I’ve been silent these past months, not by choice but because grief, depression, and crippling anxiety attacks have rendered me immobile. I have felt stationary – unable to muster basic interest in most things besides sleeping, reading, and endlessly scrolling through social media feeds. I’ve still pushed myself everyday; I’ve still gotten out of bed and gone to work, but that in and of itself has caused anxiety as I question my ability to do my job, my career choices, and my prospects for the future.
Three weeks, one day.
These days, I measure the passage of time based on my father’s passing. In these subsequent 22 days since his death, grief has taken its place in my life like a shadow. My only real reprieve is for a few hours of work each day when I’m so immersed in the crazy world of employee relations that I can compartmentalize my pain.
My dad died nine days ago after having suffered a massive stroke two days prior. He died in a hospital in southeastern Indiana while my connecting flight was sitting on the tarmac in Salt Lake City, getting ready to take off for Indianapolis.
I didn’t get to say goodbye.
I’m the first to admit that I’m a total stranger to grief. At 33 years old, I still have both my parents as well as all four of my grandparents. I’ve never even lost an aunt, uncle, or cousin. As a result, the grief I’ve experienced this week, after having put down my beloved dog, Kyle, on Tuesday, has been nearly unbearable. Today is the first day that I’ve felt even close to “normal” and even then, I’ll go from completely fine to sobbing in absolutely no time. My chest and stomach ache most of the time, like I’m worrying a hole right through both of them. I don’t feel well, I don’t know how to relax, and nothing seems to keep me occupied for longer than a few minutes.
I’m just… sad. I miss my companion and friend. I miss his bossy barking when he wanted outside or when he was hungry for a treat. I miss the insistent way he’d bump his hand against my palm when he wanted petted. I miss his inquisitive stare and his happy bounce. And most glaring of all is that his presence is missing. From where I’m sitting, I can see the wooden urn holding his ashes. That’s all that’s left of him, except for my memories.
The house feels so empty without him. Roxie, our younger dog, has spent her week getting her bearings now that she’s no longer submissive to the alpha dog. She’s testing her limits and testing my patience. There’s no back and forth banter barking now because she has no one to “talk” to. All is quiet. Well, all except my heart, that is. It’s a rough, choppy mess that feels like it’s been sliced into a million little slivers. Everyone tells me that I’ll feel whole again someday. Right now, I would prefer to not feel anything at all because this grieving thing? Pure hell.
You’ve been gone for 32 hours. I’m sorry that you got so sick and that I couldn’t save you, but I hope you knew, up until the very end, that I loved you and that I always will. I hope that, wherever you are now, you’ve got a big, squishy toy full of stuffing and a loud squeaker and that you’re just squeaking away, content, young again, happy, and finally free of pain. I miss you so much already. You took a chunk of my heart with you when you left.
13 years ago, I was a 20-year-old culinary school student trying to mend a heart shattered by my first love. I did that (partly) by venturing into Feeders Supply in Louisville, KY and walking out with an 8-week-old ball of fur and puppy breath. Kyle was a German Shepherd mix, adorable, and he immediately owned my heart. For the next five years, we moved from one Midwestern town to another and then back again. From apartment to apartment we went – just Kyle and I against the world. Eventually, my broken heart healed and I went on to fall in love again. Once I got married, Kyle and I welcomed my husband, Tim, into our family. Tim and Kyle bonded and a few years later, we adopted another dog, Kyle’s “little sister”, Roxie.
Tonight, I sit here holding a vigil of sorts, with swollen, puffy eyes and a throbbing brain due to hours of crying. I have to say goodbye. Kyle has gotten very sick in the last five weeks and test results confirmed today what I was afraid of: cancer. Liver cancer, to be specific. He’s now 13, his face has turned grey, and his eyes are clouded over. He’s in so much pain that he can’t get comfortable. Every few seconds, I watch him move and shift, his body lurching and his breathing growing more ragged. At 4pm tomorrow, we will take him to the vet and put him to sleep. And even though I know it’s what he needs because he’s so sick, my heart has splintered into a million pieces.
Every event of my adult life has been experienced with Kyle by my side. He was there to lick my tears away after bad dates and fights with friends and when life generally kicked me in the shins. He was there to cuddle on cold days, offer a listening ear whenever I needed it, and never once judged me when I made stupid decisions and did really dumb things (often with him as a witness.) We’ve had 13 great years as a team but I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know I have to. I know I need to. I know he’s suffering and that he deserves to be set free from the pain. I know that he’s given me 13 years of absolutely unconditional love and trust. None of this, though, makes it any easier. I hate playing God. I hate knowing that, unless he goes naturally in his sleep tonight, I have to force him to leave this earth. His eyes exhibit the pain he feels and yet he holds on. Sometimes I think he holds on despite his misery, just because he doesn’t want to leave me any more than I want him to go.
In the last two hours, I’ve watched him deteriorate further, to the point that I wonder if he’s going to make it until the vet appointment tomorrow. At the same time, it feels like he’s letting me know that it’s okay, that my decision is the right one, and that he’s ready to go. I’m talking softly to him, telling him that I love him over and over again, petting him, and just letting him know that I’m near. He’s loved me through everything – from being a lost 20-year-old girl to the 33-year-old woman I am – and now I have to love him through the very hardest part of all. I just hope he feels how much I love him up until he takes his very last breath.