The dilemma I’ve struggled with for about nine months–which I guess is the normal gestation period for brilliance–is how to poke fun at the fact that you’ve just had to say goodbye to three old, cherished animals you’ve spent a good 15 years with.
In fact I’ve struggled so long with this problem that I haven’t really written a humorous word since my big boy yellow lab passed away from some frightening neurological disorder that I don’t really want to remember the name of. Of course thru the hospice stages of my three pets, I tried to make them comfortable and “happy” as best I could. I made sure they ate enough, cleaned their incontinent little beds, flushed away their poop, and kept a sharp eye on new and emerging symptoms and problems. I will say I wasn’t alone in this; I had the help of a compassionate holistic/western medicine vet and my husband. But the burden seemed strongly placed on my skinny shoulders. Sometimes it was exhausting physically; sometimes it was exhausting mentally And sometimes I wished it was just plain over
That’s when I knew conflict and dual feelings really cannot take separate paths. I knew my pets were lingering, deteriorating; I didn’t think they were in pain, but I knew they weren’t happy. And neither was I. But none of us had the courage? chutzpah? pragmatic wish to take away those bright eyes and soft smiles sooner than later. So we fed and cleaned them and waited until they told us when the time was near.
I’ve meant this essay if not to be uproariously funny but as a reflection on how everything has an upside. Now that my geriatric patients are gone, the upside has revealed itself. I have more time to concentrate on the younger generation of pets. And I don’t have to wonder if my hospice patients will still be breathing in the morning. That was stressful, as anyone with sickness knows. I’m more relaxed now even though I grieve. I’m even floating the idea of getting another cat. So there’s an upside to everything in life. For every negative there’s a positive, a yin and yang.
But unfortunately I have to grapple with the guilt of the upside. It’s like survivor guilt, I think. I say to myself that it’s not my time yet, so why feel guilty that I’m here and they’re not. But you know how that goes. If you’re a pet owner, you always can think of one more kiss you should have given, one more pat you should placed on a furry head, or one more morsel of steak or ice cream you could have shared with your beloved fur babies.
Well, I’m smiling and crying at the same time as I write this, so that’s progress I guess–the upside and the downside are trying to meld. I have memories— of nurturing my babies to the end, of trying to be as kind as possible, trying not to resent the fear and panic that kept crawling up and down my spine. As the time goes, I know these memories will fade–and I have mixed feelings about that too, another upside and downside colliding in mental space– and I hope that what remains is that upside of the whole experience. I lost three pets–two older dogs and one beautiful older cat in nine months, and I feel blessed for having had the experience to say hello and then, in what felt like a few days in the calendar of pet owners, say goodbye. I love you Norton,Owl, and Oliver, and the upside is that I could care so much for creatures that did nothing but bark and meow for the sweet recognition due them: Yes, you were important to our family–maybe to what make us human–and I’ll never forget you.