When Niko was still alive, I wanted time to slow down. I didn’t yearn for Friday to come, or wish Monday would hurry up. Every moment my boy was alive, was cherished time I had with him.
It was so much work to care for him during his last year or so – especially the last few months. I remember being so stressed out much of the time, though, when I’d see him and spend time with him, it all went away. Niko was like a drug to me in so many ways. I was awful without him…. stressed, unhappy, angry, and consumed with my anticipatory grief and physical pains from carrying him up and down the stairs. Though as soon as I would see him… his eyes… his smile… I remembered why I was doing all of this and all I felt was grateful for being allowed to care for such a being. I felt elated and joyful for being afforded such a creature in my life. I’m still awed by how such a powerful love can affect someone.
Some things that have been harder than I thought….
I’ve never sought out professional help for any mental disorders before. Handling the loss of Niko left me feeling so lost, I thought it was a good time to see what a ‘professional’ could do for me. It wasn’t very hard to make the decision to seek therapy and grief counseling. It wasn’t hard to research options in my area and my insurance network. It was hard to actually call to make the appointment.
At the time I’m writing this, I’ve had 4 sessions. I worried, at first, about what I’d say. How could someone actually help me? I know the grief cycle sucks and I need to find a new normal in my life. What could they offer? What I found was that they offered me validation. It was OK that I was so completely devastated. It was normal that I struggled to find new ways to be happy and nurture. I also learned that I hadn’t suddenly become unable to handles stress, it was that I had reached max capacity and just had not been aware of the water continuing to rise.
Once I felt better about myself, I found a little bit of the self-confidence I had lost. Now it was time to find a way to rebuild and get my life back. Learning to relax and also learning to sleep again are much harder than one might think. I know I need patience and diligence. Old habits are hard to break. However, I’ve had moments of peace, and moments of joy again. My overall sense of well-being is improved. I would not say I’m fine, but I finally feel hopeful.
I’ve recently started acupuncture as well. This did wonders for Niko in his life, and I’m hoping it can help me get to a less anxious state. Relieving that will certainly aid in alleviating much of my depression, restlessness, and sleeplessness. My acupuncturist said to me “Stress comes from believing that things should be different than they are.” This is so true…. much of my stress is from things I cannot change or control, and things that really don’t matter. Now that I see this logically, I need to get to the same understanding emotionally. That will be a bit more difficult, but I am, again, hopeful.
Calling the Vet
When we first adopted our kittens, we used a vet that worked directly with the rescue organization, with full intention to change their car to Adams Mill. Adams Mill has been nothing but incredible, and I trust them fully with my animals. The first time I had to call them was in late February to schedule Jasper for ear and skin issues. How hard could it be to call and make an appointment? I certainly called them frequently enough when Niko was alive. I didn’t expect to hit a wall as I dialed the number. I hung up. I could not call them. I tried repeatedly over the course of a few days. On the day that I actually dialed the last digit of their phone number, I must have hung up before completion at least a dozen times. I was damn near panicking.
I felt good about making the appointment, and having that hurdle behind me. The next hurdle was going to the vet, and seeing the office, seeing Dr. Ball. The day came and I tried to keep my head clear as I pulled in to the parking lot. First time since July 11th. The last time I had been there, I was told my sweet boy had probably only days left before he would be gone. This time I walked in without Niko, but his pictures hang on their wall. I kept it together while we waited for Dr. Ball. I had not seen her since she was at my house to let Niko go. I didn’t know how I’d react, but I had mixed emotions of dread and excitement to see her. The visit went well, and I’m glad it is behind us. I don’t have any issue calling the vet now.
Going Out… and coming home
When Niko was younger and healthy, leaving him alone was never an issue. In the last 7 months or so of his life, leaving him was not an option – even in capable ‘baby sitting’ hands. We just stopped going out. With Niko free, we were free once again as well. The first time we went out, was to see The Hangover. The movie was good, though it felt very wrong to be out of the house. Since then, we’ve attended parties, dined out, seen movies, gone to bars, and visited friends. I’ve learned not to worry about Niko, but I still think of him every time we go out, or go away. I think of how trapped I was, but how I would trade it all to have him back. It’s bittersweet.
The hardest part about going out, is coming home. Even 10+ months later, I sometimes catch myself thinking of how great it will be to ‘pick up the roo’ from my parents’ house. Reality is quick to squash that fleeting thought, but it still wrecks me every time I see that glimmer of happiness disappear. What I wouldn’t give to have my boy back for just a few more minutes.
I recently gave my friend Laura grief for not allowing herself to have fun. She lost her husband to lung cancer May 30, 2009. He left behind 2 daughters. She explained how it’s not that she doesn’t want to have fun, but that she isn’t really sure how to. Wow… that hit home. I understood this exactly, as I’m in the same boat. I plan things I would normally enjoy, but I don’t have fun the way I keep expecting to… the way I once did. I’m just not genuinely happy. How hard could it be, right? So much harder than you’d think. I feel like I have to learn how to let myself enjoy life again. I’ve only started to get moments of peace and joy back in my life. I think it will take a long time to really be happy and really have fun like I once did.
I look at Laura and I miss the happy, loud, funny person she was. I know that person is still in there, but she stood by her love of 15 years, as she cared for him for 14 months through cancer. She’s been picking up the pieces ever since, and I’m sad for her loss of her husband, the father of her children, and the loss of her. I guess this helped me understand what those that know how I “really am” nowadays might feel. Maybe they miss me too.
I still talk out loud to Niko. I feel closest to him when I do this. I can sometimes feel him look at me when I whistle for him. I can’t explain it, but I’m sure he’s there.
I still lurk on the LymphomaHeartDogs list. It’s hard to do, as I know the difficult days and nights that those in the fight are plagued with, and I know that the outcome for most, will be losing the war in the midst of battle. Mostly I stay on to invite caregivers of new angels, to join the angels group. I know how much it helped me to have somewhere to turn, I want that door to stay open to others. It does turn my guts to knots when I see someone struggling and when I know they are nearing the end. I don’t know many of these new people on the list, but I know their pain.
I feel like I’ve made a lot of strides towards finding my new normal and happiness again. It’s been just over a year since losing Niko. I made it through all the ‘firsts’ and am thankful those are behind me. It does not mean that I don’t still hurt. It doesn’t mean that my days are easy, however, it’s a little easier to smile and enjoy things again. I think it will take years to feel as care free as I once did… or maybe never.
My best advice to those caregivers of elderly or sick dogs, is enjoy every moment. Do not think about ‘that day’ when they need to cross the bridge. It consumes you. This is easier said than done, but do try to just focus on each day as it comes. You cannot control the future. You will be faced with a wall of pain, but you will find a way to manage it, and you will get through it day by day. The big picture is way more than most of us can handle, so don’t try to see it all. You’ll miss some important details that may greatly enrich your memories.
I’m still on the quest to find a new normal, happiness, and relaxation. I hold on to so much and am always conscientious of that. I’ve tried to make concerted efforts to let go, without any long term success.
Acupuncture has helped a lot on the sleep front, which is what we’ve been targeting. It certainly improves my mood too. If only I could afford to get it every other day. Alas, I cannot, so I’ve been looking for a way to supplement this.
I went to my first ever yoga class. It was a class focused very much on breathing and relaxation – right up my alley. The first half of the class, I found my thoughts all over the place. Somewhere in the middle though, my jaw relaxed, and my thoughts slowed. This was unexpected and afterwards, I found myself feeling pretty peaceful. I’ll be going back for more classes to see if this will be something to work into my routine. I’m so sick of being so uptight and anxious.
Trying to get back on track with regular work outs too. I gave myself a ‘break’ for July, and then most of August. As much as I hate coming home after a long day to fit in exercising between making dinner and handling other household chores, the reward is worth it.
I’m not sure that I’m any closer, yet, to the person I hope to be, but I feel like I’m starting to find my direction. Like an analog compass penduluming a little before determining it’s chosen direction. Or something like that. 🙂
I’ve also been getting more involved with HART. Aside from assisting at adoption events, I’m starting to do interviews with potential adopters. So are they are giving me the easy interviews… those who don’t have many (or any) red flags. I’m working strictly with cats right now. Working with the pups is just not in the cards for me yet. Helping HART has been really rewarding. I get to help an organization that helps cats and dogs get a second chance. I’ve always wanted to work with a rescue… and now I am. 🙂
December 19, 2010
I woke up in the middle of the night to one of our cats having digestive upset. He did this behind a large dresser, which we had to move to get him out and to clean up the mess. My anxiety level is as high as it can be. Once a caregiver for a the illnesses Niko faced, there is no taking any sickness lightly, even if logically, you know it’s not panic material.
I wonder if I’ll ever be able to look at those I love while they suffer, and not fear the worst. I am reasoning with myself, reassuring myself, that I don’t need to panic. I took his temperature, it is within the normal range. I am withholding food for 24-48 hours, and making sure he is staying hydrated. I read the section on diarrhea in all my books, and again online. Was I missing any red flags? No… I just need to wait and give him a chance to overcome it with the care I am providing. If he does not, we will see the vet. Am I scared that I am endangering his life? Logically no, but emotionally, yes. I feel like I’ve failed him. This is my fault. I must have tainted something I fed him. I should have been able to avoid this!
Little things become big deals. Little things I could have handled without missing sleep, before. Before Niko got sick. Will I ever be able to take sickness at face value again, or will I always feel that I cannot do enough? Will I be able to let them rest, without checking their vitals repeatedly?
I have a long night ahead of worry. I search for directions to the emergency vet, so I can remember how to get there in the middle of the night. I search to see what time my vets office opens in the morning, in case I need to call them to make an urgent appointment. I fret about re-arranging my day tomorrow to be available to my sick little man, even though Jonathan will be home with him all day. Do I need to be like this? No. Can I help it? I don’t think so…. it comes with the territory of having watched a love one die while you could do nothing to stop it, while you were doing everything you could to try.
It is a short week of work, and I have so much to look forward to this week, but I can only see what is right in front of me. This ‘side effect’ or a ‘recovering caregiver’ sucks. What else can I say.
btw… kitties were on the mend by the next morning.