February 14 we found out that our dog was dying. I came home from the Vet that afternoon, sat down with Humphrey sleeping beside me, and wrote my heart out about the feelings I was experiencing.
I’ll be honest. It was a long eight weeks. It was a season that I experienced so many emotions, ones I didn’t even know I was capable of feeling. I closed off my heart and truthfully felt a lot of bitterness and anger. I expected my friends to know exactly what I was feeling and thinking and I was longing for someone to come and sit with me through my pain; but I didn’t realize that most didn’t know. I told some of my girlfriends, “I need you now more than ever,” and I’m glad that I finally shared that honesty with them.
But still—it all boiled down to the fact that there wasn’t one right way to grieve, and I shouldn’t have expected people to understand what my stages were and when they were happening. There are five ‘known’ stages of grief that many people are familiar with:
A day or two after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was putting clothes away in my son’s dresser. I remember it was nearing the kids’ bedtime and they were bickering, fighting, yelling, and fussing. I very quickly LOST IT. I fell to my knees in Pierson’s bedroom and just openly ugly-girl cried, sobbing loud, painful tears. Our kids silenced, and they too began crying. No one likes to see Mom upset, and it’s not often that moms cry (at least this kind of cry.) The denial and anger and bargaining happened all at once. “WHY, GOD?!?!” I cried. “WHY!”
The weeks went on and our very sweet old dog began to show further signs of weakening. There was lots of tripping, back end collapsing, and at the very end, his breathing became gurgled and muffled. We had a friend come to the house in the afternoon while we were at work and she texted me. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she told me he was having a really hard time walking back up the deck stairs and that he just looked ‘different.’ My husband called our vet, who after listening to the things we were experiencing, said that he truthfully guessed that ‘it was time.’
Asa called me and said he was bringing the kids home, and I got permission to come home too. I don’t even remember a lot of what I was feeling that day, but I do know that my sadness wasn’t showing itself, and acceptance was trying to push its’ way through. I took a video of him lying on our hardwood floor, front arms spread wide because of the way the chest tumor made him uncomfortable; and I just talked to him. I began to carry on like it was any other day—I did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, put clothes away, folded laundry, vacuumed the first floor, and just kept moving. We were on a count down. Our vet was coming to our house in a matter of hours to help us decide if this was really IT. If it was time.
Asa told me, “Ashley, it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to cry.” But I couldn’t. Denial hit me like a ton of bricks all over again and I just didn’t want to face reality. “I’m not ready to cry yet,” I said. And I kept moving.
We were able to take Humphrey for a walk. He fetched a tennis ball the best he could, and we took photos with him in the field where we walked daily. We came home and he ate a ton of turkey lunchmeat. He caught it happily in his mouth, and then he lied down. The gurgling in his throat was getting worse, and he wanted to chew the tennis ball, but he was tired. We talked with the kids a LOT. We told them they did not have to be near Humphrey when the vet came, when we were saying goodbye. We encouraged them to ask questions, to hug our pup, and to feel whatever they were feeling. Our son was six and our daughter five; both have never experienced anything like this and frankly, with an animal, a furry family member—neither had we.
Our vet walked in with his wife, and as I looked up at him, I became suddenly completely overwhelmed with one feeling: I’M NOT READY.
Our son went up to his bedroom and quietly closed his door. I told Reese that she didn’t have to be by us, but she could if she wanted to. She went to check on her brother, and then came back down with us. Our Golden Retriever, Elsa, was lying next to Humphrey on his dog bed and I swear to you she never budged. She’s not a dog who enjoys cuddling, and in all her life she never lied as close to Humphrey as she did then. Humphrey never tried to get up. He never barked at the doctor as he walked in our front door. And as much as I did not WANT to admit it, I knew.
It was time.
The vet prayed before he got started. I wept harder. He asked us if we were ready. Asa hugged Humphrey and said yes. I on the other hand, yelled so loudly, “I’m NOT ready!” I hugged our sweet boy, who was just asleep at this time, and in my head begged God to help us be okay. My husband gently said, “Ash, we’re as ready as we’re ever going to be.” The doctor didn’t budget or make a move until I agreed, and I appreciated his patience and empathy. And then, just like that, our dog was gone.
There is no right way to grieve. And time doesn’t have an agenda.
I read a quote by William Shakespeare that says this:
”Time is very slow for those who wait. Very fast for those who are scared. Very long for those who lament. Very short for those who celebrate. But for those that love, time is eternal.”
The love you have for someone you are grieving is eternal. When they carried Humphrey out through our front door, it felt like the most morbid, questionable thing I’ve ever done. And at the same time, it was a conundrum. Humphrey wasn’t Humphrey anymore, and I knew this. I look back at photos (and boy do I have a lot, thank you, Jesus) and remember how stoic and strong and HEALTHY he used to be. The Humphrey on April 15, the day we said goodbye, tried hard to still be that, but just couldn’t anymore. His soul lives on, as does our love. He will never be replaced, he will never be forgotten. And your person (or pet) won’t either.
Are you doing okay? I don’t know what struggles you are going through, but I pray you aren’t facing them alone. Secretly I wanted people checking in on me every single day…and that just didn’t happen. And that’s OKAY, because I learned that in my silence, no one could have known that’s what I wanted. I had my husband, my mama, and a few friends who knew. And looking back, that’s probably exactly who I needed. Just because you’re depressed today, does not mean you will be depressed tomorrow. And just because you feel acceptance, doesn’t mean that denial and anger won’t overcome you all over again. Grief is a cycle. A long, humbling, restorative cycle, and I pray you don’t have to face it alone. I believe I will feel whole again. And I know that you, sweet friend, will too.