Thursday, October 09, 2008

They've taken their toll, these latter days.

Where…how…do I begin?

Cricket Lemmons.  1993-2008.  Rest in peace, little one.  One more angel called home to make heaven a bit more of a dog-friendly place.

The last four days have been four of the hardest, most emotionally turbulent days of my life. Today has seriously been the first day that my emotions have not been so volatile that I actually almost made it out the door this morning without crying.


I had forgotten how much pain…hurts.

Not the rip across your soul that leaves a scar that may never heal. Not the wracking sobs that cause you to not be able to stand on your own, not the fact that you cannot sleep, cannot eat, cannot think, cannot breathe…but the physical pain that manifests itself in and on your body.

I cried for almost 24 hours straight. I cried so hard and for so long that numerous blood vessels burst on my face and on my eyelids…I could not close my eyes because they were so tender and hurt so much that I wound up crying with my eyes open for hours on end…because try as I might, I could not stop. For anything. The fact I have been able to go to work for two days is just a testament to the fact that I know I cannot solely focus on my grief; that “life goes on even after life.”

It just makes it all the more ironic that I do not feel alive in my heart at this time.

I have never felt my age before this moment. Now, I feel nothing but the weight of every hour spent on this planet.

I have been touched (if not slightly overwhelmed, but in a good and uplifting way) by the massive outpouring of condolences from so many people who knew Cricket, me, Ashley or any combination of us. Students, colleagues, friends from all over – from every school I have worked for – it’s been almost incomprehensible how many lives this tiny, little, lopsided, waddling dog touched.

I always joked that the day I adopted Cricket from the Humane Society that it was the best $25 I ever spent in my life. Indeed – no investment possible could have ever yielded such an immeasurable return in love, friendship, or laughter. Her life was truly invaluable.

Ashley and I have been silent in our grief, mourning in only the way a parent can after the passing of a child. And I DEFY anyone to EVER argue to my face that Cricket was not my/our child. Our silence echoes the vacuum in our apartment – never knowing how much we had come to anticipate and expect the sound of Cricket walking from room to room, her collar jingling the whole way…or how soothing the sound of her breathing (okay: snoring) was at night, when we prepared to drift off. How much we had come to expect t see her “dancing” all the time (pretty much just bouncing from one paw to the next) in the kitchen, or when we came home from work…

It’s as if all the joy in the world has been momentarily suspended. There is no need or cause for dancing anywhere.

Maggie has been confused by the ordeal – wondering where Cricket is, confused by the fact we left with her and she did not come back, wondering if we would do the same to her…and she, in her own way, has paid tribute to her memory by not sleeping where she slept, and by not barking at every slight noise outside like she used to. I doubt that this has made Mags more sociable – but it’s almost as if she feels the gulf that needs to be filled and so she is trying to be like the sister she had. For a season, at least.

I can not conceivably be more thankful that I took Friday off to rest at home, and that we got to spend that day together goofing off…nor that on Saturday, we – as a family – spent the day at home, playing and laughing together…and that on Sunday, Ashley got to spend an hour in private playing with Cricket in the back room, and that she (much to my eye-rolling) fed her table scraps – steak, no less, from a leftover burrito – as her last treat. It was an almost perfect scenario for a sendoff she would have appreciated.

Her final hours were spent surrounded by new people and other strange, new animals. Given how much she loved to meet people – the social little penguin that she was (butterflies float, penguins waddle; ergo, she was a penguin) – and how enraptured by the idea of making new friends with other dogs (and, God help us, cats) she was encircled by what to her had to have been a playground of possibilities.

The last time I saw her was at the Pet Emergency Room when she was in the oxygen tent, and in a beautiful, poetic instant…she never looked more like her puppy self than she did at that moment in time. As a puppy, she did not quite comprehend the fact that you do not stand in your water or food dish, so she always had something (water, most likely) dripping from her face. This night was no exception – she was so thirsty that she all but face-planted in her water bowl. I remember that the last thing I told her was she was a good girl, that I loved her, and that she looked utterly ridiculous. Her eyes never dimmed – she smiled in love at me and Ashley as we walked out.

The attending vet said she simply closed her eyes, fell asleep and never woke up. She died with the warm, compassionate hands of the vet on her, assuring her in some ways she was not alone in her journey home.

The one soul-crushing regret I will live with all my life is that Cricket did not live to see her sibling born. Ashley and I time and again laughed about how we could not wait to watch Cricket interact with a baby, seeing the unparalleled joy on her face as the baby laughed at the brush of her fur on the baby’s skin – how Cricket, who always had a toe fetish, would have been enraptured at the feel of the soft skin of the baby’s feet and would have just covered her in oodles of kisses – and how would Cricket have been as a big sister, protective of the baby, uttering that low, completely non-threatening growl of hers, to anyone who dared to disturb the life she would protect…what would she have done the first time she felt the baby kick while laying on mommy’s lap?...would she have tried to steal away with one of the baby’s toys? Or would she nap beneath the crib, staying as alert as needed for the little life above her?

The day she died, I thanked her for teaching me how to be a good daddy. That I felt more prepared to welcome her sibling into our lives since I had 14 years of discovering what pure love looked and felt like, of learning what it was like to have a life that was joyfully and appreciatively dependent on me, of keeping my child-like heart alive and full of life.

I have not truly smiled in four days. I wonder when I will again. I wonder how I will again.

“There’s a tiny spirit in the world above, cradled so sweetly in our Father’s love…” Thank you, Derri. Thank you, Steve. I’ve carried that song lyric with me for almost 20 years, and now I understand it. And I draw some peace and consolation from it.

Healing will come. Healing has to come.

Until then…

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