One Year

Exactly one year ago, I lost my best friend and the light of my life.

It seems impossible that it’s been a whole year, because not a day goes by where I don’t think of him and miss him and feel the ache from the hole in my heart that was left after he was gone. For sixteen years, my cat Boo taught me unconditional love and comfort, and brought peace to my soul even when it was the most troubled. And although I will never be able to resign myself to the fact that I had to lose him, I am amazed at how he continues to teach me how to grow as a human being even after he is gone.

I’ve spoken before about how after his death my life took a very dark turn and I struggled enormously with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It’s not an experience that I would want anyone to have to go through, but as times of trial often will do, it helped me mature and gave me strength and wisdom that I might never have had otherwise. Some of the most important lessons I have ever learned came from my love of one chubby gray cat and I will never stop missing him. But I’ve learned that’s the comfort in loss– just because he is gone doesn’t mean I have to stop loving him. I truly believe that love really is greater than death, because what effect does death have on our love for others? The loss of Boo has not dimmed my love for him even the tiniest bit. It remains as strong and steady as ever. And I truly do find comfort in that; even though he is gone, no one can make me stop loving him.  

These realizations have been especially relevant to me lately. On Tuesday, my uncle VW passed away at the age of 73. It wasn’t a complete shock, but can we really ever fully prepare ourselves for death? The utter finality of it is unequaled to any other experience on earth, and I don’t know if that’s something we can ever truly be ready for. But lately I’ve begun to wonder if grief is something that you have to practice. Of course, that is not to say that you can get used to grief because every loss is different. But with every loss of a loved one, I have learned new lessons. And these lessons have helped me go through the process of grief with at least a little more understanding than the last time. 

I was terrified when we lost my uncle that I would be plunged right back into the same morass that overtook my life the last time something like that happened. And though I am utterly devastated by his loss, because he was a wonderful uncle and one of the kindest, most amazing people I have ever met, I can take the very, very hard-earned wisdom I’ve gained in the last year and comfort myself that, even though the pain is enormous, it was still worth it to have him as my uncle. And the comfort is that I never have to stop loving him.

But having experienced grief before can only do so much, and it in no way lessens my desire to have my uncle or my cat back. Sometimes at night, the spot against the back of my leg where Boo always used to sleep will feel so cold it’s like there is a block of ice pressed against me, burning my skin–and I recognize it’s the physical manifestation of how much I miss him. And, of course, there have been times when the pain of losing him was so great that I could almost wish that I’d never known him– but then I imagine my life without that cat and I know it was all worth it to have the privilege of loving him for sixteen years.

One of my favorites quotes of all time comes from one of my favorite books of all time–The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I read that book over and over after losing Boo, and a few months later after we so suddenly lost Cash. I have said before that I think it’s an amazing book to help deal with grief, and it has helped me come to terms with losing my baby boy.

In the story, a fox explains what will happen if the little prince tames him. He tells the little prince that, as he is now, he doesn’t know one human from the next, and they all look and sound the same to him– they mean nothing to him. But if the prince tames him, then he will be special to the fox, and when he looks on the wheat fields he will be reminded of the little prince’s bright golden hair. This quote follows:
“So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near– “Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”

I am crying as I write this, and I have cried more tears in the past year than I can ever remember crying before in my life. I’m probably going to be crying about losing my baby until the day I die. But when the pain seems too big for my heart to handle, I will think of sixteen perfect years of love and know it has done me immeasurable good. 

I planned to write a long post about this, but I honestly don’t know what else there is to say. A year’s distance from losing him has rather reduced things down to the simple truths of grief– the facts are that I will love him forever, I will never stop missing him, and the pain is not going to go away. There’s the old cliche that time heals all wounds, but really I think time just allows you to come to terms with things. The pain never actually leaves, but you learn to live with it. I told a friend that today is very bittersweet, but the strongest emotion that comes through is, and I think always will be, how much love he brought into my life. And I also comfort myself with the fact that no one could have loved that cat more and I believe he was well aware of it. Just as he gave me sixteen years of utter happiness, I like to think that we did the same for him. 

So to finish this post, I think I’ll leave you with another quote from The Little Prince that also helped me to deal with my grief. It’s beautiful and poignant, and worthy of a post about the love of my life, and in memory of the very best uncle anyone could ask for.

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… You–only you–will have stars that can laugh!”

And he laughed again.

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky!”

 

I miss you so much already, Uncle V.

uncle v

And I’ll love you forever and for always, my precious Boo baby.

boooodie

 

Cash

Grief is the strangest thing.
Currently my ears are hot and I’m a little bit sick to my stomach, and I don’t want to write this. I’m not crying, but perhaps that will change shortly.
When I wrote about my beloved cat Boo dying in September, I had to wait a few weeks before I could even get back on this blog and put words down. But what comforted me often during the period after I lost him was thinking about all the words I was going to write down when I inevitably blogged about it. When I finally did post, I sat down and just let all the words I wanted to say flow out, along with my tears. My grief for him was a storm– it was wild and often out of control, and descended upon me suddenly, often without warning, and sometimes when triggered by specific conditions.
On Friday evening my sister and I were at Target when my mom called me to tell us they were rushing our dog to the vet because he had collapsed. We found out he had an auto-immune disorder, where his immune system attacked his red blood cells and caused him to become dangerously anemic. He had possibly suffered a stroke when he had collapsed, and his spleen was enormously swollen. The doctor gave him injections, prescribed medicines for us to give him, and told us that he had a very good chance of being fine.
We took him home– we had to carry him because he was too weak to walk– and we settled him in our living room to watch. The vet had told us he would hopefully be up and around by tomorrow even. Throughout the night, he was able to lift himself and drink water numerous times, which our vet told us was a great sign. I sat up all night with him, and around seven in the morning, I realized he could no longer sit up. I thought he might have worn himself out, and so I hesitated to wake my mom up. After a little bit, however, I checked his eyes and realized they were rolled up into his head, and his breathing was becoming labored. I flew into my mom’s room and told her, begging her to call the vet. He told us to meet him at the vet office in thirty minutes.
We only live about five minutes from the vet’s office. It’s incredibly difficult to stall for time when you think your pet might be dying. We lifted my dog into the backseat of our car, with his head on my lap so I could hold him in place, and rushed over to the vet’s office. We arrived about fifteen minutes before he did. Or maybe that estimate was completely wrong; all I know was that my dog was not responsive and I was in something of a daze. We sat waiting in the car, desperately watching for our vet, while I ran my hand over and over my dog’s laboring sides, muttering soothing nonsense words to him.
Suddenly he jerked, and his breathing became erratic, and he started thrashing. He jerked so hard his back end fell off the seat. I was holding his upper body and desperately blowing air into his mouth, imploring my sister to push on his chest and doing it myself before she had a chance. I kept shouting his name, over and over, and telling him to wake up, to stop, to hold on.
It was so surreal. It felt like a moment in a bad movie, when one person dies and the other hovers over them, dramatically pleading with them to hang on even when they know they can’t. My sister and my mom had gotten out of the front seat of the car and were standing at the door, and they were crying and crying. And I just… I couldn’t cry. Because this moment couldn’t be real. It was like my brain simply could not comprehend what was happening. My dog was dying in my lap, and there was literally nothing I could do. Nothing. I was irrelevant. I didn’t matter.
I’m starting to tear up now as I write this. But I wasn’t at the time. I think someone finally said, “He’s gone.” And I just sat there, holding him in my lap and not crying, and in the back of my mind I distantly could hear a voice say, why aren’t you crying? but all I could do was just look at my boy, all I could feel was the way his body had gone slack in my arms, all I could hear was the absence of those deep, hard breaths he’d been taking.
What I’ve learned in the past few months is that one of the worst, most confusing moments of death is that moment right after they’ve gone. Literally seconds before, this body I was holding in my lap had contained my dog, Cash. It had just been the puppy we’d raised from birth, the one who had a white spot on his chest, even though he was an AKC registered Labrador, and they weren’t really supposed to have white on them. This was the dog my parents were going to sell because we already had three. He was the last of the second litter that we’d raised to sell to still be at our house (we had a boy dog named Riley and a girl dog named Sadie, and we’d already had a litter of puppies from them the year before that we’d sold, except for one named Johnny, who we kept).
This memory is so crystal clear to me. Cash was a few months old, and he was sprawled sleeping on the floor of our living room, right by the couch (because it was in a different place in our living room at that time) and next to the step up to the entry way. He was sleeping away, that hard, committed sleep of a puppy that’s worn itself out, a sprawl of black limbs, and I could just see that white spot on his chest. And they were talking about giving him to this sheriff who was interested in him, and how he could be a sheriff’s dog, and ride around with him, and I just started crying. And I laid my head against him and he looked up at me with these melting ambery-brown eyes and I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear for him to go. He was my Cash puppy; a strange name for a dog, but I was the one who had chosen it, because I was reading some ridiculous Diana Palmer romance novel when we were naming the puppies, and the hero was named Cash (the heroine was named Tippy, so the naming thing went better than it could have). And we already had a one year old dog we’d kept from our first litter named Johnny, so how cute to name a puppy in the next litter Cash! And now, how cute if we had dogs named Johnny and Cash! And I cried and I cried and I cried, and even after my parents agreed to let us keep him, I couldn’t stop crying for a while, because I was so scared at the thought of him going.
So come Saturday morning, I’m sitting here holding the body of this dog in my lap. And I’m so bewildered, because I’m staring at that little white spot on his chest, where the fur grew upwards for some strange reason, and I can’t understand how that white patch of hair means nothing anymore. This sudden absence, this disappearance to a place we simply cannot follow, is one of the worst things I’ve ever been forced to experience when losing someone I love. A few hours before, we were doing everything we could to care for that body, to make it better. And now, it was meaningless.
The vet arrived probably five or ten minutes after Cash was gone; again, I might be a little hazy on the details. My mom got out to speak with him; I couldn’t move because I was holding my dog on my lap. And my sister was sitting in the car crying and crying, and my sister never cries, and she kept saying, “Why can’t he just stop talking, we just want to go home!” and it was so strange because she is always the calm one, the reasonable one. And I remember thinking in this very distant way how I felt bad for the vet, because he’d had to drive from a long way out to meet us specially on a Saturday when the vet was closed and he was making an exception for us, and now he’d come all this way for nothing, and perhaps the least we could do was have our mom speak to him to tell him what happened.
Finally my mom came back and told us that the vet was pretty sure that Cashy must have suffered another stroke that morning. It seemed strangely irrelevant to me at that point. I was already bewildered with the rapidity of what had happened, the shock of finding out that our eternally healthy Cash had collapsed, to finding out he had some bizarre disease we had never heard of and knew nothing about, to thinking that he was improving ahead of schedule, to his sudden and abrupt decline.
My dad had had to work that day, and I realized I needed to tell him what had happened. I called, but he didn’t answer, and so my mom started the car. As we were pulling out, my dad called back, and all I could say was, “Daddy,” before I collapsed into sobs. As painfully dry as my eyes had been before, belatedly the truth struck me like a fist and I couldn’t even speak. I cried on the phone incoherently as we drove home, Cash’s body still in my lap, and I couldn’t seem to stop myself from still running my hand over him, like somehow that would soothe him from the trauma of dying. My dad just kept saying he was sorry over and over again, and again, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was so sorry for my dad, who feeds and waters and takes care of our dogs practically every day, and who had to go through an entire day of work before he could even come home and try and deal with what was waiting.
There was nothing to say when I finally could stop sobbing about how Cash died in my lap, and so I hung up the phone after telling my dad I loved him. We got home and parked in the yard, close to the gate to our side yard where we have an old pen that we kept the puppies in when we were raising them. We lifted Cash out in the sheet we’d put over the seat, and laid him down under one of the trees. It was cold outside, and my shoes had fallen off while we were trying to move him, but I couldn’t care enough to go get them and put them on.
Death is rarely a clean process, and I was determined to clean Cash up as best as I could. My mom brought me wipes and paper towels and I sat outside alone in my front yard, crying and snotting all over my sleeves, and doing the last thing I could think to do for my little black puppy with the white spot. The sheet Cash was on was very dirty by this point, and I was determined he would not be buried in it. I took the bright green sheet that I’d slept on my first year of college, and when I was finally done cleaning up Cash, my mom came outside with me and helped me move him onto it, and into the old dog pen. I wanted desperately to bury him, and it seemed impossible to wait the hours and hours for my dad to come home from work (it was barely eight, and my dad wouldn’t be home until around four or four thirty that afternoon). It was cold outside, and I just didn’t want to leave Cash laying in the yard in the cold. It was so wrong; I didn’t care if his body was empty of him, it was the closest thing I had left. I was ready to dig the hole and lift him into it myself at the point, until my mother quietly pointed out that my father would probably like to be there when we buried him. I thought of the hours and hours and hours my father had devoted to our dogs, and there was no more talk of burying him then.
I went inside to take a shower, as I was fairly cold by this point, especially since I hadn’t been wearing shoes. But when I went in the bathroom, I was suddenly overcome by the finality of it. It seemed like if I took a shower, I washed off the last traces of Cash’s life, and I just couldn’t take it another second. I kept repeating over and over that I couldn’t bear it, I just couldn’t bear it. My insides drew up so tight that it felt like I’d been punched in the stomach, and I kept doubling over in a fruitless effort to alleviate the pain. I kept flashing through parallels of my beloved Boo dying before my eyes and not even three full months later my precious Cash doing the same. And I was suddenly overwhelmed with the crippling, paralyzing recognition that there are so, so very many I love that can die, and it just didn’t seem possible to live with the knowledge.
I put my clothes back on and put on a bigger jacket, one which I always wear when I go outside to play with the dogs. I went into the pen where we’d put Cash, and I laid down in the leaves next to him and cried as I stared up at a beautiful blue sky, and ran my hand across his silky black ear.
I’ve no idea how long I stayed like that, but when I finally got up to go inside, I took my jacket off and spread it over him, so he wouldn’t get cold.
I slept until my father got home, and when I woke there was that brief, cruel moment where I didn’t remember what had happened, and the crushing, agonizing recollection that followed it. We buried Cash in the pen where he was raised, and I saw my father cry for one of the very few times in my life. We wrapped him in my sheet and tucked a tennis ball in with him and buried him.
I don’t know why I shared all of this. I didn’t want to start writing this post, unlike with Boo’s, and I in no way wanted to recount what was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. But these words have just come out, with no prior planning and intent. I couldn’t stand to post what the actual end of Boo’s life was like, because I physically cannot type those words. But for some reason, as I’ve written this, I couldn’t stop myself from speaking of Cash’s death. I am constantly perplexed by the infinite types of grief that exist, and the endless array of ways we deal with it. I’m sitting here and I cannot make sense of why I’ve done this. I still want to speak of Cash’s life, too.
He was barely seven years old, and I’m still stunned by the injustice of his death. He was the youngest of our four dogs, and he’d never been sick a day in his life. His favorite thing to do was chase tennis balls with his mom, Sadie, and they would play endlessly. Anytime Cash got the ball from Sadie, he would tease her with it, and jerk it away the second she got close to him. Then he would chew messily on the ball, drool flying, chomp chomp chomp, until I took the ball out of his mouth or Sadie managed to. If you scratched above his tail, he was physically incapable of stopping himself from lifting his back leg and scratching. He loved to roll around in the grass and half the time he didn’t even eat the little dog bones we give our dogs, because he was picky. He was ornery, and he loved to rile up his brother and dad, and you couldn’t have him in the house too long because he would usually try and pee on something.  He wasn’t a small dog, but compared to his 120 pound father and 100 pound brother, he always looked so slim and young darting around everywhere. When it snowed a few weeks ago, I remember looking out our bay window, and he was the only one out, rolling gleefully around in the snow. Cash was the most expert jumper I’ve ever seen. There was not a single fence or gate in our yard he couldn’t get over, if he wanted. But Cash loved us and loved his pack fiercely, and he never once tried to get out, even on a couple memorable occasions when certain naughty other dogs did and left the gate open. Cash always was a happy dog, and he always looked like he had a little grin on his face. We don’t have very many pictures of Cash when he’s older, because he was always running and moving and playing. It seems impossible to me, sitting here in my living room typing this, that he’s not outside in the backyard now, curled up with the other dogs. For seven years, every time I’ve looked outside my mind automatically looks for four, and for the past couple of days I’ve literally felt a stab in my heart when I count one missing.
I once read in a book that heaven is a place where every animal you’ve ever loved comes to greet you when you arrive. That’s certainly the most beautiful idea of heaven I’ve ever heard of, and that’s what I’m hoping for.

I love you so, so very much my sweet Cashy boy, and I promise you that will never, ever stop. And if I could go back this very second to that moment six years ago, when you were laying on the floor and I was sitting a few feet away looking at you and thinking about giving you to someone else, it wouldn’t even take a heartbeat for me to lay my head down on you again and cry until my parents let me keep you.

Cash

My precious Cash when he  was a puppy and my sweet Boo baby not being too pleased about his presence.

My precious Cash when he was a puppy and my sweet Boo baby not being too pleased about his presence.

Snippet Two: Two Months

He’d been sick for a few weeks, but finally her cat no longer seemed bothered by the illness that had been plaguing him. He watched her now through half-opened eyes, and she ran a hand lovingly over his fur.
After a few moments of soothing, she gently lifted and held him in her arms, still mindful of his recent frailty. She lost track of time as she cuddled him close, memorizing the smooth, soft feel of his fur against her fingers and feeling love in her heart. Eventually she tenderly nestled him into his box, covered him with a soft, brown blanket, and left him to rest peacefully.
The next day it rained. She stood outside and watched as the water washed away muddy clumps from the fresh mound of soft, brown dirt under the window, and the rain was her grief all around her, an inescapable storm.

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(Just a note, November 8 marked two months since I lost the love of my life, my precious cat of 16 years, Boo. It was truthfully a rough day for me, especially since someone I know lost their cat of many years that same day. All of the grief and anger and heartbreak of losing my boy came back to me, and then I was doubly upset because someone else I knew was going through what had happened to me. As I was curled up crying late that night, I ended up writing this, and somehow it helped.)