Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Grief is weird.

You hope that with time, you will reach a place where you are able to process memories in a way that only twinges a little, that mostly feels good, that at least makes sense. Having the right amount of distance from something to be nostalgic about it is the greatest blessing, really: yes, there's often a deep longing for something that can never be regained, sometimes there's the tiniest bits of regret, and it's almost always bittersweet. But most of the time with nostalgia, the sweet part of that equation is the way more important one, the one that resonates the most. 

When you lose something, maybe you'll always feel sad about it. But with time, you hope it'll be in a way that means something, in a way that tells you you had something good and man, are you glad for it.

But when you're actually in the moment of grief, instead of being able to process anything in a progressive, healthy manner, everything in your life and in your mind and body just seems to shut down. For most of the past week, there were a few basic things that my body continued to want to do because they are deeply programmed: I wanted to read books, I wanted to watch TV, I wanted to be outside, I wanted to be with Kathy. I went to work when I had to. But otherwise, I lacked the desire (ability?) to do much of anything else. I didn't want to go online. I didn't want to write (even though voices in my head kept telling me I should). I didn't want to talk to anyone, even though I knew there were multiple people thinking about me and concerned about me that I should have talked to. My days not being paced by morning walks, midday walks, evening walks, left me feeling anxious. The house was clean and organized but quiet and empty. I could sleep in more because I didn't have to spend the first thirty minutes of each day taking care of other things, but it only felt weird. Time slogged by.

I felt sad but couldn't necessarily explain the sadness in words or even know if the level of sadness was warranted. It was a sadness that wasn't in any way cathartic. Mainly it just felt annoying. Mostly I spent all my time just really wanting to not be sad anymore.

There is a thing that happens, too, when you watch a living thing deteriorate. When you watch them lose the ability to walk, to relieve themselves appropriately; when they stop finding enjoyment in all the things they used to love. When you see the colors drain from their gums, when they breathe in a way that's not natural. When you feel more bones and lumps all over their body than you're ever supposed to feel. When you watch the bright pink liquid, strangely pretty, going into the vein of their hind leg. When you watch their breath moving their abdomen, up, down, up, down, up, down, until it, surreally, just doesn't anymore.

You look at old pictures, and people tell you to think about all the good memories you had, and you remember when they were so lithe and happy and would run with you sometimes, jump in the air, be generally alive and well and wonderful. And while it does make you so happy to remember these times, suddenly the life of this being you loved is separated into two distinct lines: When They Were Healthy, and When They Weren't. The two stages are like night and day and you can't meld them together into a picture of what their true, full life was. There is no twilight, where the two stages fuse and become complementary and make sense. And all it feels is disorienting.

After a few days, we started a list of our favorite Toby moments, in a separate journal, and it does feel helpful, although I don't know if it would be meaningful to copy them out here. But the one really positive thing that I've felt through this, that has burst through the gloom at moments as some sort of clarity, doesn't necessarily have to do with Toby himself at all, although it also very much does. Looking at photos from when we first brought Toby home to the day we put him to sleep showed me five years of a life that Kathy and I created and nurtured and developed, and a life that was good. We both had crappy jobs when we got him, but we were happy. We still hardly knew anyone here, at least in ways that mattered. We both went back to school while he was there, starting paths that both made us poorer but somehow magically granted us jobs and careers that we now both love. Our house is filled with approximately 30% more furniture than when we first got him, 20% more crap put up on the walls; we have gone through approximately 398734 new rugs until he eventually ruined them all. We went on so many vacations (he patiently waited for us each time); we had so many people visit us (he'd sniff under the closed guestroom door); we went on sunny and rainy road trips with him; had five years of Christmas trees (he pretended they weren't there). We got married. We went through some tough stuff but got through it. He was the first dog we adopted and took care of together as independent adults, and everyone thought we were crazy when we got him, already an old fart back then, but it made sense to us, and while there's no way of ever knowing what his long life was like before we were in it, we like to think he was happiest in our home. 

I think what I mean is this: our home really became a home, once he was in it.