Chapter 43 – The Days After

I made her final arrangements (cremation, so we could be buried together someday) and spent the day and next two nights at my friend Maria’s house.  I didn’t want to be alone.  My dad usually spends the summers in Pittsburgh and stays at the townhouse where Gabby and I used to live. He came up from Florida a few days early due to Gabby’s passing, so soon I would have family with me. That meant a lot.

This was a new kind of loss for me.  I had lost people before and some, like my grandparents, were especially painful losses.  But losing Gabby was something entirely new, because of the way we bonded, because I was her caretaker and she lived with me, and because we spent so much time together. She was so sweet, childlike and innocent, and completely and totally devoted. It was a special kind of love between us.  I don’t have a wife or family of my own, and other single men with close ties to their dogs told me it was by far the most painful and hardest thing they ever dealt with.  I knew when the day came it would be the same for me, and it was. 

I knew I would never have another dog, either now or after Beni is gone. People still try to convince me otherwise, or tell me that my mind will change someday with time. It won’t. I know my heart better than anyone, and they are playing with its most sensitive spot. I know what is best for me. I had my soulmate dog in Gabby, and there would never be another.

Though I was stricken with blinding, soul-wrenching grief, I knew this wasn’t unfair or a tragedy, given her age and the life she had.  Up until the end she had all her teeth but one, she could see, hear, and had use of all four legs.  She could have been paralyzed in the hindquarters when she was seven, and then I expected her to live seven more years. She actually had ten and a half more years, and they were good years. So many dogs have it much worse. They die young or in accidents, or lose use of their senses, or they suffer. When people saw Gabby and I told them she was 17, they were in shock at how good she looked and the way she acted.  She had a good, full life, and I knew it.

I started to reflect on what it must be for people who have lost children, and people like Vice President Biden, who lost a wife and infant daughter, and then recently, a beloved son in his 40s.  My heart went out to them, thinking how painful that must be.  I always knew I would likely outlive Gabby, but parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children. 

Despite the pain that felt like it would never end, I was still glad that my mom gave her to me that fateful day, even if I would feel this pain with the same intensity every day for the rest of my life.  Not only because of the happiness she brought to me and those around us, but because from the moment she was handed to me, she was safe.  So many dogs don’t receive proper care, are ignored, abused, tied outside for their entire lives, or dropped at the shelter when they are no longer wanted or convenient.  Some even get left by the side of the road and abandoned. I couldn’t bear the thought of that happening to that sweet little soul, and if someone else took her home, that might have eventually been her fate. You never know.

Messages in my mind

The day after she passed, I was driving from Maria’s house going out for lunch and I started getting bombarded by images from her life, images with messages imbedded in them. The messages were not exactly in words, it’s like the images were meant to the messages themselves. Like Chinese writing, for example.  It was surprising, and unbidden. I felt like I was being addressed in a combination of Don, Dad, and Master.  If it was her spiritually communicating with me, perhaps that is how she viewed me, as a combination of those three concepts: friend, father, leader. I will put it all in words the best I can.

“Remember how I used to run up the steps of the townhouse?  I would fly up and down them, with no effort at all!  I couldn’t do that anymore.  Remember how you would throw the ball so high in the air that it was just a dot, and I would track it in the air, put myself in position and snag it out of the air after one bounce?  I couldn’t do that anymore.  Remember when I could jump up and down off the sofa, and on and off our bed, so I could be with you?  I couldn’t do that anymore.”

“Remember when I would appear in the entry to the kitchen, with a gleam in eye and a toy in my mouth, ready to play?  I hadn’t done that in such a long time… and the way I would drop the ball in the tub for you when you showered, and you would bounce it off the toilet seat so I could header it back into the tub?”

“Remember when I was young and strong, and my fur was clean and so shiny?  Now you had to bathe me a lot because sometimes I got pee in my fur. I was such a picky eater now! Before, if you put dry dog food in my bowl, I was happy. Now you were buying restaurant meals for me to encourage me to eat.  It was so much work, and I never wanted that for you… I know why you did it, and I held on as long as I could. But I couldn’t do it anymore.”

“I was Gabby, and I was the bomb!  I was a strong and bright and noble little dog! I NEEDED to be Gabby. But I couldn’t be Gabby anymore. “

Whether it was her or my subconscious talking to me, I knew it was true.  I had forgotten those things.  In creating this website, seeing the pictures and videos, I was reminded again of how amazingly athletic she was, even up until she was 15 years old. She had gone downhill so slowly and gradually since then, and I was so happy to have her with me and still having fun, that I used to think her pushing her big Kong around was amazing.  It was amazing for a dog that was almost 18 years old, but it was nothing compared to what she used to do.

Another message I received as these stream of images were hitting me… she was really happy, and the reason for her happiness was me.  It was me, just me and nothing else.  It had never crossed my mind in the past that I was the reason she was so happy.  As Kim once said, “Gabby is the happiest dog I have ever seen.”  Kim said that, and she had seen a lot of dogs in her lifetime. I never thought highly enough about myself to think I could ever make anyone or anything so happy. 

The next day when I woke up I had to pee really bad.  I even got a message then!

“I felt like that ALL THE TIME.  My bladder was stretched out and always full from drinking so much, and from the fluid you gave me subcutaneously.  It sucked!”

I had not even considered what it must have been like to process all that fluid and pee it out, how uncomfortable it must have been at times as she tried to hold it.  I was focused on her 1.8 creatinine level and all her other good kidney test results that she maintained up to and including her last blood panel. I’m sure dogs feel discomfort with a full bladder, too.

She had a good run up until the last three weeks of her life, so I don’t think I tried to keep her here too long with everything I did for her.  But she wasn’t bouncing back this time, and it was just her time. She was ready to go, no matter how much she loved me.

Now I had the separation anxiety. She was not here, I did not know where she was, and I did not know when I would see her again. I felt unknowing and helpless, and desperate to get to her. I imagined what it must have been like for her, with a canine’s level of understanding.  I’d have dug through carpet with my bare hands myself if I thought it would bring us together again.