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Posts Tagged ‘mourning pet loss’



By Elizabeth Statmore


I wanted to find that Anne Lamott essay on their dog’s dying, but it’s in another book and I don’t have time to find it right now.

This is the first work day without Fromage, and I can already tell there are going to be a lot of awful firsts like this — first Trash Night without him, for example. Trash Night was Fromage’s favorite holiday. Lucky for him, it came every week. Tuesday nights, after dinner, we would bring the trash and recycling and composting down the front stairs and haul the wheeled cans to the curb — black for rubbish, blue for recycling, green for compostables.

David would wind him up as I started gathering the bags in the kitchen. “Trash Night!” he would exclaim to Fromage. “Trash Night!” And Fromage would start to dance around the room excitedly, wagging his tail hard and barking.

“Trash Night! Trash Night!”

Bark! Bark! Bark!

Being descended from a long line of working dogs and shepherds, he would herd me with our bags toward the front door, barking as if to yell, “Hurry up! It’s Trash Night, dammit!”

As far as he was concerned, the best nights were the ones when we needed to make the trip to the sidewalk more than once. He would dash up the stairs and bark down at me, urging me on. While I dealt with the carts and the bags, he would amble over to lift his leg and pee on a nearby sidewalk tree. it was his holiday — and now he is going to miss it forever more as we are going to miss him.

This hole in my heart feels bottomless, and it makes me wonder if I will ever feel whole again. I miss him with an ache and an urgency I can’t describe with words. This is my life now.

***
8:00 p.m. insight — Fromage does not want us to be lonely. He wants us to adopt another dog who can watch over us.

He loves us and doesn’t want us to be lonely.

He stayed as long as he could, but he just couldn’t do his job of taking care of us any more and he had to go. He’d dragged himself through sickness and dying, and it was time for him to leave us.

But he doesn’t want us to be lonely for too long.

He loves us and wishes us the best. It’s not a betrayal of him for us to love a new dog.


_________________________



About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

The Gifts Of Trash Night is Part II in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage. Part I is titled Long.

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By Elizabeth Statmore


Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.


Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


_________________________



About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

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Sweet Boy Chaco, February 22nd, 1996 — June 25th, 2009, Minneapolis, Minnesota, BlackBerry Shots, December 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sometimes you mark the passage of time by the death of a beloved pet. It’s been a year since we made the tough decision to let Chaco go after a brave battle with kidney disease. He was born February 22nd, 1996; Liz adopted him from the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society in April. If you had to choose breeds, Chaco looked like a cross between a Bombay and a Havana Brown. He loved vanilla yogurt, batted at his water dish until it was bone dry, purred like a 1969 Chevy Camaro, and talked incessantly (but not quite as much as a Siamese).

The eve of June 25th, 2009 was a sleepless night. Chaco spread out over the couch on a white blanket next to a wrapped bouquet of tickseed, spiderwort, and Queen Anne’s lace Liz picked from the garden. We took turns sitting with him. When Liz went to bed, I got up and nestled beside him, stroking his back and chin, silently crying. It’s a gut-wrenching decision to choose to put a pet to sleep. It all comes down to quality of life.

On the afternoon of June 25th, Chaco stared up through the ash tree on our deck, his emerald eyes wide and curious when Liz carried him to the Saturn for his last drive to the vet. In August, we donated bags of saline to the Golden Valley Humane Society in his name. By December 2009, we spread his ashes around the circle to the drumbeat of Winter Solstice.

If you’ve never lost a pet, it’s hard to describe the mourning. Or the space that opens up after the time spent caring for a chronically ill cat is finally over. But I can tell you that Kiev and Mr. Stripeypants mourned; they moped around the house for weeks. And Liz and I cried 1000 tears. Chaco’s death left a hole in our lives.

I can also say that life goes on. Hearts heal. And words of grief and loss are sometimes best left to the poets. When Liz read Charles Simic’s poem Little Unwritten Book at our Poetry & Meditation Group last week, I cried another tear — 1001.



LITTLE UNWRITTEN BOOK

by Charles Simic


Rocky was a regular guy, a loyal friend.
The trouble was he was only a cat.
Let’s practice, he’d say, and he’d pounce
On his shadow on the wall.
I have to admit, I didn’t learn a thing.
I often sat watching him sleep.
If the birds tried to have a bit of fun in the yard
He opened one eye.
I even commended him for good behavior.

He was black except for the white gloves he wore.
He played the piano in the parlor
By walking over its keys back and forth.
With exquisite tact he chewed my ear
If I wouldn’t get up from my chair.
Then one day he vanished. I called.
I poked in the bushes.
I walked far into the woods.

The mornings were the hardest. I’d put out
A saucer of milk at the back door.
Peekaboo, a bird called out. She knew.
At one time we had ten farmhands working for us.
I’d make a megaphone with my hands and call.
I still do, though it’s been years.
Rocky, I cry!
And now the bird is silent too.


-from WALKING THE BLACK CAT, published by Harcourt Brace and Company (1996)


Chaco Dust, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, June 29th, 2009

-related to posts: Chaco’s Creature Comforts (10 Cat Care Tips), From The Earth, Back To The Earth , Winter Solstice — The Quiet Strength Of Bear, Life Of An American Green Tree Frog, Children Helping Children (And Animals)

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poppy-dog

Poppy, brick found in our flower bed, April 2009,
photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




From a comment this morning, QM writes:

I am heading over to two of our friends’ house to be there when they put their cat Kaia down. She’s been under the weather for a few months. And after the last trip to the vet last week, they have made the hard decision that it’s time. Kaia, bless her heart, is just tired. They think she may have cancer and she can’t be operated on because she’s too frail and has a weak heart.

We stopped by to visit them last night and spend a little time with Kaia. They got her as a kitten (her sister was Emigre, there were two of them) in about 1992 so I think that makes her about 17 years old. Send prayers this morning as it’s the last day that Kaia will roam the Earth in bodily form. Something about the unconditional love that pets give to humans always makes it so sad to let them go.



I only knew Kaia from QM’s writing; QM and Liz often cared for the cat when their friends were out of town. And QM and Liz not too long ago had to contemplate similar decisions when their cat Chaco became seriously ill. Fortunately, Chaco had a near-miraculous recovery.

Jim and I had to put our dog Roger down after he got cancer and the tumors affected his breathing. A good friend who happens to be a vet came and euthanized Roger out in the grass one mild fall morning while Jim and I held him. Later, Jim said he would never go through that heartache again, and when Rudy died not long after, we were able to let him die naturally with all four of us surrounding him. (I incorporated that experience into a short story, which I included in a blog post in 2007, when QM’s Mr. Stripeypants got seriously ill. Fortunately, Pants also recovered.)

It’s rare, I think, that natural causes finally take a pet’s life. Often the sufferring becomes unbearable, and the humane thing to do is to help move them from the physical world onto the other side.

QM and Liz are by their nature compassionate and emphathetic people. That’s why, I’m certain, they were asked to be with their friends while they put Kaia to sleep.

But not everyone knows how to deal with the death of a friend’s pet. I know that even having gone through my own pets’ deaths, I can find myself at a loss for the right words or deeds that might help ease the pain.



Poppy, detail of the grave marker (colorized), image ©  2009 by ybonesy, all rights reservedPoppy, detail of the grave marker (colorized), image ©  2009 by ybonesy, all rights reservedPoppy, detail of the grave marker (colorized), image ©  2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved




Larry Kaufman, a pet loss counselor, offers this advice to people who want to support those who are mourning the loss of a pet:

  • Take the distressing experience of the mourner seriously. Listen and speak with empathy, understanding, support, sensitivity, and compassion.
  • Ask the mourner about the circumstances of the pet’s death.
  • Encourage the mourner to talk about the pet, to tell stories of the pet’s life in the family. 
  • Don’t ask if the mourner is planning to get another pet or suggest where such a pet might be bought.
  • Avoid the use of clichés such as telling the mourner that time heals all wounds, or reassuring them that they will soon “get over it.”
  • Send a condolence card specifically made for pet loss.
  • Remember dates that are important to the bereaved pet owner, like the date of the pet’s death. Consider sending a follow-up note, e-mail, or card, or making a telephone in remembrance of the day.
  • Send a donation in honor of the deceased pet to an animal-related organization (such as a humane society, animal shelter, or one devoted to improving the health of animals through medical research).
  • After a few weeks or months, follow up by asking how the bereaved individual is doing. (Use the pet’s name and correct gender.)
  • Don’t assume that you know how the mourner might be feeling and reacting. The mourning process can be multi-layered and complex. Everyone is unique, with her/his own needs and preferences. Good judgment is essential in dealing with people in such a vulnerable state.



Just as my prayers go to Kaia, my thoughts go out to you, QM and Liz. You are special people and the dearest of friends.

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