Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Loss and closure

Summer 2019 was a whole thing.

I got quarantined by the department of public health due to possible measles exposure and wasn't allowed to leave my house (thankfully lifted after a week when they were able to run additional tests and confirm that I had immunity but it was a whole bunch of drama).

Dave died at the end of July, almost 11 years after the accident that made him into a totally different person. The actual death was sudden, although it feels strange to describe it that way when really it feels like it happened in slow motion. I used to mark the anniversary with a post each year but I stopped after year six, when I realized that nothing about that situation was fixable and I needed to spend some time working on acceptance. What that really meant, for me, was accepting that Dave was gone in most of the essential ways. I never was able to let go of the resentment I felt for the new person that took his place. I've tried to stop feeling guilty about that. If we're being honest, the new person was generally an asshole. That wasn't Dave's fault, and it wasn't the new person's fault, but it wasn't my fault either and it was the truth. It's hard to keep loving someone who is more often than not, obstinate, irrational, and mean. In many ways, I still resent that person, because I feel like the last decade has slowly stolen even the memories of Dave away. If he'd died in the accident, it would have been sudden and horrible and we would have grieved deeply but he would have been frozen in time at that moment. Instead, the memories of Dave pre-accident are all buried and mixed up with years of resentment and ambiguous grief. Now that he's truly gone, I'm hoping I can slowly let go of the anger and try to remember him as two separate people. Brain injury is complicated and individual and it'll probably take all of us years to process this experience. I feel like this paragraph reads as cold, a strange, dry ending to what was a huge chapter in my family's life, but that's where I am right now. I have some work to do, clearly.

Moving forward to unambiguous grief, our beloved Circe died in August, and we're still missing her feisty presence every day. At 14.5 years old, she'd been dealing with complicated health issues for a while, and we'd finally gotten a definitive diagnosis of Cushings disease just a week before. That Saturday I'd put Adrian down for a nap and I was freaking out because we'd just noticed the telltale red spots that signal hand, foot and mouth disease, and I was anticipating all the misery that would entail. So I was standing in the kitchen feeling stressed when Circe walked in, stumbled and then collapsed on the floor. I panicked, cradling her in my arms and shouting for Dustin. She was alert but not able to stand, so I rushed her to the vet's office, crying the entire way. They ran tests and checked her out but nothing was "wrong" - other than the clear fact that she couldn't walk and seemed to be getting less responsive. She was peaceful and didn't appear to be in pain so I decided to bring her home and let her pass in her own time (although we did call a vet who could come out to our house to euthanize her, in case she started to seem uncomfortable). It was a bizarre day, because we were hosting a family birthday party and everyone arrived just minutes after I rushed to the vet. So I came home, with a dying dog, and we just took turns holding her all day and eating cake while watching Adrian's spots get progressively worse. Circe finally passed away in our bed, early Sunday morning. We took her to back to our vet's office because I couldn't stand the thought of having her taken away by strangers. Our vet was there when we arrived (she doesn't work on Saturdays so we hadn't seen her the day before) and she hugged us and cried, and told me she'd reviewed Circe's chart first thing that morning and she felt sure it was a stroke, which was what I'd suspected as well. I'm still struggling to adjust to not hearing her little nails click as she walks around the house, to not having her snuggled up against me at night.

circe + squirrel

And yes, I know it's strange to post about losing a person and losing a dog in the same breath, and I realize that I'm grieving Circe far more than Dave right now. That's where I am. Missing Circe is uncomplicated, pure grief and it's easier to process. She was such a constant presence in our lives, and I'm grateful that she was happy right up until the end, and I feel lucky that she had her stroke on a Saturday because I don't know how I could have handled the irrational guilt if I'd come home from work to find her there alone.

Loss comes in so many shapes, and my struggle is always to accept it, to let myself feel it and to stop trying to rationalize it.

P.S. - Adrian did indeed have a raging case of hand, foot and mouth, and I can say with authority that having to wake up multiple times a night to slather cold yogurt all over your hysterical toddler in the bathtub (because you read somewhere that maybe, possibly, it could help) provides a bit of temporary distraction in the midst of grief, or at least makes you wonder what the fuck you did in a past life to deserve this.

P.P.S. - I know I keep promising posts to people and then forgetting to write them. I'm sorry! If I promised something and didn't do it, let me know! I have a bunch of drafts that I'll try to revisit and polish up when I get a moment (although my moments are few and far between these days).


  1. Rachel, that is so much loss. And I'm not surprised that your beloved dog and stepfather are in the same post - you've been grieving your stepfather, in one way or another, since his accident.

    May the fall be more joyous and healthier!

    (I had HFM in August - blisters in my mouth - and it was HORRIBLE & lasted forever, and made everything taste horrible, which was truly frustrating during the best produce time in New ENgland!)

  2. Rachel, I am so sorry for your losses.

  3. So, so sorry you had such a tough summer. Wishing you some semblance of peace in the days ahead, and may the memories of both Dave and Circe dog be blessings to you always. Cherish the memories!

  4. I'm so sorry - what a doozy. My father has TBI (you once sent me a very nice email response when I sent you a note about one of your anniversary posts) and I completely understand and validate that complex balance of grief and resentment. My experience is that TBI eliminates a person's ability to be empathetic which is just very exhausting and so difficult. My dad is kinder to his kids but just awful to my mother. You are not cold at all! No one understands unless they are in the trenches too. Sorry for the loss on top of loss.

    So sorry about your pup! Dogs are the best and it's sad that we have to lose them. Also sorry about the daycare germ onslaught - my kid is three now and each year improved (we still get sick monthly Sept-May but less severe! #blessed) so I hope you all and Adrian fare better as her immune system develops.

  5. Hugs to you. Grief is a beast with unknown depths, and to be navigating two big losses at once is a lot to cope with.

  6. This all sounds so unbelievably tough. I think you deserve all the grace you can give yourself as well as some treat yoself days. Additionally, I'm going to give my dog a slice of pizza tonight in honor of Circe. Hugs to you and so sorry for your many losses.

  7. So much loss, and to be going through both conflicted and pure grief at once - I can't actually imagine what that's like. I am glad nobody has foot and mouth disease right now, but most of all I hope this fall is gentle to you and that winter is peaceful.

  8. I am so sorry for your enormous losses Rachel. I hope the rest of the year is peaceful for you and your family

  9. Rachel,

    Having followed you for such a long time and your stories of both your step-father and your beloved Circe, I am genuinely sorry for your loss. We lost two of our beloved family dogs within a year of each other and it was heartbreaking for all of us. Loosing a pet is loosing family. I understand how difficult dealing with so much grief can be. Many years ago, I lost my pop who was difficult to say the least (most particuarly due to the fact we were not close and he didn't like me much at all but doted on my sisters) but I was able to make peace with him before his passing. Grief can take many different forms and you are doing what I know is to be right for you at this point in your life. I echo Lisa's words and can only pray that the rest of your year is kind to you. I also pray that you are also kind to yourself xx

  10. I'm so sorry for your loss. It was a heavy summer, and I wish much peace for you and yours at this time. I can relate to how you feel about Dave's maternal grandmother had senile dementia, and it felt like I didn't really know her anymore. Senile dementia took its toll on her over the years, and I was angry at the disease and how I lost my grandmother while she was still alive. While I grieved her death, I also felt relieved that she wasn't suffering anymore. This lead to feeling guilty because how could I possibly feel relief at someone's death? Grief is highly personal, and you have a right to feel how you feel. Be kind to yourself.

  11. I hope lots of nice small things happen for you as that is what I find comforts me the most in the tough times. Thank you for your honest post about grief. I so often wonder why once a person dies all their complexity and depth as a person fades away. Just remembering people as some one who was always great and the best person ever loses the depth of the relationships, which in truth are always complicated and messy. I think the best way to honor someone is to be truthful to who they were - at times amazing and at times terrible. I've been a longtime reader and I'm sure old Dave would support you and understand you in this difficult and weird grieving process. I'm so sorry about Circe as well because well dogs really are just the best and give us so much love that they absolutely makes sense how you feel.

  12. Oh, Rachel. I want to give you guys all the hugs. I can only imagine how complicated your feelings are about Dave right now. You've been grieving pre-TBI Dave for so long, while trying to be patient and understanding (tolerant?) of post-TBI Dave. And that sounds exhausting. Give yourself grace and space to sort that out as needed. Whatever you're doing is right and healing. <3 <3 <3

    You guys did so well by sweet Circe. I'm sure she was as comfortable as she could be, and very happy her humans were with her.

    So much love to your family. And ffs, may HFM never visit your house again.

  13. Life is so, so hard. I'm thinking of you and your family. Hugs!


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