A Eulogy for my Dog

Sammy

Some time in the past several years, I acquired a morbid habit, an extremely, twisted morbid habit – writing out eulogies in my head.  If I was on a long car trip alone (we’ll pretend that I don’t do this anymore and I’ll use past tense), I would just start thinking of what I would say at someone’s funeral – a best friend, a family member, my sister. Usually, I would start crying, tell myself I was a complete moron and turn on the radio.

I could try to blame this on growing up with a chronically ill sibling, but I think I developed a preoccupation with death even before she got sick.  Once when my family was on vacation, visiting my grandma who lived in a rickety old trailer in the middle of the countryside, I wrote my own will.  How does someone under ten know what a will is?  I do not know – granted, I think it was maybe two sentences long – to the tune of “I love everyone and give my toys to my brother and sister”.  I vaguely remember being very nervous about the rickety trailer catching fire or being blown to pieces by a tornado. Looking back, I’m not sure how, if one of those scenarios had played out, anyone would have been able to find my will… Nevertheless, I did write a will at a very young age (I’m pretty sure my mom discovered it laying around somewhere and I was very embarrassed) and it’s probably the case that my predisposition to worry was exacerbated by growing up with a sick sister who almost died at least a kazillion times…but my warped mind is not the point of today’s blog…..it’s that I find myself needing to write a eulogy for someone who I never even considered would be in need of one – my dog.

He’s still alive…but I don’t know that he has much time left.  We’re at the oh-so-wonderful-when-do-we-put-him-to-sleep stage of dog ownership.  He lives with my mom and she doesn’t know what to do.  He’s almost eighteen years old and, well, he’s a partially blind, completely deaf, arthritic, incontinent old man, but all I see when I look at him is a little puppy who became my sister’s best friend…at times, he may have been her only friend.

So, here’s my eulogy for my dog:

Sammy wasn’t that different from other dogs in any overt, obvious way – just the one way that mattered – he was my dog.  He was my sidekick and adventure companion …admittedly, the adventures sometimes were too strenuous and he had to be picked up for the journey home, but he never refused going out into the great unknown.  He was my secret keeper, quite an excellent one as all dogs tend to be.  He was my “shoulder” or furry friend to cry on, as I went through all wonderful stages of adolescence. He was my personal entertainer – he was especially good at sitting, laying, and turning in circles.

He was my friend.

And yet he was also so much more than all of this.  He joined our family the same year that my sister was diagnosed with Lupus, nearly 18 years ago.  He was there through it all – from the beginning to the unfortunate end – that dog supported our family in the tiniest and yet most important ways.  He was an ever-happy influence on our fluctuating states of being.  Through the highs and the lows, he kept that little nub of a tail wagging.  He never once acted out or let on if he felt neglected…I think somehow he knew what was going on, that we were hurting, and he continued to love us in spite of it all.  Even when at times, we may have taken it out on him, may have yelled unnecessarily, may have ignored him intentionally…

I think he also knew who needed him…for while he was technically speaking “my” dog. Eventually, there was no question that he really was my sister’s.  He was there for her through the heartache of this horrible disease – from the beginning to the end.  When she was stuck at home because she was in pain or just feeling lethargic, he was on the couch next to her.  When she went to bed, he was sleeping next to her.  That dog was always next to her.  He meant the world to her and as crazy as it sounds, I think he was the closest thing she had to a soul mate.  Because, in many ways, he saw her pain and disappointment, he saw her struggles and supported her through it, more than any of us. No one spent more time with my sister than that little dog. And for that, we will always love and be eternally grateful for him.

So, while Sammy wasn’t all that different in any obvious way, he was extraordinarily different in all of these subtle ways.  And he was able to bring joy to a family during the hardest eighteen years of their lives.

I think Sammy still knows where he’s needed.  His soul mate is gone and it’s time for him to join her…wherever she is, whatever she’s doing…he belongs next to her.  Always has. Always will.

 

Six months and counting…

It’s been six months since my sister died.

I can’t quite believe it.  Time moves differently when it concerns the death of someone you love, because you don’t want it to move at all – dragging your feet as it forces you along.

I wasn’t sure what to write today but wanted to write anyway, so I went back to The Five Stages of Grief website to see if that sparked anything.  At first, it didn’t.  I’ve already written about denial and the other stages just don’t seem to be anything that I’ve gone through in the past months.  Plus, the descriptions of the stages seem incredibly corny – annoyingly so – it’s worded as if talking to a baby.  So, instead of reading those very thoroughly, I just focused on the words:

Denial.  Anger.  Bargaining.  Depression.  Acceptance.

And realized, I’ve dealt with all of them.  Not in the last six months but in the last seventeen years.  Ever since she was diagnosed with Lupus, I’ve stumbled upon some form of each of these “stages.”  Any unwanted drastic change in someone’s life is bound to cause any one or all of these.  In my case, it was this damn disease.  Did I go through the stages in order?  Eh…not really.  Do I think the corny definitions are true? Maybe superficially, but we all grieve differently – so while I can define the stages for me – I’m guessing they weren’t  the same for you.

Where does that put me now, then?  I’m not sure.

I push it away.  I avoid it.  I hold my breath til the moment passes.  I ignore it at all cost.   Except for days like today where thinking about her is entirely unavoidable.  Where I can’t help but look at the million of pictures of her on my computer or listen to a voicemail that I, luckily, never deleted.  And it’s still all there…the mixed emotions, the guilt, the grief.  I found it oddly comforting.  To cry.  To feel it all, even if I only let myself for a few moments. I imagine it will be like an old friend after a while.  One that comes to visit unexpectedly. One that I can visit at a moment’s notice.  Like today.  When I can’t believe she’s been gone so long.

Poem: You Look Cute

My sister really struggled with her physical appearance.  When she was healthy, she was a gorgeous little thing (maybe I’m biased but she was very pretty).  Lupus took its toll on her, but when she received a kidney transplant her senior year of high school, she seemed to bounce back overnight.  She became popular within two seconds and was living it up.  She was just so darn cute, dressed in Abercrombie and Hollister (all very very cool back in the day).

Then, she lost the kidney.

Physically, she slowly deteriorated.  She started to look sick…this got worse and worse as more health problems manifested themselves over time, and she had a really tough time accepting that or seeing past it.  She would still buy all these cute outfits that no longer fit her body…  They just waited, hanging in her closet, for the day she would be healthy again.  These past two years, though, she had really given up.  She couldn’t see past the sick to the beautiful girl that she still was.  So, when I’d go home to visit, I would make her get out of her PJs and put on make-up to go out.  I tried to treat her like a normal sister…meaning if my mom helped do her hair and it made her look like a five-year old…I said it looked stupid and fixed it.  I wanted her so badly to feel pretty, again, to feel special…to feel normal, even if for five seconds.  It was hard, though.  Sometimes, I wished I could make myself look worse…so that she would feel better.  I think towards the end, she was starting to see herself differently.  At Christmas, she asked me to help her with her make-up (usually, I had to drag her into the bathroom).  I got hopeful that she was starting to see through the sick…

That’s a long-winded explanation for this short poem…

You Look Cute

Lupus Poopus

My sister had Lupus.  That is the disease/sickness that she was living with from the age of nine to almost 27.  I’m not sure why I didn’t come out and just say that from the start.  It wasn’t really a secret.  It just wasn’t the intended focus of this page.  But, I’m realizing how big a role this damn disease played in my sister’s life – in my whole family’s life.  It affected us all…  We were a seemingly “typical” family…and then, one day, we weren’t.  Lupus hit my sister pretty hard right from the beginning.  It was very unusual for a nine year-old to be diagnosed with it…and for the cherry on the top – she had the worst version…the version that attacks everything.  (Lupus is an auto-immune disease where your immune system starts attacking your own organs/tissue.  Some types only attack specific parts – my sister had the type that wages a full out war on everything.  Brain, kidneys, blood, joints, skin…).

I’m not sure if treatment has changed, but my sister had to start taking steroids and get chemotherapy.  My mom says that had she known what she does now (ain’t hindsight a bitch?) there is no way in hell she would have let them give my sister chemo and maybe not even steroids – or at least not as much.  I’m not sure if they could have been by-passed and honestly, I have no flipping clue why she went on chemo…  I just know what this all did to her.  She started off fourth grade as rambunctious as ever but at the end, she was a puffy, thin-haired, exhausted little girl.  Was it the drugs and their side-effects…was it the Lupus?  You start to lose track of what’s causing what…

And that was just the beginning.

In the years since then, here are some of the highlights: brain swelling and surgery to get a brain shunt, loss of both of her kidneys, numerous surgeries to get dialysis tubes put in, kidney transplant, losing the new kidney, two open heart surgeries, two hip replacements, infections x 1000, breathing difficulties, constant joint pain, side effects from pain meds, addiction to pain meds, and oh yeah – that last thing…death.

This little nine-year old had all that to look forward to…and, yes, she was the one it was happening to…but it takes quite a toll on the entire family.  My brother and I grew up in that world – of hospitals, of not only missing our sister but missing our mom, too.  The hospital in our hometown was sub-par, so when she would get sick, they were both gone.  And, let’s just be honest here, when you have a sick kid in the family – that kid gets a lot of the attention.  AND, OF COURSE THEY SHOULD, BUT there’s no way around that this affects the other kids.  I was eleven.  I did not have the mental capacity to really be understanding.  And once I hit puberty and got all of my teenage angst, I became downright resentful.  And, then, my sister got resentful!  She was on her way to be a rock star…no question this girl was gonna be Miss Popular…and then, got smacked down with this disease and had to watch me get to do all of the things that she so desperately wanted.  We were already very different, but the crack became a gulf between us as we became teenagers.  And, it just took me a really long time, to try to bridge this gap.  I finally figured out how to be an older sister at the age of 29 – to see past my own issues, my own hang-ups…to see past her facade of hate and jealousy…to where I finally understood it.  I got it.  It’s so obvious…and yet, it took me a while to get there.  To figure out what she needed.  To figure out how to deliver it.  It just took time.  The one thing she didn’t have.

Oh, guilt, there you are, again…that was a nice ten-minute reprieve…before I circled around back to you.

There are a lot of times when I hate myself and you might hate me, too.  …from the outside, it seems so obvious – how to feel and act when you have a sick family member…but when you’re in it – it’s not like that.  It’s complicated – you’re dealing with people.  Flawed human beings and now you’ve added in this extra unpredictable variable.  And, so maybe exploring some of this – the effect that Lupus had on my family’s life – helps me (and you) understand the turmoil that is swirling around inside my head, as I deal with the loss of my sister.

And, maybe, there is someone that this will help.  Someone who still has time.