It’s been three days, just about 72 hours since I was at the vet’s office seeing Zoe off for her transition back Home. This grief is a whole new kind of grief for me. I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t faced a lot of grief in my life that wasn’t the expected kind, like the passing of a grandparent, or my father-in-law who had dementia for several years. He was like a father to me.
The grief that is still freshest in my mind and the most prominent in my heart is from Shayna’s passing four years ago. One might be tempted to think all grief is the same; au contraire. Grief is as unique as the individuals who experience it. And, I am learning, it is also as unique as the relationship with the one who passes.
When Felton, my father-in-law passed after those years of dementia, it was like a release for him. He hadn’t been the man he was for years before he passed. His body was barely a shell of the man I remembered. Dementia had taken his wit and his intellect, or at least his ability to express them. He got to the point where he was non-verbal before he passed. Releasing him to be was not difficult. Watching him live in a state I knew he would have detested was the agonizing part. I grieved the loss of Felton long before his physical body finally released him.
On the other hand, Shayna passed suddenly. There was no chance to say goodbye; literally. I told her goodnight the night before, and those were my last words to her. I was in shock. Four years plus and am still in shock. There was zero anticipation. That’s the kind of grief that takes your breath away, and you feel like you will never breathe again.
With Zoe, it’s somewhere in between the two. With Zoe, I experienced some anticipatory grief. She was almost fifteen years old. But, she was in good enough shape up until two weeks of her passing that I could remain largely in denial. I could not completely deny that she was nearing the end of what a dog’s body can endure. I could still look at her and see the puppy in her eyes; even eyes clouded by cataracts. I denied her hearing loss. Her inability to get up and down the steps, I passed that off as just a touch of arthritis. I bought glucosamine tablets for her only two weeks before she passed hoping they would fix her problems which were most likely neurological, not arthritis.
In the last couple of weeks, her decline was so rapid that I could not deny it any longer. Two weeks ago yesterday I cried myself to sleep knowing the end was near. But, I had nearly two weeks to come to grips with what I knew was coming. I was able to say goodbye. I saw enough of a decline that I knew it was time for her to go. I thought I was ready.
Yesterday, as I took my morning walk, I walked in silence spending time alone with my grief evaluating it. In these past 72 hours, I’ve alternatively felt like I am doing OK. I’ve even thought, “Maybe it’s over.” I’ve rationalized this. “Zoe was old. Dogs don’t live that long. You knew when you got her this day would come.” So, since I’ve intellectualized it, I shouldn’t have to deal with the emotion.
Then a few minutes later, I’ll cry out in agony when I realize that such an essential part of my life is over. The grief comes in waves, just as it did with Shayna. Somehow it’s different though.
You might think, “Of course it’s different. Shayna is a human, and Zoe is a dog.” While that is very true and I would not say that my feelings for the two are the same, my love for Zoe is pure and unconditional, just as hers for me. The affection for a dog is real love, and with genuine love comes genuine grief. With Shayna, I mourned not only the loss of Shayna but of all her potential. Shayna was supposed to get her driver’s license, graduate high school, go to college, get married. Missing all of that, even four years later, compounds the grief of the loss of her being here.
Zoe wasn’t going to go anywhere. Her only job in life was to accept our love and return it to us. Giving and receiving love is something she did a stellar job of for her entire life with us. I knew that Zoe would be with me the rest of her days no matter how long or short that time was. With Zoe, there is no missing her potential. She did everything she came here to do. The only thing is I would have liked longer with her. Other than that, I have no complaints.
Someone sent a comic to me yesterday with a fourteen-year-old dog, coincidentally enough, tell his owner it was time for him to leave. The owner said he wasn’t ready. As I talked to Zoe in my head this morning, I told her that I wasn’t prepared. I heard her say, “You wouldn’t be ready if I had lived to twenty. I was fourteen. What did you expect?” She was right. I had no reply.
Another difference is that when Shayna passed, people reached out to us. Neighbors came over and brought casseroles. We got sympathy cards. When a pet passes, people are sympathetic. But, the support isn’t the same. We’re expected to get over it on our own and quickly.
Here I am on another grief journey. I am the guy who wrote the book on grief. It’s not that I thought I had learned everything there is to know. I am learning even more. I am learning yet another kind of grief. I am exploring it. I wonder how it will change me. Earth school continues. I guess this is the next class.