To think about

To think about

The name of the blog

"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Downside of Loving

I am amassing a horrid collection of tiny urns on top of my dresser drawers that viscerally reminds me of my losses. I will soon have three, no bigger than a small coffee cup. The current two sit next to a simple glass jar that holds a quarter of an inch or so of my moms ashes. Inside that jar is a partial crab shell, a small piece of driftwood, some dried kelp and three smallish rocks from the beach where my Dad unceremoniously dumped the rest of her cremated ashes into the ocean at Hollyhock Retreat on Cortes Island, BC. The stones are variations of an off white colour, blending nicely with the light grey of her chunky ashes. The ashes are not a smooth consistency, there are discernible chunks of bone I guess within the powder. There is also one urn tragically missing from my collection of loved and lost pets. When my ex moved out he took Mya’s ashes with him; that urn is slightly larger than a guinea pigs urn, but had the same pearlescent finish. I see it in my mind as though it is there with the other urns. Most likely these loved pets were all cremated by the same company, at the same location, possibly in the same oven.

In a few days, my third guinea pig will come home to me. Cream Puff was my matriarch, and out-lasted not only the friend she came with when I adopted her, Brownie Pig, but she did not get the heat stoke to the same degree that killed her next companion, Sham Wow Pig, this past summer. And now Cream Puff leaves behind a young companion pig, Poppit. 

It was fascinating watching the juvenile pig grow over the five years I had her. Watching how her behaviours and interactions changed depending on the personality of the pig she shared her cage with. With Brownie Pig, Cream Puff was submissive; with Sham Wow Pig, Cream Puff was the dominant pig often chasing her around, and sometimes mounting her; with Poppit, Cream Puff was again dominant, but more nurturing, especially in the last month or two of her life when she was aging rapidly.  

I loved all of my pigs, but Cream Puff was the pig I had the longest, somewhere around the five year mark. Five years of caring about her, feeding her, sometimes hourly it seemed, bathing her, blow drying her and trimming her toe nails; yet, somehow, I was too neglectful to see the signs of her illness until Sunday. I suspected something might be wrong a few weeks ago, but brushed it off as aging, something I now regret. It wasn’t until I picked her up on Sunday and felt how fragile and light she had become that I knew something was terribly wrong. I called for a Vet’s appointment, and called a friend of mine who is a Vet. I knew it was bad news that she had lost so much weight so quickly when she only weighed 1.7 kilograms at a healthy weight. 

Yesterday, driving her to the Vets for an evening appointment in a freak snow storm brought back horrible memories of the day we drove Mya to the Vet’s to be euthanized just over two years ago. Snowstorms are not a common occurrence where I live, and the cities are not at all prepared to deal with them. Typically, I call it a snow day and wait for the inevitable rain to wash the frozen white stuff away within a few days. In January 2012 the snow was so bad that the Vet who had planned to do a house call to euthanize Mya couldn’t make it because not one of her staff had arrived at work that day. So I held Mya for the short drive, sorry that her last moments included exposure to the cold because Mya hated the cold weather, and the family went together to surround her with love while she breathed her last breaths. She too had hidden her illness quite well, and by the time we discovered something was wrong and got her to a Vet, she was too far gone. Within 24 hours she had deteriorated to the point where she could not walk or eat, and the remaining 36 hours before Monday morning and the Vet’s visit were hell. 

I define hell, in this case, as being utterly helpless to ease the suffering of someone you love deeply. A few months after Mya’s untimely death, I would relive the hell, for about 24 hours, with Brownie Pig who had gotten some sort of horrid infection inside of her and had maggots in her vaginal area when we came home from a vacation and discovered her distress. Whether it was the infection, or the shock of the treatment to kill the maggots, she had seizures all night after we brought her home from the Vets. I felt sick inside as a human being that had contributed to her rotten and painful ending. About a month later we adopted a friend for Cream Puff, a crazy buffalo looking guinea pig from a young Asian girl. She reminded me of a mop with her dark afro hair, which in my brain led me to think of the infomercials for the shammy, in which the actor is always far too fakely enthusiastic for the product he/she is representing, thus, Sham Wow Pig became her name. She had a short life with us and another tragically bad ending at my hand. 

Sometime in the early weeks after my ex-husband had moved out, I had put the guinea pigs outside on the deck for some fresh air and sunshine. And the hours passed as they did in my time of shock in those early weeks. I had no idea how long they had been outside, but during one of my checks on them, I thought they were acting funny so I brought them back in the house. Within a minute or so of observing their condition I realized Cream Puff was fairing better due to her long, thinning, white hair, and was not as listless as Sham Wow Pig. In fact, I was terrified by the lolling that Sham Wow Pig was doing; she could not keep herself upright on her feet. Sick to my stomach I googled heat stroke in guinea pigs and started administering the various treatments as best I could. I alternated between trying to save both pigs. I syringed water into their mouths, and it just dribbled out of Sham Wow Pigs mouth. I gave them cool baths, and then wrapped Cream Puff in a damp towel so I could focus on Sham Wow Pig who was suffering. Eventually I started cutting off Sham Wow Pigs copious mounds of hair in an attempt to cool her. 

At some point in my sick frenzied attempts not to be a pig murderer, I talked to M on the phone and told him what had happened. He was already 45 minutes away in the town where we were to have a counselling appointment with the psychologist in a few hours. He came as quickly as he could. And on the drive to the Vet, another half hour away, Sham Wow Pig had a seizure and died. I picked her up and cried and cried my apologies to her and to the universe, for it was my fault this living creature, who had done nothing but love, had come to such a nasty end. If ever there was a time in my life where I felt incapable of looking after anybody or anything, it was in those months. I couldn’t care for myself most days, and most certainly couldn’t care for my four pets. I wanted someone to take them off my hands, to save them from me. 

No one did, and I became more aware as the grief eased, and about a month later M bought me Poppit. She was a tiny little girl, about three months old, and she sat in the palm of my hand. As much as I desperately wanted to save a guinea pig from the SPCA or a shelter of sorts, there were no single females to be found in the area at that time. So Poppit, much to my shame, comes from a pet store. It is the best type of pet store you could hope for though. They allowed us to bring in Cream Puff in her cage and try her out with all the female guinea pigs they had. We sat on the floor for about an hour with Poppit and Cream Puff after Cream Puff resolutely rejected the first pig we put in her cage with her. Cream Puff tolerated Poppit’s presence, which was a start. It wasn’t the chattering love at first sight that Cream Puff had experienced with Sham Wow Pig, but there was an acceptance of another pig being in her space. 

Poppit and Cream Puff learned to love each other I think. They were friends at least, tent companions keeping each other warm. When I got up this morning I knew Cream Puff had died by her position in the cage; in five years I had never seen her in that position before, and she didn’t react to my voice. She was in the corner the pigs use as their toilet, nose into the corner, which was also the closest to the fireplace I had left on over night to keep her as warm as possible. The Vet and I had agreed yesterday that all I could do was wait out the few days she had left, and try to make her comfortable. Which I did; I put a heating bag in her cage for her to lay on, but she chose to leave her tent and die in the corner. I saw that as a child with my mouse when it died; I will never forget coming downstairs to feed my mouse and finding her nose out of the bars, as if she had been calling for help in her final moments. She too had left her little mouse house and died exposed. 

Today, between my bouts of crying over my lost marriage, Cream Puff, the other pigs I feel responsible for, and Mya, I have worried about Poppit. Guinea pigs are herd animals, and typically don’t do well alone. After Brownie Pig died Cream Puff was visibly distraught for awhile, but then she settled down and became more social with her humans, so we thought she was doing well alone. It wasn’t until she met Sham Wow Pig and they instantly chattered and nuzzled against each other that I realized how lonely she had been for her kind. And when Sham Wow Pig died, Cream Puff mourned. It was the most agonizing and pitiful sound to hear a tiny little guinea pig cry out for her friend. I took her to bed that night with me, her in her tent on a puppy pad in my bed, my hand inside her tent trying to comfort her. Anyone who thinks animals don’t bond and have feelings has never witnessed the aftermath of loss in a family bond. My other two cats were distressed when Mya passed, as was Brownie Pig of all things. 

When we came downstairs to take Mya to the Vet that frozen winter morning, me carrying her, the strangest sound I had ever heard was filling the house; it was loud, high-pitched and clear; it sounded like a bird call. I asked my son, who was in the kitchen, what he was doing, and he said nothing. Convinced a bird had somehow gotten into our house that winter day, we all searched around for the source of the wailing. And it wasn’t long before we all stood over the guinea pigs cage and watched Brownie Pig make the strangest motion with her head. We could visibly see her throat and mouth vibrating as she threw her head back as far as it would go and cried loudly. Later, when I googled her singing, I discovered how rare it is for a guinea pig to make such a sound. It is called chirping, and can accompany dire distress in the animal. (Here is a link to an audio file of a guinea pig chirping - Brownie Pig felt the heaviness and heart break in our family that day as we left to take our too young Mya to be euthanized. Or she felt the slipping away of Mya’s soul and was saying goodbye. Either way, there was no mistaking the bond a cat and a guinea pig shared unbeknownst to their humans, and the grief Brownie Pig was experiencing. In all my years as a pig owner and lover, and to this day, I have never heard a guinea pig chirp, except that one time. 

As it seems to be for me, this grief is triggering all my past losses. I again feel like the most worthless piece of shit to have ever attempted to be a pet owner. I again feel unworthy; someone should come and take my pets away and put them in a good home. I again feel the shame of not being good enough; I wasn’t a good enough pet owner to have picked up on Mya, Brownie Pig, or Cream Puffs health problems until it was too late. At the end all I could do was try to ease their suffering and bear witness to their life. This death is also triggering my human losses; the untimely and unexpected death of my mother, and the untimely and unexpected death of my marriage. 

A few years ago a close friends husbands mother died. I knew her, although not well, and I knew Cancer was unfairly robbing her of life day by day. At her funeral, which I went to more for the family of Ruth than myself or Ruth, I bawled from a place of deep sorrow and regret. I was crying for my own mother. I was reliving a death from 12 years earlier as though it had happened to me just those few days prior. Very few of my tears were shed for Ruth, or even her children, daughter-in-law or the three beautiful grandchildren left behind. Selfishly, almost all of my tears were for my own loss. 

It seems so unfair that in my life love and loss are synonymous. With the exception of my son, everyone I have ever loved, I have also lost to some degree. Thankfully, once or twice in my life, someone I have lost has reemerged later, but it is never the same as the first time around; it is never pure again. The cracks of the loss are there in the space between two people whether acknowledged or not. Is this what grief is? As we age, and accumulate more and more losses of the people, times, pets and places we have cherished and loved, do they continue to compound in our hearts? Will every impending loss I face bring afresh the pain of losing a previous pet, my mom, or my ex-husband? Perhaps, but I do know that with time the grief, while still as sharp, doesn’t last as long. I read a quote recently that I hold onto because I thought it was brave and reassuring; the gist of it was: when your heart is broken into pieces, it is open to receive love.  

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