The first holiday after losing a loved one is always difficult, whether that loved one is a family member, friend, or pet. We’ve always treasured our pets and thought of them as members of the family; they’re an integral part of our daily lives, and our lives would be less without them.
Back in March, we had to say goodbye to our twelve year old dog, Nala. She’d been diagnosed with cancer briefly before her death, and was no longer eating or drinking. It was absolutely heartbreaking, and we still miss her.
Last week, we were informed that one of our other dogs has widespread liver cancer. Layla is also twelve years old, and we’ve also had her since she was a puppy. Our vet, whom we’ve always trusted, told us she was in pain and recommended humane euthanasia. We wanted to bring her home to properly say goodbye and give the kids a chance to say goodbye, and asked for medicine to alleviate her symptoms so we could do that.
After just one dose of an anti-diarrheal and pain medicine, our sweet girl was acting like herself again. She was hungry, and ate all of her food. She drank and ate normally, though we altered her diet for her sensitive stomach. She has slept more, but she’s still there. She’s still herself. She still comes bounding in when we open the bread bag. She does her funny crowing bark howl when she’s excited. It’s been nearly a week since we got her diagnosis, and she’s still with us. She’s still enjoying life and having a quality of life worth living.
We are so grateful we didn’t follow the vet’s recommendation and brought her home. We know our time with her is limited, and we are treasuring every day she is still with us. We’re grateful for every cuddle, bark, sly look, and wink. Our hearts are still heavy, knowing her diagnosis is fatal, but we’re taking it one day at a time and we’re thankful for each moment we get to have with her.
I share our story not to shame our vet or complain; rather, to encourage you to trust your instincts. Our world is so full of heartache and hurt right now, but that doesn’t mean your feelings and experiences aren’t valid. Don’t be afraid to think things through, take your time, and trust yourself.
Also, even though it’s Christmas, you don’t have to pretend to be happy. There are sure to be joyous moments to enjoy, but don’t guilt yourself if you cry when you pull out a stocking for someone who won’t be there this year. Grief doesn’t take holidays off.
To close, I want to leave you with wise words from Dolly Parton’s new Netflix Christmas movie, Christmas on the Square, “Grief is just love with nowhere to go.”
Right now, we have a place for our love to go. We will continue loving our sweet girl and live in hope, treasuring each day we get with her. It isn’t easy to live in hope; it feels risky, and we know heartbreak is on the horizon. But that’s the thing about hope: even when you know the dark is coming, you also know you’ll have a candle to give you warm light, comforting you during the hardest part.