Forbidden snacks and a movie
In weighing whether to play in her hockey games last Friday night and Saturday morning or to stay home for Lucy’s last night and morning, GForce opted to play. She told me she’d prefer time alone with the dog. So after school on Friday, before she left for her evening hockey game, GForce holed up with Lucy in the den, where they watched “Lady and the Tramp” together while GForce fed Lucy many Fritos, as well as a few other forbidden people-food snacks.
On seeing this, Tiger ran upstairs to PW’s office to tell on GForce and Lucy. With his animated meowing and dancing, he clearly conveyed his outrage. However, the content of his complaint was lost in translation, and the breach of protocol continued unabated.
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This is why we can’t have nice things
When our friends TK and GG arrived on Saturday, they brought with them a service of blessing for Lucy that GG created. We lit candles all over the living room and gathered around an excited Lucy (More company! Woo hoo! Hey, look! Have you seen this nasty stuffed toy I eviscerated years ago? Okay, but have you seen it UP CLOSE??) Eventually, Lucy settled back down and we began to reminisce and say prayers. During one of the more tender moments, Tiger jumped up onto the coffee table and sauntered over one of the lit candles.
Yes, he caught on fire.
No, he did not appear to notice.
Yes, the tearful mood was pierced by Lulu shrieking, “HE’S ON FIRE!”
Yes, TK grabbed him and put the fire out immediately.
Yes, the entire house reeked of burned fur for most of the rest of the day.
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A tongue mightier than death
In my previous post, I mentioned that one of Lucy’s, um, features was that she was very licky. This feature drove all of us crazy, and the most frequent daily correction of her behavior over the past nearly 10 years was, “Lucy, NO LICKING.”
As an example, most mornings when she was ready for me to get up, she would come to my side of the bed, rest her chin on the bed near my face, and heave a big dramatic sigh. I would reach over to scratch her neck and chest while she sat there, gamely trying to keep her mouth closed. Invariably, her head would tilt down and tongue would begin to creep out. If I said, “Ah ah!” she’d tuck her tongue back into her mouth. If I didn’t say anything, she’d slowly push her tongue out far enough to touch my hand or my wrist. If I still didn’t say anything, she would leave her tongue there for awhile. If I still didn’t say anything (because this was a game we played), only then would she commence licking.
In my experience, the veterinary protocol for euthanizing an animal is first to sedate the animal, and once the dog is asleep the vet administers the drug that stops the animal’s heart. On Saturday afternoon, as the sedative began to take effect, our licky Lucy began to lick the air. The sleepier she got, the slower she licked. When she was fully sedated, she put her chin on the floor and the tip of her tongue was still sticking out. She commenced snoring, which made us all laugh through our tears. Then we noticed her tongue sticking out and we laughed a little harder. How fitting that Lucy’s determination to lick could not be conquered by sleep, or even death. No wonder we couldn’t train her to not lick while she was with us!
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She is not here
In the last month of Lucy’s life, Tiger was unfailingly attentive to her. Any time she would lie down, he would rush to her side and begin licking her head. We probably should have clued in that something was up with her, but of course only the official diagnosis of cancer from a board-certified veterinarian and the ridiculously fast growth of the lump on her neck made us sit up and take notice.
After Lucy died on Saturday, Lulu went and got Tiger (who made himself scarce after his attempt at self-immolation had failed) and plopped him down next to Lucy’s head. “Here you go, Tige. Take one last lick.”
Tiger refused to look at Lucy’s body. Instead, he craned his neck and appeared to scan the ceiling, looking all around above Lucy’s body. He seemed to be saying, “What is this? I’m not licking that. That is NOT my Lucy. She’s not here.” Even now, remembering that brief moment gives me goosebumps.
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On Sunday night, PW and I sat exhausted on the couch in the den, watching TV. Tiger was fast asleep next to PW. At some point, I turned from the TV to look at him and noticed that he was awake, and that he was sitting next to PW on the couch, with his body turned facing us. And he was staring at us in this frozen-in-time, unblinking way. It was a little unsettling, and grew more unsettling the longer he stared. Several minutes. PW reached over to pat him and he started meowing at her. He didn’t move, but his meowing grew louder and more insistent. We tried talking to him soothingly, but he continued to meow. At one point, PW reached over to pat him again, and this time he turned his back and snarled at her.
When I told this to GForce, and suggested that PW and I deduced that he’s mad that Lucy’s gone, GForce said, “Well, in the animal world, he’s been widowed.”
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I’d like to teach the world to cry
As we were driving to our veterinarian’s office to give them Lucy’s body so it can be cremated, I recalled a similar trip we made not quite 12 years ago with our dog Zoey. And I recalled feeling the same way then as I do now. All these people out in the world, doing whatever they’re doing, oblivious to my shattered heart, make me feel so mad. Tiger’s right: it’s an outrage. Stop all the clocks.
Except in the foremost thought it my head is more like, “What is WRONG with you people? What is WRONG with you people who are playing in the snow? You people who are walking along, talking and laughing. You people who are shopping at the hardware store. You people who aren’t crying. My dog is DEAD!!”
My anger isn’t so much that Lucy is dead. Every living thing dies. I’m angry that my heartbreak, which at times feels so consuming to me, is so relatively tiny that it’s not reflected in the face of everyone I see. In my grief fantasies, I bastardize that Coca-Cola jingle and turn it into “I’d like to teach the world to cry, and sob along with me…” My dog is dead, and there are moments when deep down I want tears streaming down every face I see.
Then, a gift.
Monday morning, on my bus ride to work, one of the two women sitting in the row behind me quietly sobbed through the entire 20-minute ride. She was gasping those quavering clipped breaths that are the heartbroken person’s refrain.
Monday night, at prison, PW and I shared a table with an incarcerated woman who was so overcome by tears while she colored that she put down her markers and sat with her head in her hands while her tears dripped down onto the table.
It felt weird to be comforted by the despair of those two strangers, but their tears were strangely calming. Finally, I felt, the universe is listening. Thank you.
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We got no stinkin’ tide charts
We’ve heard from lots of people expressing their condolences, and wondering how we’re doing. I’ve written before that my own experience of grief is not a series of linear stages. It’s more like the tide. And this grief, with its magnetic pull that draws all other griefs of my life toward it, feels like trying to make my way to the beach through a particularly rough surf. One moment I have solid footing and the water at my back. The next thing I know, it’s all loose rocks churned up by the undertow, and I’m struggling against the water as it rushes back out to sea.
Every time I feel caught up in the tide, I think, “Oh, this is the worst part.” It might be prompted by seeing a tuft of Lucy’s fur. Arriving home to the chasm that is the absence of Lucy’s greeting. Countless other things. In reality, the worst part of death is the way it shatters whatever our routines used to be, and how long it takes our brains and our hearts to process our new reality.
On Saturday evening, we had theater tickets, purchased several weeks ago before we had any inkling of what our day was going to be like. I was at the sink late Saturday afternoon, doing the usual math in my head: “If the show starts at 7:30, we need to leave at 6:45, so we’ll eat by 6, and I still need to shower. So I should walk the dog by…Oh. Right.”
After I re-collected myself, I went up to GForce’s room and said, “Want to take a walk with me? I feel at sea here with no Lucy to walk before we have to leave.” GForce replied, “Sure, mama. Do you need me to wear the leash?”
I was surprised by my belly laugh. Low tide.
When we arrived home late Saturday night, after a spectacular show (the American Repertory Theater’s “Pippin”), PW, GForce, and I ended up huddled together in the kitchen while I sobbed harder than I had all day.
After I re-collected myself, we broke our huddle and headed upstairs to bed after our long and difficult day. I took a deep breath as I looked at the front door and called after GForce and PW, “Anyone want to join me in the front yard for one last pee? For old times’ sake?”
“No thanks, but knock yourself out!”
Smile. Lights out. Low tide.
And so it goes. There’s no timetable for this particular tide we Lucy lovers are in. It is predictable only in the fact of it. Best to just keep swimming.