Grief, Absence, and Loss

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

More than three weeks have passed since Taquito, my little white Chihuahua, passed away.

happytaco

He wasn’t even 12 years old but complications from congestive heart failure necessitated us making the tough decision to put him to sleep on July 20th, 2018.

My husband and I adopted him in December 2006, a few months before our wedding. He was under ten weeks old, truly a baby, and 100% dependent on us from the moment we took him home. He saw us as his mom and dad – of that I have no doubt.

In every way I can define or understand parenthood, Taquito WAS (is) my son.

I raised him. I cried over him. I loved him unconditionally.
I still do.

I have struggled to find words to capture my grief. It comes in waves, crashing over me, blocking out the world. My husband and I vacillate between moments of joy –remembering all the cute things he used to do– to crushing sadness, recognizing the great void left in our lives with his absence.

Several friends have suggested we adopt another animal, thinking the distraction will somehow ease the pain. While I know another pet is inevitable in our future, neither Carlos nor I can consider it now. His presence is still in our home. We still catch the smell of him on his favorite blankets. We find his hair on every item of clothing. I used to grab a lint roller; now I treasure every little piece of him that remains.

Sometimes, Carlos and I swear we hear the tinkling of his collar coming down the stairs.

Taco2

There is so much guilt associated with the loss of a pet.

Did we do everything possible?

He saw five different Veterinarian practices over the course of six months, including two Cardiologists. His final week, we spent over $3,500 toward palliative and emergency care, trying to reverse the rapid advancement of his heart murmur and fluid in his lungs, both of which were non-existent six months prior.

We had never neglected his medical care at any point in his life, often joking that his health insurance was better than ours. We took him to the Vet religiously every 3-6 months, never ignoring a symptom, so his diagnosis of congestive heart failure, a stage five heart murmur, and fluid in his lungs initially in April stunned us. From that day forward, he went to the Vet no less than once every three weeks.

In Taquito’s final week, he spent five out of seven days in a Veterinary office, receiving the best care possible. Carlos drove almost four hours round-trip at law-breaking speeds to get an oxygen machine, allowing Taquito to come home with us for his last few days without suffering.

Should we have put him down sooner? Waited longer? Could he have gotten better?

Once the third doctor in a row confirmed his heart condition was fatal and his condition rapidly deteriorating, we made the tough decision to put Taquito down. Our plan was to use an in-home euthanasia specialist, the canine equivalent of Hospice. We planned to do it Sunday, July 22nd and made all the arrangements with the best practitioner in Central Florida. We were going to have “Taquito’s Best Day Ever” that Sunday, taking him to Starbucks for a puppacino, the dog park, and serving him the best dinner possible. Our whole day (well, really, the entire weekend) was going to be dedicated to all the things he had loved in his too-short life.

Taquito had shown improvement Wednesday-Thursday, so we debated pushing it back further, but were assured his condition would relapse eventually and not to trust the good signs we were seeing. To our deep disappointment, the relapse came sooner and far more rapid than we could predict, his health declining so fast that we moved the appointment to Saturday afternoon, then Saturday morning, and, upon realizing that not one out of the eight in-home practices could make an emergency house call Friday evening, driving him to the emergency clinic to put him to sleep late Friday evening to avoid him suffering.

He had gone from sleepy but stable at 6pm to struggling to breathe by 8pm and the home oxygen therapy wasn’t helping, so we rushed to the ER. They stabilized him in an oxygen chamber, bringing down his heart rate and calming him long enough for us to say tearful goodbyes. Had we waited too long? Did he suffer? Could he have survived the night and seen the cardiologist first thing in the morning? We had no way of knowing. In that moment, all we knew was the crushing weight of loss.

TacosLastDay

Now, three weeks later, I don’t have any answers.

I don’t know if I somehow thought I’d have better understanding or clarity as time passed, but I still struggle with whether or not we did the best for Taquito.

The only thing I do understand is that Taco was light; happiness, joy, mischief, and love, all rolled up in a Frito-smelling bundle of white fur that never stopped shedding yet remained thick as a rug.

While I am sure there will be future pets in our household, no one will ever replace him or cause his memory to be diminished. He shaped us into a family and taught us patience, love, and to appreciate the now. He snuggled us when we were sad, nudged our hands when we looked at our cell phones instead of showing him the attention he deserved, and helped us be more present in the world. He made us better people. I think that’s the ultimate role of our pets – to help us appreciate the tenuous nature of life and to recognize that time is rationed out, so we’d be smart to appreciate it versus let it slide away.

October 16th, 2006 – July 20th, 2018.
Taquito Perez

Taquito

I miss you, baby boy.

~ Victoria Elizabeth

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