There were so many difficult days. Difficult doesn’t describe it. Let me try again… agonizing, harrowing, grievous, arduous days. Some days brought catastrophic meltdowns that left me incapacitated. Most days were spent crying on and off all day. My first day of real relief came about 2 months later. It was like we had crested the first hill. I still cried every day for my boy. Even 8 months later, I cry most days. When you lose someone you love this much, the pain does not just go away. I’m not even sure it lessens…. it just seems you get better at dealing with it.
As anyone that’s been a caregiver can tell you, your entire life changes to revolve around the one you are caring for. In Niko’s case, it didn’t happen overnight, but over several years. As he grew older, he needed more care. I had to carry him up and down the stairs. First, it was just some of the time. Then it was only down the stairs. Then it was up and down. His hearing got worse, his sight got worse, and he would get confused sometimes. His needs became more urgent, meaning everything was on a schedule. There became less and less flexibility. There was also more to monitor, and more to worry about. I agonized over losing him for the last few years of his life. I tried to prepare and come to terms with it – be thankful he was living so long. I was not really successful.
Since Niko died, and my bubble burst, I’m seeing just how much my life changed for him. It was worth it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But now I am faced with finding my way back to a ‘normal’ life. I had a dentist appointment on June 23, 2009. They always schedule your next appointment after your cleaning. It’s usually about 6 months out. So as I scheduled my next appointment for January 13th, 2010, I thought to myself, Niko will probably be gone by then.
2009 was a terrible year on many levels. It had more loss and misery, than any year I can remember. From July 11-16, I remember very little, aside from heartache. I know I cried a lot, but I know I still had some good moments with my roo. After July 16th, life was a blur.
The first few weeks were spent in disbelief. Nothing felt right. It was difficult to keep from crying all the time. It was difficult just to get out of bed! The first time we walked Niko’s usual route, after he passed, was bittersweet. I could feel him with us, moving freely without his old body, and stopping to smell every usual spot. Walking that route the first time – which was about a mile – brought some closure, along with a lot of emotion. There would be no more walks with him and I had to keep the memories of hundreds of walks in a safe place.
I went shopping for a new car, since I had held off while I still had vet bills to pay. This was a good distraction, until I got the call about Ti (mom’s horse) being down. We lost him on the 27th of July at age 39. That was another huge shock to my system. The following day, I went back to the dealership and bought my ‘affordable dream car’. I was happy, until I realized I would be leaving my old car, and all the Niko hair that filled it, behind. I did not expect to get so emotional. It was actually very difficult.
Within another week, I learned of a friend’s death in an accident. Off to another funeral. Another huge unexpected shock, and I felt I had very few tears left to cry.
Once all the dust settled from the multiple deaths, Niko’s death became much more real. It had been so surreal the first few weeks. It is hard to describe, but I finally had to fully face the grief. The first two months were the absolute hardest for me. The pain and complete despair were overwhelming. The meltdowns I faced were beyond my control, and for a control freak, that’s a bad thing. I felt so totally alone on a lot of levels, even though I had excellent support. I pushed through my days, and I’m sure many people never realized the internal battles I routinely fought. I am thankful for my Angel’s group support, and for the love of my husband. They all kept me somewhat sane. There was not a day I didn’t cry up until the 7th month, but I began feeling a bit more functional after the first two months.
Towards the end of the 2nd month, Jonathan and I decided to bring in another ‘distraction’. I had hoped to bring in a cat sometime after losing Niko, since I lost my dear kitty Ned in 2003. I felt bringing a kitty into our home would allow us to share our love with another animal that in no way resembled Niko. While a cat can be as rewarding a companion as a dog, their care is so totally different. I felt I could handle opening my heart to a cat (or two or three). We went through HART (Homeless Animals Rescue Team) and met with many candidate kitties. We finally settled on two boys. Their story is on the New Additions Page. The new additions did cause some stress in the beginning for Jonathan and I, but within a few weeks, we adjusted and were a family. We’ve even since added a third kitty.
I still hope to adopt another dog in the future. I felt this urge to find one shortly after Niko passed, but in reality, I was not ready. I realized that I wasn’t looking for a new companion so much as I was looking for Niko. Once I came to peace with the fact that a new doggy addition would not actually be Niko, I felt no where near ready to add one.
I love dogs. I always have. It is weird not having a dog right now, but I believe those you bring into your family should be granted your affection, your time, your love, and your money. We cannot control what curve balls life throws, so there is no guarantee that our next dog won’t be struck with cancer early on. Am I ready to go through all that again for a dog that is not Niko? No… I’m selfishly not. 😦 When I am ready to give my heart and soul to another dog, with out any resentment for he / she not being Niko, we will begin our search. Until then, I donate to various rescues, I volunteer with cat adoptions, and I love my kitties.
The First Vacation
The first vacation we took was in October, just shy of the 3 month anniversary of his death. We went to see friends in St. John, USVI. This was my third trip to St. John, which is a breathtaking island. We had not vacationed for 21 months. Once Niko’s cushings surfaced, and then cancer, I was unwilling to leave him.
I was so excited to go to this beautiful place and see dear friends. The warm sun, uncrowded beaches, clear water, wonderful company, and tons of Painkillers (a drink famous in the Virgin Islands). We soaked up rays at Trunk Bay, took a boat out to Jost Van Dyke for the day to the Soggy Dollar Bar. We enjoyed many meals, and late night conversations out on the balcony. I found myself feeling so free, but so sad over why I was ‘free’.
While we were flying across the water on a high speed boat in the morning sun, on our way to the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke, I had such an overwhelming wave of emotion. I felt so fortunate and so cool to be where I was sitting, knowing the incredible day that lay ahead. Many people will never have an experience like this. Life was so good at that moment…. except I was still so completely heartbroken. Heartache is a real, physical pain. It can be crippling. During these moments of such awe and appreciation for my experiences, I was crushed by the consequences that had allowed me to be here. Niko’s death had allowed me to be here. Niko’s death had set me free.
I am hopeful that I will hurt less the next time we go away. I have since learned that while re-learning to enjoy life, I’m going to be reminded of what I’ve lost and it will be painful.
As the holidays approached, I became more anxious about how I would get through them without Niko. I got through the annual family Oktoberfest OK. I had even printed out a sheet telling Niko’s story, and why he was not there. This saved me from having to answer questions on the spot. I could not answer questions on the spot without losing it.
I saw my doctor before Thanksgiving in an effort to be chemically prepared for any major Niko meltdowns. This was helpful, but nothing could really save me from stress around the holidays. Thanksgiving was easy and low key. It made me really look forward to Christmas. I normally love the holidays. Well, I take that back. I love the idea of the holidays. I love preparing for the holidays. I love the fall leading into winter. Wrapping presents and making batches of comfort foods like Chili and baking chocolate chip cookies. I so looked for ward to the holidays in 2009. I had such high hopes that they would be good and happy, and I would not just be drowning in my grief. I thought they’d be a good distraction. That much was true, but just not in the way I had hoped.
The holidays were hard. They were stressful and I could not mediate. I could not deal with it at all. I shut down. I don’t normally just shut down in stressful situations, I navigate through them. I just simply lacked the ability…. the energy this time around.
As the new year approached, I planned a “Fuck You 2009” new years eve party. I drank a lot of champagne with good friends, and finally felt that the hills might be getting smaller.