It was a year ago today that my beautiful Sophie died. A whole year. I’m another year older, my kid is in kindergarten, I’ve been to Paris. But my Sophie is still gone.
It was a gorgeous, early spring day, March 25. Steve and Bini had left, it was preschool day, and I was racing out the door to go somewhere. Steve had fed Sophie; her bowls were downstairs. She was downstairs all of the time in that last year. She was too weak to make the trek up the indoor stairs, so she was alone a lot. She slept most of the time.
That morning, I found her collapsed, next to her food and water bowls. She looked at me, bewildered, and I remember thinking, “No, no, no, no NO. No, goddammit. I’m not ready. ” Because I knew this was It. She’d been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma seven months prior, and the dog oncologist had told us four to six months. I didn’t listen. I believed she’d beat it, somehow.
I was hysterical, the way you are when you find your best friend in a really bad way. I tried to coax her to eat, but she couldn’t stand. I tried to hold her up, but her legs kept buckling. So I called Steve and shrieked out something, and he rushed back. Thank God Bini was at school that horrible day. Steve and I were not fit to parent.
It didn’t go well at the vet. This is a pretty horrible story, so if you don’t feel like crying today, I might skip it. We got her to the vet and they examined her and told us that she was bleeding internally. She was dying. If she came home with us, she’d die a terrible death. If we left her there they could keep her alive for maybe another day, but she’d be without us. So we decided to put her down.
If you’ve ever done this, you know how it goes: They give you time to “say goodbye.” It’s ludicrous. When are you ever ready to say goodbye? But we did our best and we cried so much that we went through a box of tissues. Then, they sedated her and we sat with her as they gave her “the shot.” And here’s the truly terrible part, the part that still keeps me up at night: She didn’t die. She had no circulation in her legs, where they gave the shot, so the drug didn’t get to her heart. They had to try several times before it took, and during that time, I was like an insane person, raving that I wanted to stop, that I wanted to take her home. I truly lost my mind for a couple of days. But that’s what happens when you kill your best friend.
I still see her, lying there. My glorious, gorgeous dog. If you’d ever met her, you’d agree — she was magnificent. A year later, I still can’t think about my sweet Sophie on the cold, hard ground without completely going to pieces.
Grief has weight to it. It takes every bit of your energy. Those first few days I felt like I was trudging uphill with rocks in my pockets. I did the bare minimum, begging off from everything that I possibly could. I kept her bowls as they were, with her uneaten food still in it. I buried my face in her blankets, trying to remember her smell, the feel of her fur. I created a shrine on her extra-large heated dog bed, with her well-loved stuffed toys. One day, about a week after she died, I came in to find Jinx, our cat, sleeping there. I started screaming “Get off her bed! Get off!” Jinx scampered off (and knowing her, probably peed on my shoes). I felt like I was losing my mind. Who grieved like this for a pet?
There were people who got it, who called me and wrote me e-mails and left care packages on my front doorstep. My mom, who adored Sophie, wrote a beautiful poem about her. My good friend texted me that she was going to get my son from preschool and keep him for the afternoon. She knew I was in no shape to be any kind of decent mother. Another friend told me that she went to a grief support group when her dog died. It made me feel less insane.
There were those who didn’t get it, who asked me things like “are you still upset?” when I clearly was still upset. I pulled away from those friends and I’ve kept my distance. Thankfully, I have more people in my life with empathy than without.
Two months later, we got another dog. I found Jones on Petfinder and I knew, just by looking at his silly face, that he was our dog. Some people questioned whether it was too soon, and in truth, it might have been, a little. But we needed a bit of joy in the house. Sophie’s long illness and our intense grief had left us wrung out and empty. We needed something to fill that void.
Jones is a different dog than Sophie, in pretty much every single way. Where she was regal, Jones is goofy. Sophie didn’t go in much for playing fetch; Jones’ singular obsession is the Chuckit. Sophie gently gnawed on her stuffed animals; Jones eviscerates antlers. Sophie was a dignified, once-a-day pooper; Jones passes gas all day long, and quite unselfconsiously. Sophie loved the snow; Jones high-steps through it like he’s walking on tar. But that’s OK. I’m glad Jones isn’t like Sophie. I couldn’t replace her if I tried. How do you replace your best friend?