It’s been five days now and neither of us has made it through one without tears.
I have not washed my hair because it seems like too much effort. Nor can I bear to wash the dog hair from my clothes or vacuum the floor. Mornings are hardest. We walk around the empty places, eyes averted. We listen for the thump of a tail, the tap of toenails on the floor. We fill the silence with music. Sometimes, we just stand and hold each other until the wave of grief passed.
For the first two days, I stayed in my pyjamas and could not eat, my stomach was so sick. I did not want to get dressed, because somehow, she always knew and would be waiting for me at the bottom of the steps to see if I had my walking clothes on. Every cell tingled in my body as if it was twisting and realigning itself.
Everything we did for 13 years revolved around Callie-dog’s needs. She was our constant companion; our special girl; the child I never had. We bought vehicles with her in mind, vacationed in places she enjoyed, bought her Cheerios as a post-breakfast treat, fed her special homemade food, chose hiking trails with swimming holes because she so loved the water, took trips to the lake or beach on hot days, so she could swim. We laughed with delight at her power turns and her crazy antics with the snow scoop. Shared with her the joy of a good run.
I’d known this day was coming just as clearly as I knew I could not bear it when it did. We’ve been losing her in bits; our girl going steadily downhill, losing energy, ability and muscle tone. Pat built a ramp so she could navigate the steps. Then, suddenly it was here. I held her tightly through two seizures; a decision had to be made. I walked around the house, crying desperately, “Please God, take this cup from me.” I could not bear to choose what was best. I did not want to be God.
The hours passed slowly as we waited for the vet. Pat was outside, forcing himself through the horrible tasks of digging a hole, building a box. I buried my face in her fur, inhaling the scent of her. I talked, she listened. I brushed her carefully, memorizing the curves and angles of her body, her blonde eyelashes, the tiny scar where a squirrel bit her too-inquisitive nose. I wrapped our love around her.
One evening afterward, we sat side by side; the only sound, Pat’s knife as he scratched lotto tickets. He cracked a feeble joke about working on my retirement fund, $6 at a time. Then he glanced up. “I’m not being jovial,” he said, “just looking for normal.”
Thursday, I followed a small set of coyote tracks in the fresh fallen snow. I stopped at the place where her tracks crossed our own path – the path we walked so often with Callie when she was still able. The last time had been weeks before, when she stopped a short distance down the trail, in too much pain to go on. The grief became too much. I stood still, sobbing, my tears dropping on the snow, until there was nothing left. As I walked away, I wondered, whether the scent of my grief would remain as a shadow, causing the coyote to pause on her next pass; whether my tears would still be there, like invisible pearls in her tracks. Whether someday, if we encountered each other on the trail, she would know who I am by the hole in my heart.
That night, I fell victim to a barrage of guilt and dark thoughts. I spilled them out as Pat knelt beside me, then looked up to see his eyes, red-rimmed, stricken. I can’t do that to him again, so now, I replace those thoughts with beauty. With thankfulness. It takes all my will. But again, gratitude in the dark is a choice.
In the stressful times : seek God
In the painful times : praise God
In the harried times : hallow God
In the terrible times : trust God.
And at all times — and at all times – Thank God.
Yesterday, we tried to find normal. Groceries, errands, a trip to town would distract us. Pat stood at my office door. “Are you going to have some breakfast before we go?” “Hmm,” I mumbled. “I’ll make you a slice of toast.” His subtle, loving way of helping me eat. Later, in the afternoon, we drove down to the farm to cut a Christmas tree. Again, his suggestion. “I want to put it up by the Callie-dog,” he said. “Decorate it with those soft blue lights.” It kept us busy.
We now have a lovely little Christmas tree by her burial site, blue sparkles of light glowing in the darkness, slowly helping us move from the night of her absence, to the light of her presence.
There’s a part of me that struggles against wrapping this all-encompassing grief within the limitations of words. That balks at even speaking about it. But how can we receive the healing gift of love and compassion if we do not share our pain?
And how can we recognize the need and feel compassion for others if we don’t acknowledge the agony in our own souls? If we lightly pass over it, like it does not exist?
Thank you for allowing me to share ours. It helps to know we are understood, and the kind messages and gestures from close friends this past week have touched us deeply.