Mother never explained death to me, so you can imagine at the age of 41 how naive I must feel.
Birth, of course, was an entirely different matter. She didn’t have any problem giving me explicit details of how my brother was conceived (clinically) and what was going to happen when she went into labor. She was a nurse by training so it may not have seem that odd to her to explain to her six year old where babies came from. I took this knowledge to my Catholic school playground where within days of my new education, I told my class the vivid details of human birth and dismissed the old trope of a stork and such. Mother was called in to reign in her precocious offspring and to stop scaring the children with such wild stories.
Death. Death was a whole ‘nother matter.
People who died in my family were so far removed, I didn’t understand the concept of what it meant to die until nearly high school. If a death would occur, it would be my mother or one of her sibling’s aunts, uncles, cousins, or high school friend they hadn’t seen in a decade. People I knew in name only or had met once or twice. My paternal grandparents were well into their 80s when I came along, and my maternal grandmother had died right after I was born. I did not attend my first funeral until I was 24 when my grandfather died in 1996.
We had no pets growing up, except for fish who seemed to die as rapidly as they were replaced. Well, that’s not entirely true. My brother and I had kittens we had rescued after we had moved to Grand Rapids in the late 1980s. A few weeks after we had them, my mother had accidentally stepped on of them, paralyzing it. She threw the still living cat into the apartment dumpster, where it was rescued shortly after by a neighbor who took it to have it humanely put down.
After a few years of apartment living and Mother’s boyfriend hopping, we finally landed in the house on Paris Ave., a 1920s craftsman house not unlike Throbbing Manor. We somehow gained ownership of a Pomeranian puppy, named Max, that became beloved by my brother, and a Maine Coon cat named Chester, who was my cat until I moved out a few years later. Max was hit by a car within months of his arrival when he escaped out the front door one day. Chester became Mother’s cat and best friend after I moved out and remained that way until she put him down a few years ago at the ripe old age of 20.
So while I had relationships with pets and people and rationally knew dying existed, yet death was often removed from my day to day life so I had no coping skills when it did happen. While I would grieve when these pets or long lost friends were lost, the grieving never last long. It was more the loss of a life rather than a loss of something I loved.
Shortly after we moved into Throbbing Manor, Wednesday had a seizure. Within a couple of months, she would have a few more seizures and shortly after, benign lumps would be found on her spleen and removed.
The seizures, idiopathic in nature, had no warning signs. The last one she had was last summer while we were up at Throbbing Cabin. I had spent the night with her in my arms, tucked in like a baby, while the seizure did its thing. This was a growing concern as they would increase as she got older. She also had benign fatty deposits on her body, that while not fatal, could become more cosmetically problematic as she aged. Prednisone could destroy her liver. She was a ticking time bomb.
In the three years since the first seizure, she would come perilously close to death many times only to have a miraculous recovery. And in those three years, I grieved numerous times over when I thought it was time to let her go. I knew this was coming and we were living on borrowed time. That’s the funny thing about pets – they are fine until they are aren’t. They are not like humans in there is a progression with an illness. It would just hit you fast like a truck.
Against the prediction of the vet, Wednesday rebounded when we upped her Prednisone during her last week. But I knew this was a temporary fix. A very minor temporary fix. Even on the upped dose, she had maybe three months left before her liver would fail, or she slip on the wood floor and break a bone and not feel it, or something equally worse. She had had no control over her facilities and no feeling in her back legs. She would lie happily in her own shit and had no idea she had defecated herself.
The vet had told us this appointment was not a permanent appointment. We could cancel it any time. We came tantalizingly close to canceling the appointment during the week as Wednesday seemed to improve, but I knew it was time. I could bear cleaning up her shit and piss, but I could not bear the thought of her being in pain or her liver going out or her breaking something, a real fear TheHusband and I often discussed. We came even closer to canceling when the weather shifted and we were slated to get 5-8″ of snow Saturday morning.
We agreed Wednesday had attempted to make a deal with the devil.
They had us in a private room, and I could hold her or they could take her away. In respect for her, I wanted to be there when she died. They put a catheter in her paw with a sedative, so when they brought her back to me, she was snoring in the vet’s arms. Two shots would be injected vis the catheter, the drugs whose names I cannot remember, but her death would be peaceful. And quick.
Within seconds of the second drug was injected, I felt her last breath leave her body. I was petting the unicorn bump on her forehead when she died and I remember gasping in the fastness of it all. One minute she was in my arms, pawing at my hand to get comfy on my lap, and the next she was frolicking in the fields over the rainbow bridge.
TheHusband, supportive of my decision, was a pessimist about Wednesday’s illnesses over the years. He warned he was prepared for her death because he had many pets over the years who died and while it was sad and painful, it would be okay. It was just a pet.
Except, it didn’t work out that way. He cried when I cried, and if he cried, I cried. He panicked when we got to the vet because he didn’t know we would be with Wednesday when she died. He thought we would hand her over and leave. He choose to support me by staying in the private room with us, but he did not watch her die. And I was okay with that.
We had packed up all the unused food and medicine and donated it to the vet for families and pets who could use it. We had decided to keep Wednesday’s dog bed and food/water bowls in case we opt to get another dog later in the future.
The drive home was somber.
My brother and his girlfriend picked us up shortly after we got home and we went on a all day drinking spree across the city. Four pubs in nine hours, we came home late Saturday night with our hangovers starting and our sadness permeating our actions.
Our sleep was broken Saturday night, partially from drink and partially from unsurety. There was no 20lb lump keeping us apart and we were stumbling on how to cope. Sunday morning brought awkwardness. No dog to walk meant no we didn’t have to jump out of bed when our eyes opened.
After my allergy testing in the fall of 2011, and discovering I was allergic to lots of things including dogs, which forced our hand to be more vigilant in how our laundry was done. Comforter was steam cleaned by the dryer, along with the pillows, on a regular basis. Sheets rotated at least weekly, but more like bi-weekly. I was acclimated to Wednesday’s dander but coupled with the beefed up cleaning schedule, I was still plagued with the occasional hives and itchies.
It was the weekend, of course, for us to do all of those things. TheHusband gathered up all of Wednesday’s beds and steam cleaned them and packed them away. We washed her leash and harness, along with her food and water bowls, and packed those away as well. Her stuffed pug, the one she got when she was young pug, was washed and will now live on pillow mountain, where Wednesday would rightfully be.
I put Wednesday’s name tag on an extra long chain so it would be close to my heart.
We spent Sunday in enlonged periods of silence as we worked. There was no herding to the bedroom when it was time for bed, no impatient waiting at the top of the stairs as we came and went from the basement. No truffle hunting in the kitchen for the crumbs that may have fallen. No prolonged staring that was her way of begging as we ate. Dinner was a silent affair.
I felt lonely while TheHusband watched football in the Rumpus Room and I was pecking at this piece in the bedroom. I fondled her name tag a lot and tried not to cry as there was no 20lb lump who threw herself on my left side when she could get the chance. No bed hog who would plant her self between my legs at night, trapping me in.
TheHusband is taking her death more deeply then I had anticipated and I suspect in the next few weeks, it will be worse for us both. He is beginning to comprehend his constant companion, the living thing he spent 24 hours a day with, is no longer going to be around. He asked me to take down the house rules we had on our fridge, which included Wednesday specific instructions, because it was too painful to look at. Tonight I caught him trying to pet the air while we were snuggled up in bed and then we both cried.
She is everywhere in this house. I can see her in my mind’s eye at the locations I expect her to be and I can hear the tapping of her nails against the wooden floor as she followed me everywhere. I can see her drunken sailor walk speed up when she saw me come through the door at night and the roll over onto the floor for belly rubs when TheHusband stuck his foot near her.
To work through the grief, TheHusband started writing Wednesday’s obituary, beginning with her birth in Sparta in 510 BCE and so far, up to when she wrote Pug and Pugjudice. Additional chapters will be forthcoming.
She was the most interesting pug in the world. And she will never be forgotten.