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.

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