Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Sound of Silence

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.... - Pablo Neruda 

I wasn’t going to write anything about Dexter’s passing. I didn’t think that I could.

But yesterday, I woke up to this in my email inbox….

….and I was like, OK. Fine. I can do this, I think.

I can’t go into great detail about Thursday. But I will say that, despite the fact that it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life, I have a lot to be thankful for. Dexter only had the one really bad day. Until Thursday he was eating and drinking water and walking. Thursday, his last day, was a bad day. I didn’t realize it until I went to wake him up to take him outside and realized he was too weak to make it out.

Every day at 5:30 PM, Dexter would wait by the door for his daddy. And on his last day with us, he waited for his daddy to get home. I texted Mr. W and told him he’d better come home from work, and he did. Given the nature of Dexter’s disease, we still weren’t sure if it was the end or if it was just a bad day….but just in case, I gave them some time alone together.

And before Mr. W got home, I cuddled with my sweet boy and I thanked him for making me a mother. I have always believed that parents of animals are just as much parents as those with humans, but seeing as I’d never had a human child, I didn’t know it to be true. I do now. I was every bit that boy’s mama. I didn’t realize just how deeply we were connected until I lost him. But he was my son in every sense of the word. Losing him hurts just as badly as losing the baby I’m carrying would. I know some people won’t be able to relate to that, and their pets are just pets, but it wasn’t like that for me.

We spoke to the vet, had a tough conversation and looked up at home euthanasia options, but before we could make final arrangements, our boy left us his own terms. It was actually very peaceful. He didn’t fight it. He let go with us both by his side, holding him, holding each other, telling him we love him. It was agonizing, but we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

May 1, 2014 was the best day of my entire life. Holding my husband’s hand and looking at the little baby girl we have on the way, talking about her name, wondering what she’ll be like…. it was amazing and surreal.

And now I can say, without a doubt, that May 8, 2014 was the worst day of my life. Again, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I can accept that it was Dexter’s time to go. I’m so glad he didn’t suffer and I’m so glad we both got to be there. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt worse than any pain I’ve ever felt. He was so much a part of our family, so ingrained into our daily routines, that having him ripped from us was, and still is, devastating. I’ve spent weeks trying to prepare myself for this, and the truth is, there was just no way to prepare.

At night when my pregnant bladder wakes me up, I can’t go back to sleep without the comfort of his snores. Every time I emerge from the shower and he’s not waiting by the door guarding me (seriously, had he seen Psycho? Where did he think I was going to go?), my heart hurts. Every time I walk through my front door and the entryway still smells like him, I lose it. I keep reaching down to pet him as I work or give him a piece of food while I eat. I know these things will fade in time, but then it’s going to hurt because I’ll miss the routines themselves.

People have been so kind. I keep hearing that he was lucky to have us and that we gave him a good life. And I believe we did….but the truth is, we could have done so much better, and we know it. I wish I’d taken him on more walks. I wish I’d trained him better from the time he was a puppy, but I was just a stupid puppy myself. I wish I’d really understood that we were his whole life and acted accordingly. Of course, in the end, we did the best we could, and we had lots of good times. I don’t think we were bad parents. But we could have been better.

But he loved us anyway. No matter what we did, that dog loved us unconditionally. Mr. W and I spent Friday talking about everything we did right and wrong with him and how we don’t want to half-ass it as parents. And we won’t. I know that now.

I have known my husband for almost 14 years, but I was still surprised by the strength he displayed as he went through this with me. I have a partner who was strong enough to comfort our sweet baby boy in his final moments, to carry his lifeless body to the car and into the vet’s office, and who was also strong enough to allow himself to fall apart in my arms when it was all over. He is already the best father in the world and I love and respect him more now than I ever have. I absolutely would not be able to get through this without him.

This is a bittersweet Mother’s Day for me. I wish I didn’t have to lose my boy so close to it...we were going to have ice cream and cuddle on the couch tomorrow. But it has allowed me to reflect so much on motherhood that it’s almost like Dexter’s final lesson to me was his biggest and best. And I am so thankful that I will never have a Mother’s Day where I am not a mom. Timing is a funny thing, and I never imagined that letting my guard down and getting pregnant a bit before we’d intended would be the best thing I ever could have done.  

This will get easier, but there will never be a day where I don’t miss my boy. But it was worth it to get to be his mama. Even knowing the outcome, I’d do it all again. I hope he would too.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hellos and Goodbyes

It’s not easy watching your big, strong dog grow weaker and weaker.

This dog once chewed through a huge wire kennel….multiple times. He has effortlessly destroyed stereo speakers, a couch, apartment doors, a fence, and even a sliding glass door, a move that nearly got him killed long before his time. He spent a decade pulling me around on his walks, dictating where we’d go, leaving me no choice but to trudge along behind his 80 pound frame.

These days, as the cancer ravages his old, tired body, it’s a different story. He still has his moments of strength, but he saves them for climbing onto the couch or walking around the block. He uses an ice chest as a stepping stool to climb into the car, and he now takes only the elevator, never the stairs. His tumors grow larger by the day and the spring is quickly fading from his steps. His big, bright, beautiful brown eyes are growing dim.

It’s fact, it’s devastating. He is my baby. And I have to sit here powerless, knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this disease from claiming him, terrified he’s going to have a bleeding episode while Mr. W is at work or that the end will be painful for him. We’re doing all we can. We make his food now, which he’s more than happy to eat. We keep his pillows puffy and clean, we rub his belly and we give him a pain pill when he seems to need one. We tell him we love him and we’re sorry he’s sick. Sometimes we just cry.

Every day I sit at my desk and I work, listening to his grunts and snores, dreading the day I won’t hear them anymore. And then, just as I start to wonder how I will possibly be able to be alone in this apartment and face the sound of silence, I feel tiny little kicks….kicks that grow stronger by the day, kicks that I am so ecstatic to feel.

I believe everything happens when it’s meant to, even if the timing seems off. People have expressed their sympathy to me for going through the slow, sad loss of my dog while I’m pregnant… and I admit, it’s not easy to keep it together with all these hormones coursing through me. But If I have to lose him, I’d rather it be now, before I have an infant in the picture, so that I can give him the love and attention he deserves.

Last Thursday, we learned our sweet baby is a girl. It’s something we’ve felt in our hearts all along, but it was still a beautiful surprise. Let’s just say learning we’re going to have a daughter is a long time coming, much longer than that fateful night five months ago when we made her. We’ve both been getting signs for years, so strong that Mr. W admitted to me a month ago that if this wasn’t a girl, he was going to question everything he believed in as well as his own sanity. I agreed.

I was a wreck before the ultrasound. We’re only doing this parenthood thing once, so no matter what we heard, our lives would be changed forever. And in addition to the big reveal, there were so many things to worry about...I’d heard stories of babies with spina bifida, cysts on the brain, and tons of things that could put me on bed rest or (the horror!) “pelvic rest” (celibacy).

But when the elevator stopped on our way to the 11th floor and we heard “My Girl” playing in the lobby, I was all smiles and I was able to relax.

I can’t describe the way I felt when the ultrasound tech zoomed in on those little bits and announced, “It’s a girl.” I got an overwhelming sense of peace, and I started to cry, something I never do in front of strangers. Mr. W remained calm, squeezing my hand and saying “I told you so.” The rest of the appointment was euphoric as they counted ten toes, ten fingers that already know how to point and give a thumbs up (seriously), every little body part in tact and a healthy beating heart.

The very next day we took Dexter in for X-rays and ultrasounds of his own. The news was not good. The cancer has spread to his lungs, and there’s nothing more they can do for him. Hemangiosarcoma will take him from us soon. I was upset, but I wasn’t surprised. We’d both been bracing ourselves for bad news all week.

I thought the bad news would put a damper on the euphoria we felt on Thursday. But it didn’t. I finally felt at peace with it all, knowing where we stood. Mr. W and I bought Dexter a hamburger for dinner that night (organic and hormone free, even). Next weekend we’ll give him one last birthday with his traditional cupcake. And when it’s time, we’ll let him go. One day we’ll tell our daughter stories about our ridiculous dog, who will always be our only baby boy.

Life is bittersweet, but it’s beautiful. And I’m already more grateful to my daughter than she will ever know. Since I can’t drown my feelings in bottles of wine or fly off to Vegas to escape the pain, I’m forced to process my emotions with a sober mind and face my fears without a crutch. It’s hard. But it’s making me stronger. I’m supposed to be the one making her stronger right now, but what she doesn’t know is that she’s already doing the same for me.

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