, both because of her age and because my family believes that chemotherapy and radiation do more harm than good. Mom said quality is better than quantity. We'd do some natural things.
Then it grew back.
We tried more. The Budwig Protocol. Essiac tea. Raw meat and vitamins and things to boost her immune system. Fresh water and love and comfort.
Slowly, the cancer began to take things. It took a few teeth at first, then bits of her gum, then half her palate. I found one of her teeth in my bed the other day. It scared me and broke my heart a little. She wasn't eating well and she'd lost weight.
We just kept giving her good things and loving her.
Tuesday night, she suddenly got very tired. She slept most of the evening, snoring, almost in a sort of coma. I just held her while she slept. We took her upstairs, and I put her on my bed, and we went to sleep.
The next morning, Wednesday, she walked around in circles in my room after jumping off the bed. It scared me, but I figured she just had to go to the bathroom, and I was right. We went back inside. I put her on the couch, and she started sleeping again. I tried giving her water, because she seemed dehydrated. Just medicine for now. Mom decided we should take her to the vet, and let her get some fluids and maybe, if she perked up, she could continue on them.
I got ready for work, and we took Minnie to the vet. She was mostly asleep, didn't even know we were there.
This wasn't my baby, at least not on the outside.
I had to go to work while Mom and Dad were still at the vet with the dog. They left her there, to get some fluids.
I worried the entire couple hours I was at work, and I called Mom. Minnie was at home, on the couch.
When I walked in, Dad was weeping. Minnie was asleep on the couch, her breathing somewhat labored. The vet had said she probably wouldn't live through the night.
I changed my clothes and just loved her. We kept a vigil all that afternoon and evening. I held her for a long time, and let her sleep. When the terrible snoring began, we laid her back on the couch so she could breathe easier. Mom and Dad went to get some supper, and I stayed behind, watching American Idol, stroking her head. Sometimes, she'd blearily open her eyes and look at the door, as if to ask when they'd be back.
We watched the rest of the show, and more TV, and then the news. We keep two lamps on, so the light in the living room is always soft and warm. The news was about to go off.
She sat up, looked at me and Mom, and started making this odd groaning noise, and struggling. Mom went to get Dad.
On the couch, as I stroked her head and talked to her and told her I loved her, Minnie took her last breath and slipped away into Heaven.
We buried her next to Buster, in a plastic box, wrapped in her plaid blanket and laying on a pink baby blanket she had. I kissed her once more before we put the box in the ground.
Life has not been the same since that night. It can never been again, not for me. There are other griefs that my family has endured, that I probably will never write about here. I keep myself disconnected from those horrors. They are too much.
I got Minnie for my tenth birthday. She was a complete surprise. She was a sweet, shy puppy who liked to sniff and run and stick by us, without a leash at all. As she grew older, her nosiness overcame her shyness and she wandered. Other animals in the neighborhood made her a fiercely protective dog. She loved walks, even when her short legs and age required the distance to be decreased. She loved my bed, and my rug, and my pajamas. Wendy's nuggets were a tradition for her on Wednesday nights.
I know that God is merciful. He didn't want her to suffer. I like to think that He sent Buster to get her and take her home. I believe that they're there now, in Heaven, together playing and chasing each other like they used to when they were young.
I think the hardest thing is the regret I have for the ten days I didn't get to see her. I flew out to Missouri to visit my fiance. When I got back, Minnie's health was sloping downward, very slowly. There are ten days of my life that I enjoyed very much, but ten days of Minnie's life that I can't get back.
God, I miss her so much. Yesterday morning, I came an instant close to asking my mom what I always asked, every morning I went to work early. "Where's Minnie?" I only got the first syllable out. It insisted, even if I held it back. For a moment, I forgot.
For a moment last night, it felt as though she was at my feet as I used my computer in bed. I looked down, almost automatically. She's still not here. Everywhere, I see what's left. Stains on my sheets and on a long pillow, from her mouth. A collar on an end table. Her water bowl in the sink. The memory of stroking her ears and tugging on them softly and scratching them. She loved when I scratched her back end. There are little marks on our hardwood floor in the hall, from her nails.
"People fall out of the world sometimes, but they always leave traces. Little things we can't quite account for. Faces in photographs, luggage, half-eaten meals. Rings. Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely. And if something can be remembered, it can come back."
I know I'll see Minnie again one day. My God is loving and good. He has seen fit to have trees in Heaven; why should He not also have the souls of those creatures who never sinned? But I'm selfish. I wanted Minnie to be here forever. As her health declined, and she could no longer be the dog I knew she wanted to be, I dreaded the day that I knew was coming. After she passed, though I am still grieving, there was relief. I didn't have to worry anymore.
She beat the cancer. When her little lungs took their last breath, the cancer died.
Minnie lives on.
She went with no fear. Fear is a human thing, a flaw instilled in us by the horrors we have wrought upon the world. Minnie was fearless.
Dad said she had a dream last night that she was twirling around on her back legs, a trick I called "ballet" when I was young. But in the dream, there was no one standing over her waving a treat around. She danced on her own.
I know eventually I will get used to her not waiting on the stairs when I come home in the afternoons, or sleeping on the couch, or hiding in the darkness of my bedroom. I know that I'll be accustomed one day to not hearing the swishy tapping of her nails during the nightly rounds she took around the hall and the kitchen. It will never feel normal, at least not from this side of it.
But I swear I've felt them, both Minnie and Buster, playing somewhere near.
It is likely that I will get another dog one day. That puppy will not be a replacement, not by a long shot. No one will replace Minnie, for she is irreplaceable. She left her mark on me, and I on her. I was ten when I got her. We bond with animals so closely not only because we love them and they love us, but because we become like each other. When she passed, it felt as thought part of my soul was taken from me, and I am not whole. Her legacy is a huge one, and any pups that come after her will be taught and brought up to be like her.
Rest in peace, Minnie, my lion-hearted little dog.
“Forgive my grief for one removed
Thy creature whom I found so fair
I trust he lives in Thee and there
I find him worthier to be loved.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson