And have you ever felt for anything
such wild love-
Do you think there is anywhere,
in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure that fills you?
Writing does not come easy to me. If I don’t sit down immediately and write the thoughts that come to my mind, the moment will be lost, the inspiration forgotten.
Except for moments like these, when the pain in your heart is so big that your tears become words that need to be said.
2015 has been a year of loss for me, in May, I lost Joey, a Pug I had for almost 10 years. Losing Joey was hard but he had been ill for a long time and needed to rest. Five months later, on October 5th I lost Nina, it was just 22 days from the first symptom to the day she died on the operating table. Losing Joey and Nina so close together was difficult, but I was prepared, I was there with them and had times to say my good byes. After Nina died, I looked at Red, my old boy who is around 13 years old and told him he was not allowed to die this year. Because I figured he was next; because I am human and as a human I have it all planned the way it should be, so I started mentally preparing to say my good byes to Red.
I accept the inevitability of death. The idea that everything and everyone has a beginning and an end. It is a hard concept to grasp but one that makes more sense the older you get. I mean, if life did not have an end, it would not be so precious, imagine a world where everyone would go on living forever, no, that would not be good. So I am okay with beginnings and ends and making the best of the time we have. But I want my deaths organized, I want them predictable, wrapped in a nice package, I want time to prepare for things to come.
That nicely organized world changed on October 20th around 11:00 am when a terrible accident took the life of Valentino, it took it in seconds, without forewarning, without a good bye, without a kiss, a hug, without a glance. One second he was sunning himself on the front porch, the next my husband was carrying his lifeless body to me. His cries before he died and my husband’s screams will be forever embedded in my mind for as long as I live. Nothing, nothing, nothing in the world prepares you for a death like that, it is brutal, it rips your heart out, it shatters every preconceived notion, it takes your well organized world and turns it upside down. And you know, without a doubt, that you will never be the same again, you will carry on living, and you will laugh again and love again, but you will never, ever, never be the same again.
So you fall to your knees and you scream, and your screams seem to be coming from someone else because surely you cannot be making those noises, and you tell him to open his eyes, and you look at his chest and swear he is breathing, and the world is spinning, and your hands and arms are detached from your body, and you know this is a nightmare and you will wake up anytime now, because, well because he was not supposed to die, he was supposed to ride with you in an airplane and go to the United States , because you promised him he would one day go to a dog park, because you saved him and he walked again, but most of all, this was not supposed to happen because you made him a promise on May of 2013, you promised him he would never suffer again and you would protect him forever.
But today you broke that promise, you failed to protect , you went inside and left him alone for a minute and the unimaginable happened.
There is a special bond that forms when you are the caretaker of a special needs animal, it happened with Oscar when he became diabetic and blind and it happened with Valentino. There is a greater need to protect. I rescued Valentino in May of 2013. He was 6 years old and he had never experienced love in his life. He was used for the sole purpose of breeding and this was done with him lacking the use of his rear legs. I will not go into great details about his former life because his scum of an owner does not deserve any space in this love story, all I will say is that he suffered some type of injury to his spinal cord when he was about one year old which was never treated and he was left to drag his rear legs for five years. On top of that, his lower body had atrophied, he was emaciated and full of fleas. He came to me without a bed, a plate, a toy. I took a look at him and fell head over heels, hopelessly and unconditionally in love.
That love was not reciprocated right away, he did not like to be touched, or cuddled, or kissed. He did not know how to sleep on a bed or be part of a family. He was utterly lost and confused.
A wheelchair was made and he started to walk again and slowly gain muscle tone, the rib cage started to fill in, therapies were started, first apitherapy, then acupuncture, hydrotherapy and finally electrical stimulation to the muscles. Every milestone was celebrated, every step cheered, when he lifted his leg for the first time, when he pooped without falling. When he stood on his hind legs and asked me to carry him, i cried.
But the most important therapy was the therapy of love, he was starved for that, and once he started to open up to it, he absorbed it like a sponge, and the awesome, loving, funny, smart, curious dog that was trapped inside of him blossomed right in front of our eyes. What joy it was to see him come to me and ask me to lift him up. We invented a game we called “choo-choo” where he would carry a toy in his mouth and we would follow him clapping our hands, at the beginning it was to help him walk, but very soon it turned into his trademark. Those of you who had the good luck of meeting him know that no one could come into my house without playing choo-choo, the basket with his stuffed toys was by the door and he would greet everyone with one in his mouth demanding they play, we woke up and went to sleep to this. What an honor and privilege it was to be the recipient of the affection of this extraordinary being.
I love him with every single fiber of my soul, he was my moon and my stars, my sun and the wind that caresses my skin. True love is like that, it doesn’t differientate between age, gender or species. When two connected souls meet, they recognize each other right away, hearts don’t understand rules that say you cannot love a non-human being as much as you love a human being. Because LOVE IS LOVE. Those of you who have experienced this kind of love know exactly what I am talking about, those who don’t and think it is not normal to love a dog like that, you obviously don’t belong in this blog. As you close the door on your way out, please don’t forget to click the “unfriend” button.
And now I am holding his lifeless body and I kiss that precious face over and over, and I smell that Valentino smell so unique to him, and both of our bodies are wet with my tears, and I am being told it is time to bury him, and I don’t want to, and I am being told that I have to compose myself, that I have other dogs to think about, that Valentino would not like to see me that way, that my family needs me. So I do what I am told, and I place him on his bed and carry him to the grave and watch as he is placed inside of it, and we take all his choo-choos except one and lay them on top of him and then the dirt is covering him and the sky begins to cry, but I don’t cry, even as I watch my strong husband crumble, I don’t cry, because this is not real, I am not here, this body belongs to someone else who is watching her dog being buried, i will wake up tomorrow morning with Valentino by my side.
Grief is not pretty. When we think of ourselves as grieving, we imagine ourselves as one of those long suffering heroines languidly dying from unrequited love. But no, real grief is not pretty. Real grief is all about tears that don’t stop, its about kneeling by the toilet and throwing up for hours, face and eyes so swollen you cannot see, sinuses so clogged you cannot breathe, jaws so clenched all your teeth hurt, snot running down your face. Its about not bathing for 3 days, its about not caring if you eat, its getting on your knees and trying to negotiate with a God you are not even sure exists. That is real grief.
Some people think grief has a timeline but the truth is everyone grieves differently. For me, it became worse when the tears stopped. Because you look “normal”, people think you have healed and have started to move on. I emerged from those first day as someone who has just gone through a lengthy illness, I was weak, shaky, hungry. I cried at unexpected moments, I looked for him everywhere, on the clouds, on the earth, the rain, the trees, the flowers. I begged for signals, I talked to him. On the first day that i went out I did what every grieving female has done since the beginning of times, I cut my hair. I don’t know why, maybe I needed a new me on the outside to match the new me on the inside. When I stopped crying I thought I had started to heal but despair is a tricky enemy, it hides itself in a dark corner and jumps at you when you least expect it.
So, I started to write and through that the healing has hopefully started.
Humans like explanations, they don’t like the unknown. I am no different. I have looked for answers as to why this happened. A punishing God? A lesson to be learned? An angel needed in Heaven? I have even thought back to last year when him and Nina got bitten by the snake. Were they supposed to die together? Did I interfere with a higher order by saving them? Is that why he died 15 days after Nina? I like my friend’s explanation, she thinks everyone has a purpose in life and once that purpose is fulfilled there is no need for you to stay anymore. What was Valentino’s purpose? Was it to make me a better person? More compassionate and caring? If that was so, then he certainly succeeded in his mission.
But as much as I would like to think there was a greater purpose to his dying, the truth is probably that it was just a terrible accident, one that was caused by human error and resulted in his untimely death.
He came to me between 2:55 and 3:05 AM three nights in a row, I woke up automatically and didn’t know why. Then I learned the significance of that hour and built him an altar with all his things. And he did not come again until last night when I was having a particularly bad night, and when I opened my eyes at 2:59 AM, he was there with me. It comforts me, to know that he is still with me just in a different form. I am not a religious person, and the jury is still out on the entity we call “God”, but I do believe there is a soul and that there are other dimensions most of all cannot see but some can sense. I don’t know where Tino is but i would like to think he is in a place of beauty, where he is not suffering. It is my hope that he is with other animals in that beautiful place we call “The Rainbow Bridge” and I would also like to think that through our love we will find each other again.
My days with him started with a cup of coffee and a walk through the property. That was the happiest time of the day for me, I would look at all my plants and he would pee on all of them. He would try to run away from me and I would call him, we would comeback from our walk happy and hungry and ready for a game of choo-choo.
Since his death I have had to reinvent a new routine, it is just too painful to do alone what we did together. I miss him, I miss him with every fiber of my being, my mornings are empty, I wonder aimlessly from place to place trying to find a purpose and a reason to be. The other dogs are there but that connection is missing. Yesterday i placed a bench in front of his grave and I placed flowers between his grave and Nina’s and I have sat there two days in a row. Maybe I will drink my coffee there tomorrow. Baby steps.
Dogs have many lessons to teach, and just like humans, some are more evolved than others. Valentino and I did not need the spoken language to communicate. When we looked into each other’s eyes we understood each other through the language of love. He taught me many things, to live in the moment, to be happy despite obstacles in the way, to love unconditionally, and most importantly, he taught me that a good game of choo-choo would solve just about any problem. For all those teachings, I say THANK YOU my love, I will try to always honor you by being as good and kind of a person as you thought I was. May we meet on a cloud again someday . Until then, I will miss you everyday of my life.