Friday, February 21, 2014

Saying Good-Bye Takes Time

No one who has ever accepted a pet into their lives would ever say, "It's just a dog." When that dog's existence is interwoven into every aspect of your life, the reminders of that loss are small, but constant.

When that dog's life is woven into the lives of your children, the loss is all the more difficult.

Being there the moment Dax died was not as difficult as watching our children say good-bye to him, one at a time, as they left the house that morning. His absence is felt by them every day, as I feel it.
Lindsey and Dax, September 2007.
Marissa and Dax sleeping together, 2010.

It is difficult to guide your children through the grieving process when you yourself feel the loss. I know that losing a pet is not the same as losing a human, but the grieving process is the same.

The hauntings began minutes after he died. I heard him sigh from in front of the fireplace 20 minutes after the vet had taken his cooling body out of the house. Lindsey saw him sniffing his way into the kitchen a day later. Two days after his death, I awoke to the sound of his toenails clicking on the hardwood floors. Marissa heard him snore. (So appropriate.)

It's been almost a week and the hauntings have nearly stopped.

For the first day, I did not leave the house and I did not see people outside of our immediate family. I could not bear to see people whose lives had not been turned upside down the way ours had.

That first day reminded me of the day I brought Lindsey home from the hospital. I remember sitting on our living room couch, nursing this tiny, little newborn child whom I was somehow responsible for. I saw people walking by our house, shopping bags or coffee cups in their hands, chatting and laughing together. I wanted to shout at them, "Don't you know how life has changed?!" It didn't matter to them, but everything was different to me. When Dax died, the world suddenly had a huge void that only my family fell into.

By the next day, I needed to get out, to leave the sadness and emptiness behind. Our family went to the mall and hung out in one of the sitting areas for hours. We went to a funny movie. For a while, we forgot. It wasn't until we began the drive home that we remembered we were coming home to an empty house.

We have now entered the dreaming stage.

Dreams of Dax in a better place, dreams of him when he was a young dog and could run with wild abandon. The girls have dreamed about him too and tell me their dreams when they awake.

We all went through a period when we did not want to be alone. Wayne left for a business trip just as we were getting back to our routine, so it was just the girls and I at home. We were happy to sleep together in the same bed because we all were afraid to be alone. Dax's spirit and the hauntings were so strong in our house that we were comforted by them, yet afraid to be alone with them. If any of us were alone too long, the grief would overcome us until we were beyond functioning. Both girls had a blanket of Dax's to snuggle. I would breathe deeply of Dax's scent from the blankets while they slept. By the time Wayne returned two days later, that stage had passed and the girls were okay sleeping in their own beds.

Now the milestones.

First, Dax missed his first meal at 5:00 the day he died. Then he missed his breakfast for the first time. Tomorrow marks a week since his passing, then it'll be two weeks, then a month. He'll miss Lindsey's birthday in May, and Marissa's in July (he loved to help unwrap presents, which is why their birthdays are significant). He'll miss his first birthday in August (he would've been 16). Then he'll miss Christmas. And eventually it will be the one-year anniversary of his death, with many milestones in between, and many after.

At the same time, I continue to greet and talk as if Dax is with us. When we leave the house in the morning, I'll say "Bye, Dax, keep the house safe!" When I lock up for the night, turning lights off behind me, I'll call out, "Goodnight Dax, love you, puppers."

I find comfort in calling out to him as if he's still here. I figure if we're going to hear him around the house anyways, we may as well greet him as if he is.

It's getting better. It's getting better faster than I thought it would. Maybe I have a step back I'm going to take in the near future, but for now, it feels okay.

It feels right that we helped him find peace when we did, perhaps that's what is helping me. When I look back and realize that his poor back legs didn't stop shaking and quivering for years until the vet administered the sedative shot to him, I realize how much he had deteriorated and we had simply become accustomed to it.

Through all of this, I have learned that I am stronger than I thought I could be. I never imagined that I would have the strength to be there with Dax in his last moments, yet I was. I never imagined that I would be able to have conversations with my daughters about Dax's life and death, yet I can, through my own tears.

I've learned that their seeing my tears and my own grief helps them understand that they are not alone in theirs. The fact that they saw their father cry about Dax's departure helps them understand that everyone in this family is hurting, but we're in it together, and we'll be okay.

We'll be okay.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Thought I Saw You

I awoke this morning to the sound of your nails click-click-clicking on the floors. It was around the time you usually wake up, wanting your breakfast.

The first night of your absence Marissa felt my slippered foot under the table and exclaimed, "Oh Dax! You're so warm!" An hour later she asked if it would be okay for you to come downstairs and snuggle while we watched the Olympics. An hour after that, she asked if it was her turn to sleep with you. Each time I didn't have to say anything; she remembered by the look in my eyes that you were gone.

I had to look twice at a patch of sunlight on the floor yesterday, knowing that if you'd been here you would have found it and curled up for a snooze in the warmth.

The image of you lying on a towel carelessly left in the hallway struck me as I climbed the stairs. A patch of sunlight had found the towel and I know you would have been there.

Last night Lindsey thought she saw you coming into the kitchen just as she pulled a pan of brownies out of the oven. It was about the time you would have walked in; having not heard any of the kitchen noises, you usually arrived when the food came out of the oven and you could smell the good smells.

She nearly bent down to greet you, only to realize it was her imagination. She straightened up with disappointment and sadness in her eyes.

I swore I heard you sigh in the middle of the night, your long, contented sigh of a change of position and comfort. Only I know it couldn't have been you.

I expected to see you as I walked down the stairs this morning, and looked expectantly for you in front of the fireplace.

Empty places. Empty moments. Empty hearts.

I know that there are losses greater than ours. I know that there are parents mourning their children, friends mourning friends, husbands mourning wives, children mourning parents. But grief is still grief, and the fact that you were woven into every facet of our lives makes the loss of you palatable every moment of the day. Even when we aren't here, I have to brace myself to coming home to an empty house.

Some day I will hear your sighs in the sound of the wind. I will hear your paws in the crunch of new fallen snow. I will smile when I hear the happy barks of other dogs in the park. By then I will remember you with fondness, and think about how lucky we were to have you in our lives for 15 whole years.

Until then, those sounds are haunting our home and making our hearts ache.

Author's Note: The last time I suffered a loss of significant consequence, I wrote every day in a journal to my loved one for more than a year.  I took comfort in writing to him as if he were still on earth to read the words. More than 20 years later, my writing has moved to the electronic page and I have an audience to read it.

If you think I'm oversharing, that's your opinion. Writing is my therapy and sharing these thoughts helps me through it. By sharing I find others who have suffered a similar loss and relate to me, so I don't feel so alone in this process. 

This may be the last post on this subject, I may curtail my journal-like entries to the drafts folder. Or you may be reading more about this journey. Whichever I do, I thank you for your kindness and understanding.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Last Morning

5:38 a.m. That's when Dax awoke this morning and decided it was breakfast time.

I obliged him immediately, because I know this is his last breakfast. He doesn't know that, so it's just another breakfast to him.

The last 24 hours have been surreal. Last supper. Last time eating popcorn. Last everything. We know, and the girls will hug him with tears in their eyes, but he is oblivious and just wants down to sniff the floor for more popcorn.

The girls planned to sleep together in the same bed with him last night so that it was fair that they both sleep with him the last time. But every time they tried to shut their eyes they got sad about missing that snuggle time with him, so they didn't fall asleep. They eventually ended up in our bed and I in Lindsey's with the dog, who let out stinky toots all night from all the treats he'd been fed that evening.

I have been on this grief journey before. I didn't know when the journey would start, but once it did it was the most difficult time of my life. It seems so strange to pick the day to start that journey to mourn your dog. To make an appointment with someone to end the life of a creature you love so much, and then pay her to do it. Weird.

I know what to expect. The emptiness when you come home at the end of the day. The times you ask, "Where's Dax?" then realize, he's not here and never will be. Re-remembering every morning that you don't have a dog to feed anymore and getting sad about it all over again. Sitting on the couch and wishing you had a warm little body to snuggle next to you. Having a bowl of popcorn and seeing the kernels that accidentally drop to the floor remain uneaten.

Dax is snuggling with me right now, and it seems odd to be sitting here writing this. How do you share last moments with a dog? At this stage in the game he does not want someone to pet or kiss him, he just wants to be next to you, finishing out his night's sleep with contented snores. (Which is what he's doing right now.)

I share my last moments with him by being that warm body that he wants to curl up next to. By writing my thoughts about what an amazing dog he has been for our family, so patient and willing to put up with our girls' shenanigans.

5:50 a.m., February 15, post-breakfast snooze
He always wanted to do exactly what you wanted to do, no matter what it was. If you wanted to go for a walk then he did, too. If you didn't, he wouldn't pester you for one. If you were sick and needed to sleep all day, he was right there beside you, snuggling and snoring the day away, even when he was a young dog, when most young pups wouldn't leave you alone and wanted to play or run if you were home to do so.

He loved chasing bubbles. One of my favorite videos is of him and Lindsey when she was just a baby and we discovered for the first time that he loved to chase bubbles. We would blow the bubbles at Lindsey, and Dax would run up and bite them as quickly as he could before they got to her. He would leap and jump and twirl around to catch as many as possible. Lindsey chortled that baby laugh that is so funny to hear and both Wayne and I were doubled over in laughter, tears squeezing out of our eyes from the sight and sound. We finally had to stop when the bubbles began frothing from the sides of his mouth, his eyes dazed and wild with obsession.

Now, he can't see the bubbles to chase them and couldn't chase them if he saw them. He doesn't "hoover" the floor clean like he used to, because he can't see the bits of food, even though he can smell them.

His medical issues are numerous and challenging, and we are simply putting off the inevitable by making him suffer through the pain of moving his arthritic joints and the embarrassment of not being able to control his bladder. (And he is embarrassed, too, you can tell.)

I will be there with him in his last moments, to provide familiarity and comfort. I have to do this, because I cannot imagine not being there for him in his final moments, when he's always been there for me.

Wish me strength for this afternoon.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Would You Risk Ruining Lake Superior Forever...for a Job?

I welcome to my blog my good friend and writer, Janey PalmerShe is a Twin Cities-based communications consultant who owns a home on Lake Superior. Janey isn't typically a politial activist. But there's an issue going on right now in our own backyard that has her hackles raised, and I offered to give her this platform to spread the word. 

Read on and get involved. Our environment's future for generations to come is at stake.

Submerged rocks at Split Rock State Park. Photo credit Steven Gaertner
My hair’s on fire.

No, not literally. But if it were, I’d go to the tap and douse it in water. But what if that water were polluted with sulfuric acid?

The reason my hair is on proverbial fire is because our beloved Lake Superior, the world’s third-largest freshwater lake and home to one of the biggest sources of drinking and hair-extinguishing water, is under threat by mining companies—in the guise of “job creators”— looking to extract copper, nickel and other metals in the very heart of the north woods and at the convergence of streams that carry fresh water into the big lake.
The Lake Superior watershed is one of the most special places in the world.
Poly-Met, a Canadian company, wants to set up the first of what will likely be many copper/nickel mines right outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The byproduct of this mining is the aforementioned sulfuric acid – and the possibility of this leaching into the streams and into Lake Superior is great, despite what the mining companies say (and there is no real contingency plan to mitigate this built into their proposal).

WestVirginians can tell you why clean, fresh water is important. They can also tell you why regulation is important. And they can also probably tell you why regulation doesn’t always stop bad things from happening. 

The offending polluter in that case? Yep, declared bankruptcy.

As a former public relations pro, my hat is off to Poly-Met. They’ve done a great job plying the hearts and minds of the good people of the Hoyt Lakes area as well as labor unions with promises of jobs. Yes, the mine says it will provide 350 jobs for 20 years, but shouldn’t careers be longer than that? And is mining the only way to make a living up there? It can’t possibly be the only choice. I know there are a lot of very smart people who live up there, and I know if given a chance, together we could find a way to bring economic opportunity to northern Minnesota that doesn’t extract such a high price from all of us.

An environmental impact statement said the best case scenario is that this type of mining will require at least 500 years of water treatment. 500 years! Who in their right mind believes anyone would be willing to keep that up for even 50 years? And there is not enough “assurancemoney” in the world to ensure clean drinking water long after the mines close or declare bankruptcy, the latter of which seems to be de rigueur.

So, 350 questionable local jobs x 20 years = 500+ years of pollution. That’s the equation. Does it add up for you?

If not, I urge you to join me in telling the DNR to deny permits for Poly-Met and any other mining operation like it from now on. The time for public commentary is here. We have a short window of opportunity to get our voice heard. Comments will be accepted until 4:30 PM CT on Thursday, March 13, 2014.

To learn more, click here – and be sure to personalize your message. There’s a lot more at stake than my head of curly locks.