Having a bad few days, emotionally. This week is always tough for me, or at least it has been for the past few years, and this year it seems to be tougher than usual. Today is the anniversary of the day Raven, the first pet Christine and I brought into our home after we got married, became so ill that we had to put her to sleep. The actual anniversary of her death is tomorrow, but honestly the two days blurred together so much it hardly matters. The bad part, the series of worry/concern/fright/sadness/hope/devastation started today.
The last couple of years this hasn't really gotten to me too much: I recognize the day as it approaches, I recall many of the details of the days leading up to that dreadful last evening, I tear up a bit as I look at her ashes, stored in a little black-and-floral tin box on my wife's dresser, her bone-shaped ID tag sitting on top and a picture of her propped up against the mirror behind it. But I seemed to have mostly moved past it. But for some reason this year this loss feels fresh again.
Maybe it's just a side-effect of a tumultuous year. We've had deaths and illness, political and social issues, disasters -- on large and small scales -- around us, mixed in with wonderful times with our family and friends. My professional life has been challenging and the disappointing outcome of the past five years of my career is still very, very fresh. And truth be told, Raven's death and the beginning of my job here in Austin coincide so closely that it's hard to separate the two. So I suppose that's as good a reason as any for why this stings so much this year, this time.
I'd only been working here in Austin for a week. Christine was still back in the North Carolina with the kids, working her ass off to get the house ready to be sold and starting to pack so we could move to Texas by early January. My first day at my new job was October 30th, 2000. Halloween away from home wasn't any fun, but I'd be flying home on Friday so that was good at least.
I don't want to go into all the details. Simply put, she got some sort of bizarre immune system thing that caused her body to attack her own red blood cells. Wednesday night she began vomiting and shaking. Thursday Christine brought her to the vet, who kept her overnight. Friday, I called from the airport to see how everyone was doing, assuming that she'd be fine, and was told by my father-in-law that she wasn't doing so good and Christine had to bring her to an emergency care facility nearby for some aggressive treatments (steroids, white blood cell transfusion) to try un-fuckify her immune system.
20 minutes after I arrived home, late Friday night, we got a call from the vet saying that we should come, quickly, because it was time to let her go. By the time we got there, she had rallied a bit, so the vet said cross your fingers, we might have caught this in time and we should go get some sleep. Next morning we had a fucking garage sale. The vet called and said she was doing better, and he was "cautiously optimistic." Garage sale finished up, we headed inside, and the vet called again and said it was time to end this. There were signs of liver and kidney failure. The treatments weren't going to fix her.
We wanted to be present and to hold her when the shot was administered. Actually, "want" is probably the wrong word, here. It was more like "had" or "couldn't not be" -- it wasn't really a desire so much as a sense of absolute need/responsibility. No real decision-making in the choice. She was our first pet, and was very much that "practice baby" that many couples take on prior to choosing to have children. We doted on her shamelessly.
I remember every single moment of that night, when we had to euthanize her, like it was yesterday. It was absolutely the worst moment of my entire adult life -- a blessing, in a sense (losing a beloved pet is awful, but given some of the other events that can occur in life ...). We brought Scarlett (who is, thankfully still with us, along with new problem child Cinnamon) so we'd have something we loved to hold on to on the way home. I can still feel the way she tensed and then relaxed as the shot was administered. She was so, so weak.
God it was awful, but it was also one of the best moments of my life, because I don't think I've ever been more sure that I was doing the right thing, taking absolute responsibility for something I loved, and bringing peace without concern for my own comfort. But it was like I glimpsed the shadow of what it must feel like to lose a child. Having sensed that, I will never understand how anyone who loses a child can pull their lives back together.
On Monday I headed back to Austin, and on Friday I returned to Raleigh, drove to the vet and retrieved her ashes. It took me 15 minutes to pull myself together enough to be able to safely drive home.
Mood: Very sad
Now Playing: Kate Bush, "Aerial"