Grieving a Pet.
It’s more than missing the familiar jingle of a collar or nails tapping across the floor. It’s more than getting through the firsts without him there. It’s living through the inability to do the daily actions I didn’t even realize I did…until he wasn’t there to do them anymore.
To sit up when my alarm goes off and kiss his head before I get out of bed each morning. To unconsciously stop anytime I walk past him to plant a kiss on his head or a quick scratch behind his ear. To randomly tell him I love him, even knowing he was deaf for the last year and a half.
It’s not that I continue to sit up and reach for him every morning, it’s that I sit up and feel an instant tightness because I can’t reach for him. It’s not that I can’t tell him I love him because he hasn’t been able to hear those words for quite some time, it’s that I can no longer make sure he feels the love I have for him.
Grieving him is seeing a sunny day and momentarily stopping myself from celebrating a “perfect day” to take him out for a quick walk, or a day for him to lay next to me while I work. It’s opening the toy chest outside and seeing the soft blanket always kept in there, the one all the kids in the neighborhood know is not a toy but rather his to put on the concrete patio for a comfortable place to snuggle. It’s walking into the pet store and fighting tears the entire time as I remember promising him I’d never go there without him since it’s the only pet-friendly store in the area.
It's sleeping with his favorite toy, because while not an adequate substitute, it's all I have to allow my heart to feel a little closer to him at night. It’s the continued inability to simply finish my last bite of any meal because in my heart it’s still devoted to him.
Logic versus reality is the trickiest part of the grieving process. I’m learning logic so often goes to the wayside as the unpredictable waves of my feelings kick in as my reality. Logically I know the vet left no room for doubt that there was nothing that could be done. That his trachea couldn’t reopen again; that he was in distress simply to get oxygen. Reality, though…the reality is that it feels like I made the choice to allow them to kill him. It feels like his heart, his lungs, his everything else was so incredibly healthy on that 14 ½-year-old dog. And I wonder…every day I wonder…did I fail to ask enough questions? Could there have been a way? He relaxed when I held him and he seemed to be able to comfortably get some air. What if I just held him and never set him down again? Could that have saved him?
What’s in a Name?
When I adopted Kiva in 2008 his name was Rocket. He was scared and unsocialized, hiding behind me if any male was in the room. Not only was the name unfitting, but I wanted to give him a completely new life; a new identity; a new start. I renamed him Kiva—which in Hebrew means sheltered or protected—and that’s exactly what I intended to do.
Up until two weeks ago, I protected him. Every day, he was a priority. I can’t help but wonder…did I fail him in my promise to him? Did I fail to protect him at the very end?
He was with me through the years I finally figured out who I was; who I wanted to be; what I stood for. In so many ways he made me into the person I am.
Through his never-ending snuggles, he gave me the strength to leave a toxic relationship and once again find my independence. Through his committed companionship he helped me recognize that I was ok on my own, but that I was capable of loving so much more than I thought I was. Through his acceptance of my imperfect love, he taught me how to love selflessly. He trusted my love, and because of that, I learned to trust another person’s love.
Amidst a marriage and two kids, he never sulked on the side when some days provided him less attention. Instead, he committed to following at my feet as I checked on sleeping babies or moved over in my lap so I could rock both him
and a child simultaneously. He transitioned from a dog who cowered around any new person to loving his new dad and sisters as each one joined his life.
As the years bore on, he became a dog who just wanted to be in our presence more than anything. If we were outside, he simply needed to be outside and within eyesight to be able to feel our love. He debuted every family Christmas card and knew he was without question a full-fledged family member. Every night he could sense when we would start the bedtime routine for the girls and would quickly claim his spot in Adelyn’s bed to ensure his inclusion in story time. True to his loving nature, he welcomed us home with excitement up until his final day. He loved me during my most unloveable times, and I will forever know I never did anything to desire his unconditional love.
Kiva was a rescue dog and I told people that often. Conversely, as I sit here typing this, I’m finally realizing that while my words were accurate my connotation was wrong. He was a rescue dog. But I didn’t rescue him; he undoubtedly rescued me.