August 16, 2009

Grief observed

My dog, our dog, of 14 years passed away yesterday morning.

Her name was Sativa and she saved me, protected me, and guided me through the last 13+ years. I owe her a proper eulogy but right now I cannot manage it. My grief and her absence is too heavy.

She had been declining in health, having trouble with her hips and hind legs. But until three days ago she was still very much herself. She was tired but she was with us. Then on Thursday she began having trouble with her breathing and stopped eating and we had to carry her out to the yard. Friday morning she lost control of her bowels and her breathing became harsher.

We rushed her to the vet's office. At the hospital where I worked for five years, where she spent so many days at work with me. Where she was once a blood donor for other dogs in critical condition. Now it was her turn. On the way to the hospital her breathing became more labored and she lost control of her bowels again. This time there was blood in her stool.

The staff carried her in. She was placed on oxygen. The radiographs showed pneumonia in her left lung. The blood work showed a urinary infection, possibly involving her kidneys. With the doctor's advice we decided to transfer to a hospital more equipped to provide ongoing oxygen therapy and monitor her condition.

A dear friend of 12 years, who I went to school with to be a veterinary nurse and who I worked with those five years and who has been a beloved "auntie" to Sativa for all of these years, joined me at the hospital and helped me transport Sativa while Mr. Spicy took Zane out shopping for toys.

On the way to the hospital, she began crashing and I was sure we had lost her. But then she rallied and came back to us. After arriving at the hospital, we agreed to oxygen therapy, antibiotics and fluids, and anything to make her more comfortable and decided to take a couple of hours to eat and talk about our decisions. We returned around 8pm and she seemed a bit better. She was more alert, more "present", her fever had decreased, and she drank a few small sips of water from me.

We had returned thinking we would surely need to make the decision to let her go. But it seemed she was making an effort to fight her infections and we wanted to give her the benefit of 24 hours treatment to see if she indeed had enough strength left in her to come through it.

I sat with her and told her how loved she was, that she was the best dog ever, that I wanted her to rest, and to do what she needed to do. I assured her that her family was ok, she didn't need to worry about any of us, to just do what she needed to do for herself. I told her I would be back in the morning and that I was so sorry I had to go. There was no way we could take her home as she really needed the oxygen at that point. And not only do they not allow overnight visitation, but I needed to be home with our baby.

The Dr. called at midnight. No changes, but she wasn't doing worse. I called in the morning. Again, no changes, her oxygen levels were steady, even without oxygen supplementation, but she was pretty out of it. I prepared to go visit her, trying to get Zane fed and taken care of for the morning. The Dr. called. Now she seemed to be going downhill again. She was not responsive, she had edema (swelling) in her face and limbs. I agreed to running bloodwork again to find out what was going on with her internally at this point. I got off the phone and hurridly tried to finish preparations to go see her. The Dr. called again.

"We tried to draw blood, and she stopped breathing. Her heart stopped. I am so sorry."

I will never completely be able to forgive myself for not being there for her in her final moments. The guilt is overwhelming. Although a wise friend, her Dr. of 10 years who was on a family vacation in the Grand Canyon and still communicating with me via text, email, and phone through all of this, commented that he believed she was "taking care of us through the end" and that he believed we "did it right, and so did she". I cannot help but feel that I let her down. When she needed me.

My only comfort is that she was not in pain and seemed to go peacefully, on her own. I just wish with all my heart I could have held her in those final moments. Now there is nothing I can do to make it right.

The grief feels like it could fill our house and overflow into the street in a flood of tears. But there is someone watching me. Someone who does not understand and who needs to know I am here for him. Someone who needs my smiles. Someone who requires that I let go of the sadness and play with him and respond to his rasberries and his chattering.

And so I do. I tuck away my broken heart and I learn to grieve in the small moments away from him and in the quiet of the night when he is captivated by dreaming.

I am living a life and a grief observed.

And it kind of sucks. I don't want to be away from my son. I don't want to let him down or confuse him. But right now I wish I could hit "pause" on being a mother.

Sativa was my "baby" for over a decade. And now she is gone. I feel it everywhere - her absence. I desperately want to curl up in a ball, hide my head under a blanket and sob for days. I want to concentrate on creating some ritual to honor her life and how she gave it so abundantly to us. I want to allow myself to be consumed in my sadness.

But I can't. And I won't. At least not all at once.

I hope wherever she is, she understands.

She mothered us all so well. She stayed so strong for us, up until the very end.

Something tells me she must understand.

Good-bye dear, strong, beautiful Sativa. I miss you more than I can ever say. You left a hole that can never be filled. A part of me goes with you where you are. I will always always love you.


mary elizabeth said...

you are, no doubt, one of the best writers i know. you are so talented. your 'baby' knew she was loved up until the very last moment. what a wonderful mom you were. i wish you peace and...some time away from being a mom to grieve. it is so important. zane will understand. hugs to you my friend.

Denise Kramer said...

We will all miss her. She was a wonderful friend and companion. Lauren has also taken this rough...Sativa was easy to fall in love with. Take your time to grieve. It will only help to make life easier in the end. We love you very much.

annacyclopedia said...

Oh, my friend. My heart just aches for you as you work your way through this huge, huge loss. I am so sorry that your sweet protector is gone from this world.

As hard as it might be to do, I believe that by sharing your grief with Zane, you are giving him a gift. You are showing him that you can be very sad and still have room for your love for him and your joy in his presence at the same time. And you are showing him that your feelings are your own - that you can be tossed around on some stormy seas, but still be there for him, and he does not need to do anything to fix or change that. Of course you need time on your own to grieve and be with those feelings, but you don't have to keep them from him entirely. I have seen you open up your heart to the complexity of the now so many times, Spicy, and I know you can do it again.

You are in my thoughts and prayers as you figure out your place in the world without this loving and wonderful friend.

Stefany said...

Oh honey. I feel so horrible for you. I know you must feel just lost right now. I am so sorry for your loss... I understand it is like losing a family member and you need to grieve. Take your time and do that right. You won't stop being a mom because you have feelings and you express them. Zane will love you regardless and it is only going to be better for you and him if you let yourself grieve.

Sativa knew you loved her. I promise you that. She passed with peace and she knows you did everything you could for her.

I am sorry Duffy. So sorry.

Huge hugs to you.

nancy said...

I've very sorry for your loss. And I believe she knew you were "with" her in heart.

intheelision said...

Duffy, thank you for inviting us into your grieving process. Sativa was a sweet, sweet baby who lived every day knowing she was deeply loved. What a wonderful life you gave her! The gifts she gave back are now eternal treasures that even death cannot take away from your heart's embrace. You loved her well, Duffy.

The Muser (aka Beautiful Mama) said...

I have been sad since I read this. I'm so sorry. So sorry. Blessings and peace and healing to you.