My mom's death last month hit me harder than I thought it would. I didn't expect it to call up the little girl in me the way it did. And, I have many loving and supportive family and friends in my life, so I could feel myself healing. I was being very conscious and intentional about what my body needed and how best to give that to myself. In fact, this past Friday night, I drove up with my best friend to spend some time in nature at a cabin in the woods. We had a delicious dinner, built a fire, and settled in for the evening. Then Michael called. My black lab, Max, was sick. He had diarrhea then vomiting and could not walk up the stairs after going out to pee.
That night when I arrived at the emergency animal hospital, I learned that Max had a cancerous growth larger than a grapefruit in his abdomen. That's why he was losing weight; something we had noticed in November when we had him washed and cut. The growth had pushed all his organs aside. There was no room for anything in there but the tumor. He was in extreme pain. The vet said this wasn't uncommon in these larger breeds. Said she'd seen it before. Surgery wasn't really an option.
It was without hesitation that I made the decision. Not even a month earlier, I watched my mother suffer in horrible pain. There was no way I would let Max suffer any longer than he had to. So we let our beloved Max go. My friend and loyal companion for more than a decade, I said goodbye.
The hours that followed have been full of tears. The grief of losing Max re-opened the grief of losing my mother. She was the first person I thought to call that night. Then I remembered I couldn't call her. There are so many little seemingly mundane things that remind me of my loss, things that bring up the grief again and again, raw and palpable. This afternoon I went to the grocery store to pick up a few items to bake cookies. Baking. That's a good sign. Anything creative, actually. And baking is creating. Birth, death, and birth again. Not to mention the fact that fresh baked cookies are comforting to me.
So, I pick up my items and wander aimlessly around the store... drifting, really. I notice that's what I'm doing and make the conscious choice to check out and head home. I place my basket on the belt as the cashier totals my purchases. Another young woman begins bagging, and as she places her hand on my gallon of milk she says, "Would you like your milk in a bag?" I freeze. A string of thoughts runs through my brain. You see we've always saved the grocery bags. Years ago our vet advised us that since the dogs used the same spaces over and over to poop, we needed to clean up after them every time to prevent them from getting pinworms. We have been intentionally asking for our gallon of milk to be bagged because we used those bags for the dogs. The topic of dog poop may sound gross to you, and it is, but in that moment I remember Max, and how I wouldn't need the bags for him anymore. I remembered my Max, and I said "yes."
After all, we still have Sasha. She is Michael's dog. Michael got her about 4 years ago because he said, "I want a dog to love me the way Max loves you." That she does. She has been a healing force for both of us, and I am grateful. But, she's not my Max, and I miss him. He would be comforting me in the grief of my mom.
It's late in the evening for me. Tomorrow is an early day back to work after a long weekend. The long weekend where I said goodbye to my beloved friend, Max. As I crawl into bed and lay my head on my pillow, I hear the thump of his body in my memory as he curls up and drops into his place on the floor beside the bed. "Good Night, Sweet Max. Sweet dreams, Buddy. You're the best dog. I love you."