My life with mitochondrial myopathy has been a roller coaster, but my dog Andre was always there to brighten my world. After days spent healing in a hospital room, I could look forward to coming home to my beloved Andre. If I was suffering through the flu and incapable of getting off the couch, Andre was there to keep me company. No matter the circumstances, I could count on him to make me smile.
Andre had a big heart. Everyone knew that. But six months ago, that phrase switched from figurative to literal. We figured he had about a year of life left in him. A few weeks ago, his cardiomyopathy worsened. His heart was so big that it was pushing on his lungs, causing fluid to build up.
Andre’s last days couldn’t have been more beautiful. I spent time cuddling with him and feeding him his favorite foods. Meanwhile, inside, my grieving began.
As I watched his usual spunk gradually drain from him during that last week, I drained too. The emotional turmoil weighed me down as if my body were made of concrete. In turn, the emotional exhaustion became physical exhaustion. My eyes drooped, and even pulling my face into a smile felt like a huge effort. I felt a need to sleep more because of the little energy I had left to spare. I am not very familiar with grief, and I was surprised by how drastically it seeped my energy.
Never in my life have I felt a grief so profound. The few stages of grief I had experienced were numbness and shock, and soon after, acceptance. After this month, I now know that grief isn’t like the movies, nor is it a step-by-step chart. Not everyone curls into a fetal position and cry’s their eyes out for days. Grief is unpredictable. A couple of days will pass and I’ll think I’m out of the woods only to find myself with tears in my eyes as I reminisce.
Good days consist of getting out of the house and finding activities to distract myself. During these days, grief finds a different way to haunt me in the form of guilt. The voice in my head whispers that I’m not crying enough and therefore there’s something wrong with me. My family and friends are there to remind me that beating myself up isn’t healthy and won’t make anything easier. This tumultuous time has brought to light the extent of their love for me. My heart glows with warmth knowing that I can lean on them for support.
The not-so-good days are plagued with moments of sadness in between the distractions of everyday life. On these days, the nostalgia is heavy as memories flood my mind. I allow myself to feel these emotions fully because they are few and far between. Letting the sadness run out of me ensures that I am not burying my feelings.
Every pet owner dreads the day that their pet will no longer be by their side. But all the moments of dog kisses and belly laughs, frisbee tosses and ear scratches are worth the heartbreak. He gave me so much, so I returned the favor by ending his suffering.
If you find yourself grieving the end of a chapter in your life, remember that everyone grieves differently. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself time to heal. Know that you are not alone and there is no shame in reaching out for support.
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