The Beautiful Life and Pain Which Followed My Loss of Stori
It took a couple of weeks for the loss to even begin bombarding me with that deep turmoil of hopelessness and despair and depression like I have never experienced before. Indeed, it took multiple story telling episodes about this depression and darkness with friends and family before I began to feel that I was going to survive this loss. I began to tell myself that life without him was no life and that if I ended mine, I would be with him again. I pretty nearly convinced myself of that one. It took reaching out to people in my life who have overwhelmed me with their generous willingness to listen and listen again, as I continued to recount how I was doing at any given moment of the day, almost hourly or better, calling and texting me just to let me know how important I was to them. Such empathy I have never experienced because I have never grieved before. This stage of the process is continuing but I am more able to assure them now that I am going to make it.
I was that guy that was going in 10 different directions which never slowed me down enough to grieve. I had Stori when my father died and my mom needed me to the point that I moved her one state over to live with me and my kids (3 in number) immediately upon my Dad's quick and quite surprising departure from a terminal cancer. The doctors were telling us 6 mos. to a yr. and he died within weeks and at Christmas. There was the funeral and then onto Maryland, my job, and the care and feeding of one mom, three kids, and one very very good friend named Stori (my dog).
I was surprised that I was able to take my Dad's loss so well. Then four years later, my mom passed away, expectedly and in good care to the end. I took steps to have her body removed from the hospital to a local mortuary who would prepare her and then drive her to a family funeral home one state back from whence she had come four years previous. There was so much planning and executing and the three kids and my dog and one very special lady who remains the most special person to me. I will refer to her quite accurately as the love of my life. That status remains, as she has done so much for me and with me throughout our lives.
After the funeral, it was back to Maryland and work and three kids and Stori. Still no processing of grief for my father's death nor for my mother's death. Stori was my friend and companion throughout the years that I saw my kids become more independent and needed less and less of my guidance and overall attention. They could bathe themselves and think for themselves and make their own decisions as to what and when they wanted to eat. But Stori still very much needed me and I him (even more than I knew).
When he passed, and after a week or two of numbing shock wore off, the house seemed incredibly still and empty during the early morning hours when I would awaken. Often, I would still have those habitual thoughts of not disturbing Stori from his sleep so I could sneak a cup of coffee before our morning walk. As quickly as those thoughts and feelings would strike, they would be replaced with the thought that he wasn't here anymore and then the awful wrenching pain and crying would begin and exhaust me for hours. In the afternoons, the intensity of the pain would subside as friends would call and check on me and give me the opportunity to express what I was feeling which would so often turn into crying sessions as I cried on their shoulders over the telephone.
Comforting and knowledgeable wisdom would come from them once I was through unleashing my uncontrollable pain and tears. Their words were straight from God. I truly believe that as they spoke words that went straight to my heart and soothed me with their compassion. Since I never grieved before, I never needed this kind of empathy nor had I learned how to give it for those in the throes of depression of any kind. I just figured I wasn't a depressed person but was blessed with that sunny side of the street attitude. "It's just who I am", I would say to myself. I could offer enough sincere sympathies but persons in this kind of pain need empathy. And this kind of empathy can only be given by others who know what you are going through.
One of the very first positive thoughts that are now more and more recurring and which are lightening my load a little, is how blessed I am to have such wonderful people in my life who genuinely care about me. This is no small thing. Seek it from any group or close friends who can give it. You need it. And you also need to tell your grief story over a few times because it is such a healing balm to those raw nerve endings of pain. The extreme hopelessness and darkness have been reduced to the first hours of the morning and the later hours in the evening, with a few briefer but no less intense periods throughout the day. That is an improvement over the incredible overwhelming pain that would relentlessly stay with me through every hour of the day.
I felt guilty for not being there for Stori in his final moments and for not recognizing that the discomfort he was expressing in his breathing that night, would be his killer. I felt in some illogical way, responsible for his death. This against the fact that he had inherited a very common illness for his breed called "collapsing trachea". He had it from the early years and after several "false alarms" to the emergency clinic in the middle of the night or to his veterinarians office during the day, I began to get comfortable with the symptoms. All the doctors would assure me time and again that his was not the worst case they had seen and that indeed every other organ and function was normal; therefore, there was no need for alarm.
I think that I always knew that in the end, it would be the cause of his death. Still, I didn't see it coming that last night of his life. He had had a wonderfully energetic day and was especially playful after dinner. It wasn't until bedtime that he began spasmodic breathing. I rubbed his neck and tracheal area slowly and gently and that seemed to calm him to quietness, so I went to sleep.
Around 1:30 a.m. I was awakened by that erratic breathing again but this time Stori had assumed a position on the floor indicating that he wanted to go out of the bedroom. I thought nothing of it as he would sometimes use those sounds to get my attention as he tried to tell me what it was that he wanted. And indeed, once I opened the bedroom door, he went into the hallway right outside my door and got quiet again. The next morning I gently walked around him so that I could get a couple of hours practice time at a rehearsal studio a few miles from my house, where I keep my drums setup. Often, I would come home around 11 a.m. to find Stori in my room and sleeping in on the bed so I didn't think too much of it when I didn't hear him stirring upon my arrival home.
I got absorbed by something on the internet and a quick hour had passed. Then I got this uncomfortable feeling because I recognized that Stori hadn't come down yet and in this amount of time, that was unusual. As I climbed the stairs I immediately saw him lying in the very same position in which he was lying when I had left hours ago. I spoke his name several times loudly enough to know that he would have jumped up and gotten into the day. Then I became still and looked at him closely. There was no sign of breathing no movement at all, and his eyes were half closed but not tightly shut. Shock and denial immediately hit me. This was too much for me to process at that moment.
Actually it took about three weeks to hit me. Then it rolled over me like a steamroller. I hadn't made myself knowledgeable about the steps of grieving and I was blindsided by the fear and loneliness and uncertainty of the future. I had lost my routine and I hadn't worked in a couple of years. The blessing that my unemployment was to me didn't occur to me until somewhere close to this writing. I was able to spend an unbelievable amount of time sharing my life with Stori who was always a willing and eager companion. There were moments and increasing times of the day where we would relax individually and separately but always with the awareness of one another's presence.
I lost all of that and more on the day of his death. I believe that I am processing my father's death, my mother's death, and Stori's death all at once in one great confusing and disorienting gigantic episode now. I know I need help but I turned a corner today when I realized that the best way to keep Stori's memory alive was by safeguarding his trust and loyalty with my life. I have to live if Stori's life is to be represented honorably, since I was his closest friend. Who else can tell his story better than me.
The empathy I am receiving is going to make me a better person and friend. I am learning how to give it back which is something I never knew before. I know I am making a hard choice by committing to work through this process and see it to its' logical conclusion, but I must so that Stori's memory can be honored. As long as I am breathing and maybe beyond this lifetime, I remain Stori's greatest admirer. If I can be even a small percent of the human that Stori was as a dog, I will be the most incredible person on the planet. So something so beautiful and lasting can and will come from all of this seeming negativity I am experiencing right now. And I owe all to him. What a dog!