Sometimes there is a loss that leaves a void in your heart. This void isn’t the worst kind of loss: the loss of a parent, a sibling, or child. Rather, it’s the loss of a four-legged companion with whom you shared a lifetime. We suffered that kind of loss in my home this past weekend. It’s left a void in my heart.
If you are a pet lover, you understand. If you are not, you have my permission to skip over this post
I’ve had pets most of my life. And since pets lives are short, I have outlived many pets. There are some pets, though, whose presence comes to mean far more than just companionship. My miniature schnauzer, Nemo, was one such pet. I’m including a snippet of one of my morning pages that explains a little of why Nemo’s presence was so very special in my life.
Morning Pages 3/17/12: As I write this, Nemo’s labored breathing fills my ears. Tears well up and my heart aches. I’m losing him. I feel guilty for the pain I think he must be suffering. Yet, he still eats, he still plays with his toys, and he still guards the yard against silly squirrels and crazy cats, although all of those things are accomplished much more slowly than in the past. I know he doesn’t know he’s dying. I know that I’m projecting my feelings onto him, my faithful companion, my buddy. His liver and his heart are failing him. Am I failing him?
Eleven years ago DH was recovering from open heart surgery complicated by a stroke. I’d been fortunate enough to have sick time to stay with him for nearly six weeks. But time was running out. DH was hurting and depressed. I could barely motivate him to get up and move about the house. I would have to return to work soon and I was certain he would get worse alone in the house. Then, two weeks before I had to return to work, I brought a tiny miniature schnauzer puppy home. I named him Nemo.
DH couldn’t believe I had been so mean. He argued that he would never be able to care for the puppy while I was at work. I put a gate on the front porch. Now DH could let the puppy out on the porch to do his business. In the evening I would hose off the offending output. DH argued that he couldn’t bend over to pick the puppy up. I taught Nemo to jump onto the couch on command. And too soon, I had to return to work.
DH spent the days on the recliner sofa. When he couldn’t bend over, he played ‘footsie’ games with the puppy. When he napped, little Nemo curled up in his lap and napped, too. And every few hours, DH would shuffle out onto the porch and sit while the puppy sniffed and circled until he found just the right spot to relieve himself.
Over time, the puppy grew into a handsome, sweet-natured dog. DH regained strength playing fetch and taking Nemo on walks. While DH’s physicians, physical therapists, nor I could penetrate his pain, fear, and depression, the pup snuck into his heart. I firmly believe that Nemo saved DH’s life.
Over the next few years, we bought two more pups: a mutt and a Yorkie. Nemo adjusted fantastically. He tolerated the pup who tugged out the hairs of his beard and the pup who hid all the toys. He groomed the babies and woofed at them to come in with him. They are inseparable.
A bad liver is causing his heart to fail. His failing heart can’t pump enough blood so he breathes fast and heavy. He’s having syncopal episodes or fainting because he’s not getting enough oxygen-carrying blood to his brain. Sometimes these episodes look like seizures. Medications can only help for so long.
I’m trying to enjoy the time we have left. He still greets me at the door, begs for treats, and he brings me his favorite toy which he holds in his mouth until I command him to ‘leave it.’ It’s a game he plays for an extra ‘good boy.’ I pet him and tell him what a good boy he is. And I pray that God takes him gently when it’s time, but not just yet, please, because my heart is breaking.
EDITED TO ADD:
4/7/2012: I wrote the above paragraphs when I was feeling very selfish. I couldn’t imagine my life without Nemo in it. I couldn’t say goodbye. I wasn’t ready. Unfortunately, Nemo’s quality of life declined dramatically. His chest heaved in an effort to get more oxygen. Sick as he was, his sweet temperament never changed.
As I watched his health decline, my selfishness vanished. He would pick up his toy in preparation to go outside, but had to drop it so he could breathe. He would stand beside DH or me, his head against our legs because he couldn’t rise up on his hind legs to beg for a petting. He tried so hard to continue to be the loving companion he had always been but his physical heart simply could not perform the way his spiritual heart wanted to.
We said our final goodbyes this weekend. He laid his head in my hand and I stroked him as he left this world. It was beyond hard. My heart is full and empty at the same time. I have a void in my heart, in my life. Words fail me.
And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!– Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
In loving memory: Nemo (2001-2012)