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Content Warning: The following post discusses pet death in great detail.
It’s now been a few days since Filou died.
It’s wasn’t out of nowhere – there was a clear slow decline this year with lots of vet appointments and I told my vet that I think he won’t make it until the end of the year. He said he thinks he can make it one more year. Now he didn’t. He had been becoming weaker, his blood work showed some anemia and impacted kidneys and liver. Now in the end, one of these (likely the kidneys) failed completely within hours. He went from happily going on a walk and jumping around wagging his tail to lethargy within about 3 hours. I remember when I checked up on him and noticed him lying there weirdly, not lifting his head, avoiding my gaze, eyes wide open. He wouldn’t eat or drink or get up. I knew something was up then. He was occasionally panting and had abdominal cramps, but was still lucid. I could tell he knew something serious was happening, and his body language alternated between having given up and waiting it out, and fear about what’s to come. Me and my girlfriend spent the entire night by his side cuddling him and saw him wither away by the hour.
I’ve been going through the normal grief stuff – lots of ugly crying, phases of numbness, anger, fear, acceptance, gratefulness. Replaying scenes in my head, wondering about what if’s.
I’m happy he got the at-home euthanasia we always wanted if possible. I am unhappy that it took hours for it to happen because the vet emergency line malfunctioned until they were regularly open. If it hadn’t malfunctioned, we could have arranged a much earlier euthanasia. The vet office tried their best to make up for this and to come as fast as possible while the regular business happened.
It hurt watching him fight the entire night, to see him become less and less lucid and see him be barely present and confused, soiling himself. I wish I could have shortened the suffering, but it is what it is. A transport to a clinic was out of the question at that time and would have increased his suffering greatly – especially since the same clinic was a major let down years ago in failing to diagnose him with Cushings until I researched it myself and brought him to a different vet. I don’t trust them.
It has been rough since 2019. I thought I would have to put him down twice already, but every time he bounced back remarkably well and became happy and energetic again. So I’ve been through this before, with final cooked meal and all. And I knew it was coming. I talked a lot about it with my girlfriend.
I was hitting my limit the past few months. I’m a very obsessive and neurotic dog owner – I notice every little change, research, and check everything thoroughly, I overanalyze and worry myself sick. This year, he became a walking worry. Every moment I saw him I would be consumed with thoughts like “Does he behave differently? Is he fine? Are his eyes okay? Do they look cloudier than yesterday? Does his breathing sound normal? Is he limping? Is this seasonal fur loss or illness fur loss? Is he losing too much? Is he too skinny or too fat? Is his lipoma getting too big and pressing on vital organs? Has he lost more muscle in his hind legs?” and could barely enjoy his presence. I was constantly aware of this possibly being his last week, his last day. I was checking up on him a lot. I had a few “is he breathing anymore or not” scares while he was asleep. But there weren’t just worried about how he compared to the past or how he is now, there were also worries about the future. When was it going to happen? Should I be doing something right now to prevent something? Are there early signs of anything, am I missing anything? Is he going to get worse, and how, when?
Every time I left for work or a longer trip outside, I was scared I would return to a dead dog. The comments of others reminded me of it too, commenting on any changes or how old he is. I was constantly confronted with his aging and inevitable death.
The week prior he started having real trouble getting up from the slippery laminate floor and sat there, defeated, until we helped him up. One time he fell badly and bled from a tooth.
But he was still fine enough for the vet – alert, wagging his tail, eating and drinking, eager for walks, vocal, pulling on the leash, running up the little path to the street.
There was so much to coordinate at that point though. Not just the usual work dogs are, like the walks and food times. Instead, Regular blood checks. Presenting yet again because of changes and his large lipoma. Ordering and picking up 3, later 4 different kinds of medicine. Giving them at two times every day. Making sure I never run out. Reading studies about the medication we use and ones we wanted to try. Managing the side effects. Remembering to brush his teeth. I didn’t dare to travel with him or stay away for too long.
All of this created this big amount of outright or background anxiety throughout my day, like a constant hum in the back of my head. I was constantly tired and overwhelmed. I wondered why, because I didn’t feel like I had done much at all. I had a hard time with my executive function, and difficulty with keeping my home as tidy as I wanted to. I kept putting easy, quick stuff off for weeks. I often sat there unable to start doing the things I wanted to. I obsessed over the right order to do things. At the beginning of September, I fell into a deep depression where I just managed to lie in bed most of the day and cry.
It was just such a huge drain, all of this. And seeing everything, knowing it’s going to happen soon, but being unable to prepare for it because it could be a year or it could be in a week. Not knowing how bad it will get. So much guilt and second guessing – Am I doing enough? Is he still well and having a good time? Am I making a mistake right now, is there anything I will regret in the future?
I am still grieving and still very very sad, but a part of me is also relieved and glad it is over and I can finally start the proper grieving instead of this incremental, panic inducing decline we had this year. I am now free to move on. In a way, a huge weight has lifted off my chest. It is replaced by a deep hole, but that is easier to bear and get help for. No one can help about a dog that is aging and dying, but people can help with death and grieving.
Even now, still in the midst of grieving and everything being so fresh, that I have so much energy back already. I sleep much, much better. I feel fully rested. In the past few days, I have done more than the weeks prior combined. I can finally just start doing things instead of putting them off. Getting out of bed is much easier. The past few months, I had a ton of issues with depersonalization and derealization, feeling not real or like my surroundings aren’t real, as if I am watching everything through a screen. I felt so detached, for my own good, I guess. Now I feel much more alive.
Sadly, my girlfriend was not able to be with me in the days following his death because of other, extremely time sensitive obligations that were unavoidable. It really sucked for both of us, and on the day it happened, I didn’t know how I could possibly master the next few days alone, in the same home he died in, with all his stuff. But every day, it got a little easier.
I immediately played Tetris. Sounds like a joke, but I once read that studies showed playing Tetris can help with trauma if done right after the traumatic event. I already have CPTSD, so I am looking not to add on to that and I consider myself much more sensitive to develop further unhealthy responses to trauma because of it. It was definitely traumatic for me – death always is, for everyone, but the specific way he died and the absolute helplessness and insecurity during it all were messed up. Until the catheter was put in, I was completely stoic and unemotional, very matter-of-factly, unmoved because it caused be to shift into this mode where I just had to function and coordinate it all with a cool head and make the decisions. I was shut off and in survival mode until he actually died, then the tears came.
I’ve been playing Tetris every day since then, for about 15 minutes or so. I also had a massage appointment and took myself out to a fancy vegan restaurant the next day. I wanted something to distract me, to treat me mentally and physically, and to give my days some structure and enjoyment to know that life goes on and doesn’t have to be miserable. I ran a lot of errands for myself and my girlfriend in her absence, and went on some walks, especially the routes we used to walk. I also got myself a therapy appointment; I haven’t gone in 2 years, but my therapist and I kept some booked therapy hours as emergency reserve hours back then that I could use when something comes up. I think it will be helpful to talk about it all.
The first nights I slept on the sofa so I wouldn’t have to sleep in the bedroom where he died, and I put on Kim Possible to fall asleep. Now I am sleeping there again with no distractions. In the meantime, I have gathered all his stuff and decided what to keep and what to donate and packed most of it up; his beds and bowls, which I have both washed and cleaned (except for 2 beds, because we will keep these), are still where they would usually be because I like that. I took care of his cremation, cancelled the insurance and I am now waiting for the death certificate to cancel the dog tax. I filled the fur I had brushed out of him for years and kept in a bin into two Ziploc bags for the memory box. I did some laundry, especially the bed sheets and towels, cleaned the kitchen, took out the garbage, dusted shelves, vacuumed and wiped the floors. It’s meditative, giving room for processing it all and giving me a sense of control.
Initially I was sad that I couldn’t escape anywhere, like on a good trip or to someone else’s house, but I think it helped me confronting his absence here, sorting through his stuff, and cleaning the stuff we will donate, getting the apartment in order. Seeing the empty spots and not hearing his paws on the floor and just learning to deal with that. Learning to live here without him and not running away from it.
I got some flowers from friends who could not be here either and it was really amazing and touching. My friend Mimi also got me a game, Coral Island, which I have been enjoying a lot. I am a big fan of Stardew Valley, and Coral Island is very clearly inspired by it while adding a ton of its own ideas, improvements, and stuff from Animal Crossing, too. I think right now I really need a cozy game like that where failure doesn’t really exist or is not as consequential, to just have fun and sink some time into that and everything is nice and safe.
It's crazy that all of this is now over, it doesn't even feel real. I am a completely different person than when I adopted him - different apartment, different city, different partner, different uni, working fulltime. When I adopted him I had just come out as a lesbian. 8 years go by so fast (I adopted him when he was 5). He was this one alive thread tying me back to this time, and to all the times inbetween. He was the constant through all of it.
I will soon pick out a nice box to keep his stuff in, and my girlfriend will too, since she has her separate stuff at her apartment. I also plan to give back to the animal shelter I got him from by doing a monthly food sponsorship or a pet sponsorship. If anyone reading this wants to donate to the shelter, feel free to message me at daintyeco at pm.me and I will give you their details/PayPal link.
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