Sunday, October 7, 2012

Grief Wrapped in Five Pounds of Adorable Fluff

This was a rough week.

When we returned from vacation, Other Brother returned our Toy Pomeranian, Sassy, to our care.  For 13 years, we have shared custody of Sassy who had been our mom’s love of her life.  During their short time together, Sassy was a permanent fixture in the crook of Mom’s arm loving her and spoiling her unabashedly.

Miracle Dog (Photo Credit - Matt Stevens)
Mom died when Sassy was just three years old and the connection they had was felt the night Mom left us.  I even wrote about it in Forever a Caregiver:  

“I crawl back into bed, lie on my side and curl my knees up to my chin. I pull the blanket around me, closing my eyes to sleep again.

“In what seems like just a minute, I wake up to the neighbor’s dog barking and Sassy’s collar jiggling. I glance at the clock and it’s been an hour since I talked with Mom. I sit up to look at her and notice she is not breathing. I wait for a minute to be sure, listening in the quiet stillness of the house, not wanting this moment to be here yet. Hoping I am dreaming or not listening carefully enough. I wake up Rich so he can help me decide if Mom is breathing or not."

I believe Sassy knew when Mom was leaving us.

One of Mom’s final wishes was for Sassy to live with Other Brother.  Her thinking was that we had too many animals at our house already and her Sassy wouldn’t be given the level of attention to which she had become accustomed. 

That, and apparently, we didn’t pick up the other dog’s “business” in our backyard often enough.  Sassy needed full-time attention and a pristine backyard, according to Mom.

My Sister-in-Law was none too pleased about this deathbed wish.  She tells me if she had one or two more days with Mom, she would have been able to change her mind. 

It was not to be so Sassy lived for many years with Other Brother and his two kids while Sister-in-Law and the little “Princess” (as we eventually dubbed her) tolerated each other.  Our home became the Summer Home for Princess Sassy when Other Brother and Family vacationed. 

There was no shortage of love and attention given to this five pound of gorgeous fluff from either household.

Eventually, Sassy came to live with us full-time.  It happened gradually and Other Brother and I were convinced Mom would be fine with the arrangement (last wishes, notwithstanding).  Sassy was the boss of our house and let our Black Lab know that when he joined our household.  (Watching an 80 pound dog quiver and sit with his back turned to the little Pom he just met staring him down, was quite the site.)

Sassy turned sixteen this summer and was starting to show her age.  She had lost her hearing, had eye problems and, at the beginning of summer, was diagnosed with a collapsed trachea.

Sassy was no stranger to miracles, though, and we hoped we could keep her for a few more years.  Just four years earlier she had a terrible stroke and the vet was convinced she wouldn’t pull through.  In fact, we arrived at the clinic thinking we would have to put her down to keep her from suffering and she popped out of the oxygen cage as if nothing had happened. 

She was our miracle dog.

When we were on our recent vacation, Sassy stayed with Other Brother and his family.  They were happy to spend time with her again (yes, even SIL).  When we returned, Other Brother said Sassy had developed a cough with in the last few days.  We took her to the vet who gave her medication which seemed to help.  Within a week, however, she started to go downhill – fast.  She stopped eating and drinking and looked awful. 

We took her to our regular vet who diagnosed pneumonia and kidney failure.  If we were going to consider extreme measures, she would need a 24 hour ICU.  We whisked her to the clinic which gave her the miracle four years earlier and hoped for yet another miracle.  I didn’t want to be greedy and take too many miracles but this dog meant so much to all of us. 

Please, please, please give Sassy another miracle.

While we were pleading for a miracle, I know Mom was making a plea of her own:


Holding Sassy while she labored to breathe, even while on oxygen, was heartbreaking.  Instead of pleading for a miracle of more years, I wanted days.  My daughter, who was still on vacation and in the middle of the Atlantic, wouldn’t be home for four days.  My daughter, who I dubbed Dr. Doolittle when she was three years old because of her ability to connect with animals, loved Sassy so much and I knew how heartbroken she would be. 

Could Sassy hang on for a few more days?  Not without suffering which none of us wanted.  We made the gut-wrenching decision to let Sassy go and to end her suffering.  Other Brother assured me it was the right decision. 

My husband and I held Sassy in her final moments and, while we both were crying, I became wracked with sobs.  They surprised me with their intensity yet I had no intention of stopping them.

The sobs continued and I recognized them as the grief for losing a dog I loved with all my heart. 

I recognized the sobs as the grief for losing a connection to Mom which I had held on to for 13 years.

I recognized the sobs as the grief I felt for not being able to save my Dad from his own kidney failure. 

The sobs were heavy and loud and I made no attempt to quiet them.  This grief needed to be heard and I wasn’t standing in its way. 

I let the sobs come because they were doing me no good bottled up inside. 

The sobs rode their course yet my grief is still with me.

When my daughter arrived home, I dreaded telling her the news but I did get through it.  It was her turn to let grief envelop her. 

We’ve shared more tears and hugs and memories and will continue to do so as the days and months – even years – go by.   

For now, I’m comforted knowing Mom is happily reunited with her beautiful, spoiled princess. 

I also realized Sassy did have one more miracle in her and that was to allow me my grief.  For that, I will always be grateful to the adorable five pounds of fluff.


Kathy Lowrey said...

Oh my heart just broke :(

It's so hard to lose a fur family member. Lots of people don't understand the "pet" connection.
Those balls of fluff and litterers of poop, depositors of pee and givers of "gifts" become our family member, companion, friend, confidant, security, and as you said connections to the past.
I am glad Sassy didn't suffer long and I am most happy that she allowed you to grieve like you needed to. It's been a long time coming.
She had a very wonderful life and you and other brother saw to it.

How did Robert take the news?

Thinking of you my friend

mem said...

Oh, my heart is broken for you, and my tears are flowing. Pets are definitely family. I hope your heart will begin to lift from its sadness soon.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Thank you so much, Mara. Pets are indeed part of our family and so much a part of us and our hearts. I so appreciate your thoughts.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Kathy, Oh, yes - the gifts! We've had many cats in our lives who have gifted us with all sorts of things (although now, all our cats are indoor cats so we just get drooled on and purred over).

I told Robert yesterday (there's something about breaking this sort of news over the phone that just isn't possible for me). He stays pretty even emotionally (due to the meds) but he said, "Ohhhhh, that's too bad." I told him Sassy was with Mom in heaven and he paused for a minute and then said, "Sassy was a Christian so, yes, she's with Mom."

This struck me as pretty darn funny but I kept my giggles to myself. Robert says the darndest things sometimes!

Thank you so much for your thoughts and understanding. It means the world to me.

Judy Stone-Goldman said...

I read this breathlessly, following the story to what was the inevitable end. What a beautiful combination of love, heartfelt grief, and even humor (your gift is, of course, to cope with life's difficulties in a way that make them seem quite manageable and even filled with some good things). I have no doubt your mother would have been pleased with the love and honor bestowed on little Sassy.

As for your experience of grief, you embraced it so fully, I am in admiration and appreciation that you shared what can be one of the most difficult life challenges of all.

Judy Stone-Goldman
Where the Personal and Professional Meet

Heidi Alberti & Atticus Uncensored said...

ok, I knew this would be a tough one. My breaks with yours. I know how deeply we love our dogs --- especially our miracle dogs.

Unable to leave an articulate comment...this just hits to close to home.

Many hugs!

Heidi (& Atticus)