23 Feb My grief and loss – the unique pattern that I run
“Darling Douni, It’s always sunny in heaven. We miss you.”
My own experience teaches me about me…
My grief and loss – the unique pattern that I run.
Through my education and experience I have learned and witnessed grief and loss….But never personally experienced it. I’m sure if I think back hard enough, I may find my own example of some kind of grief, but I will be unable to share the pattern that I ran with you. In recent years, I often wondered how I personally would deal with any grief or loss. My close friend recently lost her father and I watched her closely; I knew she had to run the process, and that it was going to be her own unique experience.
And then it was my turn… it was my pet dog. You may say “losing a dog is not like losing another human being” and I totally agree with you. But this is all I have so that I can share my experience with you and show you the pattern that I run.
Those who have attachments to pets and a genuine love for them know that it can be painful to lose a pet. Sure I have lost pets before, but this one was actually blended into my family. My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run. He watched TV with us, he ate with us and he slept with us. Douni would greet us at the door. He would follow us outside. He would keep us company when we swam, and he kept us safe when we slept.
Hearing the bad news
One fine day whilst he was having his pamper wash, his groomer brought it to my attention that his neck was rather large in size. I found her repeating it as I allowed her comment to bypass my non-concerning mind. After the third time I responded “do you think I should take him to the vet” and she responded “yes”. And then I looked right at her.
Below I will describe my patterns and process. You will notice you may respond and react differently to different situations. And this is what makes us unique.
My first actions
That afternoon I took Douni to the vet. After a physical examination and blood test I was told he might have cancer but would know the results the following day. I was surprised someone would say the “c” word without lab results, but I sat with the news feeling concerned yet expecting promising news. I shared the news with my family, leading with an attitude of positive expectancy for the following days update.
My first reactions
The next day I rang the vet and was told he had cancer and to go in for a chat. There was no expression from me over the phone. It was less than a 10 min drive to the vet but I decided to run there so that I could process it whilst I ran. I walked over to Douni and he looked at me (as he always does). I kissed him on his forehead and breathed in his scent. But I didn’t tell him what I knew.
I locked the house put my music in my ears and ran there. I played one song on repeat as I cried and struggled to breathe as I jogged. When I get very upset, my throat swells and becomes painful and I struggle to breathe, thats just my physiological response. I don’t know exactly why I chose to run there. I guess it was easier to cry and experience that emotion on my own. These days when that particular song comes on I experience the same emotion and I have a very clear memory of a section of my jog.
When I walked into the vet, a lovely lady vet took me in and told me the news. Tears were falling out of my eyes. I noticed her discomfort when she saw me crying. I offered her comfort “Don’t worry that I’m crying, you can continue talking. This is my natural reaction”. I even smiled at her.
Douni had Lymph Cancer. Maximum 6 months to live. If I chose Chemotherapy he may live up to a year.
Breaking the news made it real
Douni was just over 6 years old. I was by no means ready to prepare for goodbyes.
So I left with my new bad news.
I ran to work and I sat in my office and told the news to my friends. I couldn’t tell my kids because they were at school. My husband was on an airplane so I left him a voice message.
I obviously ran back home but I don’t remember that part.
Douni didn’t even know. He didn’t even complain. My kids were saddened by the news and asked “what’s the percentage that he will die”. I replied “100%”. They did not like the sound of this, but I had to be honest and this was the first step of preparing them. I was not going to offer false hope. This type of cancer is progressive and aggressive.
When my husband stopped over at Abu Dhabi he rang me and supported the idea of giving him Chemotherapy to extend his life for as long as we could.
I never knew if giving him Chemo was the right thing or not. It was time to ask the vet about options. I was told that it’s not like Chemo in humans. With animals the priority is quality of life. I also understood that It may only extend his life by a couple of months.
Was I selfish to put him through Chemo and regular blood tests to keep him alive for a couple of months? Or was I wishing for a miracle? I was wishing that giving him some kind of treatment meant he will Iive a normal, long and healthy life.
Treatment … and patterns that I ran
Chemo began immediately. Douni was dead within 8 months of diagnosis. So I had him for an extra 2 months and I cherished every moment. He had Chemo almost weekly, and often a blood test to determine if he was well enough for Chemo. Sometimes he needed a break from Chemo for a couple of weeks. This meant he was unwell for another round of Chemo but I didn’t realise this.
Then he was on 2 different tablets per day. I would wrap them in cheese for him, and he thought it was a treat. When he died I had cheese left over. It stayed in my fridge for a year and a half. I wasn’t ready to throw it. That was Douni’s cheese. Why did I keep it? Having it and knowing it was his, kept him alive for me. I didn’t even throw his tablets away for months. Douni had special tin food because he suffered digestive issues. I kept that for a year too. Infact it wasn’t me that threw it out, but it was OK to let it go.
Over time, after a few treatments of Chemo, Douni became less active. He would not make it outside in time to urinate but he would make it to the back door. I guess he just couldn’t jump through the doggy door any more. He never got in trouble for urinating at the door. Even if I walked there while he was urinating, I would walk away so he could finish, and then I would clean it up. I never showed him any disapproval. He was apologetic, I could tell.
I have heard people say they would never get another pet because they did not want to go through the pain of losing another pet. But I feel differently. Living life with a pet is the most amazing experience for me, and for my family. If we focus on the grief that lies ahead, we miss out on the love that we face today. We also would miss out on the stories that we could tell about yesterday. Living life without Douni is so sad. Having had him in our lives really added to our quality of life.
The value of Douni
Douni taught us all to stop for a moment and experience the joy of cuddling him (as he demanded it of course). Yes, he taught us to be mindful of that moment. Many times throughout the day, each family member had to stop and perform an act of kindness, whether it was to rub his belly, or pick him up, or talk to him, or give him a treat, or play with him. Thank you Douni for teaching us how nice it is to do this.
I remember suggesting to my family that we should get another pet while Douni was still alive so that he could have company. It wasn’t replacing him; I felt it would be good for him to have company. So with some unspoken guilt we bought “Koukla.” Great decision. She kept him company and she respected him; she would follow him, let him drink and eat first and she was a new playful friend for him.
When Koukla arrived we put a nice tie on Douni as he awaited her arrival (he also had his bandage from Chemo on too). He looked handsome.
We made sure Douni was always comfortable and receiving extra love.
Soon he was unable to jump up on the couch and on the bed. Things became difficult for him. But I knew his every move and I was able to be his personal assistant and carer. Never too tired to put him up on the bed or take him down from the bed. So funny… we would speak without talking. I just knew when he needed help and so I would just wake up and do as he wished.
Love makes a difference
All the vets and assistants fell in love with Douni. They had him for a whole day nearly every week. And I fell in love with all of them. The love they showed him… I am so grateful. He got kisses and special cuddles.
I was in such denial. I was running the current process and doing what I was meant to do for him each day without believing that his life was going to end soon. To me, Douni was alive and staying alive. He just seemed so well. How could I think that? Why did I think he was well? He could barely walk long distance. We even relocated his food and water closer to him. So I didn’t deny that he was unwell. I guess I denied he was going to die.
Don’t tell me he is going to die
My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run
I remember going for his checkup about 7 months later. I said to the vet “in 2 weeks we are going away for 10 days, will he be fine?” Expecting “yes he will be fine….” The vet looked at me and spoke without speaking. What could he see to indicate he would not live that long? I guess he just knew.
Please don’t die
Douni was very unwell and quality of life was important and so it was time to quit the Chemo. I didn’t know this at the time but I know now it meant he was about to spend his last days with us at home. We were all in denial. He was still sleeping, still eating, still enjoying our company and he still looked beautiful. The vet gave him a needle to give him some energy and life for the next week.
Facing the truth
The vet said Douni will be gone before we went on our holiday and he also said that Douni will not die in his sleep. He said Douni will make us make the decision as to when it would be time. I was in disbelief. I did not believe he could be so accurate with his prediction. And know this… I absolutely love this vet and all of his team. Everything they ever said to me was truth.
I now accepted as truth that within 2 weeks Douni would be gone. I was in total denial but I still believed what the vet said.
I would run on my treadmill in the afternoons. He would sit next to me and face the afternoon sun and occasionally glance at me. So cute, I would glance back at him. I feel like this is a love story. Somehow it is. I loved watching him enjoy the afternoon sun. As weak as he was, he came there to keep me company. So let me tell you: My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run.
I don’t want you to suffer alone
One night as I slept while I was awake, or as I was awake as I slept …. You can work that one out, I spent all night listening to him breathe. He was on the floor in the corner of our room. I was devastated and I didn’t want to fall asleep and miss out on listening to him. I knew I needed to take him to the vet the next day and that it may be the day that I was not ready for.
So the next day I spent all day with him and he was so happy and eating and just seemed so happy to be alive. So there was no way I was taking him to the vet. I put it down to him having a bad night.
I’m with you every step of the way Douni
The following night Douni did something totally different. For the very first time he slept in the kids bathroom. Was it the coolness of the floor? Or did he think he was not going to make it through the night, and decide to go away from us? When I went in there the next morning, he got up and with shaky legs he walked towards me and only lasted a few steps before needing to rest on his belly. He was not breathing well. His diaphragm was working extremely hard. With a cuddle and water and some food, his symptoms subsided, but I knew I was taking him to the Vet.
The first farewell made it a reality
My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run
My older son got ready for school and was going on a short camp. As he left I calmly asked him to farewell Douni in his own way incase he doesn’t see him again. He knew exactly what I meant. I just didn’t want him to think he never got to say goodbye. He went over and gave him an extended pat on the head. Any words spoken were obviously within. He is my less expressive kid. Just like I was when I was young. And so I respected his style.
Douni showed improvement that day, but there was no way I was going to let him suffer for a 3rd night with his breathing like that. He would die of suffocation. We didn’t even know where the Cancer had spread. The vet once said we could X-ray him, but why not let the dog have his peace and quality time with us at home instead. We agreed.
The ugly truth, no child wants to hear
I got ready to take him to the vet, but first spent the day with him. I cuddled him and kissed him all day and I cried all day too. My younger son was home (day off from school), and so I offered him the opportunity to come to the vet, yet to be aware of the most likely scenario: Douni not coming back home with us. He was not accepting of this scenario. Rather distressed in fact. He asked me the percentage of Douni coming home after the vet visit.
I told him it was only slightly possible that I would come home with Douni. He refused to hear this. And he could not bring himself to coming to the vet. I was determined to be honest and offer my opinion and explanation. Douni nearly stopped breathing last night and he was very unwell. He argued that Douni seemed fine at that point. And he was correct. But I’m very well aware of what nightfall does to unwell children and so I assume the same for all unwell animals. I explained we had to do the right thing for Douni and to ensure he did not suffer.
I needed to take Douni to the vet. I would not be doing my duty as a mother (or dog owner) if I did not. My son stayed home and was emotional. He hugged Douni and I offered him the reality of that being his last cuddle so make it a farewell cuddle just in case.
The final hour
I got in the car with my husband and yes I was crying. Just as I am now.
I explained Douni’s symptoms to the vet, and he checked him out.
He indicated rather confidently that it was time to put him down. He was just too unwell.
With my hands on him whilst he was on the examination table I picked him up and buried my face in him. I whispered his name “Douni” and I kissed him.
The vet took him away to prep him.
What a long 5 minutes that was.
When he brought him back with his arm bandaged and prepped for his injection I still smiled at him and I told him he looked beautiful. We were devastated. And so was the vet. A young handsome, well groomed and educated man; I felt so bad for him that he had to put Douni down. What a sad part of the job.
I took Douni to say goodbye to our friend who loved him dearly and looked after him when she would house sit. She was in the waiting room. Intense emotion and devastation commenced.
I needed to be strong for Douni
I took Douni back to the room where the vet and my husband were waiting. The scene was amazing. My husband placed his hands supporting Douni around his hips and my hands were at his shoulders. I was on my knees. Douni and I were nose to nose. “You’re a good boy.” I kept telling him. I needed him to constantly feel soothed by my calming voice. With each step I told him that everything was fine and I reassured him that he was feeling no pain.
Even when he was injected with a relaxant and he was forced to lay down I was constantly talking to him. “See Douni, no more pain and no more cancer”. I also recall there was a time I buried my own head and said “I’m sorry.” Was I sorry that I was putting him down? Sorry that he had cancer? Was I sorry that this was happening to him? I don’t know. But I was sorry, so I voiced it.
The final minutes
All of Douni’s healthy life I would joke with him and tell him “you’re a good naughty boy Douni”. It was always a playful statement that amused others and Douni didn’t seem to mind. On his last minutes of life however I must have told him that he was a good boy about 50 times. And in my mind I was noticing I was not saying it playfully with the naughty boy connotation.
I was dying too
The vet allowed us time to make the decision for the final injection which would ultimately close his eyes and stop his heart. My body felt numb as I stared into his eyes. When the final injection took place I remember a soreness in my throat and the heaviness in my eyes. I still experience these symptoms when I reminisce this moment. I like to remember this moment because I never want to forget him.
This is not something I want to forget. This is something I want to remember. So I go over the process as I remember it and I experience the emotions. This occurs when certain songs play, or when I shower, drive past the vet, and even at this moment.
I feel you Douni
Since that time I have been back to the vet to vaccinate my cat, on the same table that Douni lay. I found I went into a trance and I visualised him laying there just as I left him. So I spoke to him quietly. I know logically that he was not there to hear me. But this was the process that I ran to make me feel better and connect with him. My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run.
Your beautiful soul covered your sick body
Its not my imagination. When he lay there after he had passed, I saw him looking so pure and beautiful. I asked my friend who waited outside to go and see him. “Go and see how beautiful he is” I told her. Cancer free and young again. The cancer aged him. He was only 7 years old. I never asked her if she saw what I saw. But I remember it clearly, and I never want to forget it. Douni was absolutely beautiful and I am so glad that I can remember that image.
Do you know I cuddled you?
I picked up his lifeless body. How surprised I was to feel his body all jelly (all floppy). I would have regretted not picking him up. I kissed him and lay him back down. He smelt beautiful. Thank you Douni for all the love you taught me. My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run.
I won’t be able to do this tomorrow so let me do it now
My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run
Upon leaving, I stopped at the counter. They said I could come back and fix up any paper work etc another time. But being who I am I do not like extending any process, so I requested he be cremated and I chose a beautiful case for him ( a stone ). I was not prepared for what to write on the plaque but I had to think quick as my tears rolled down my face, because there was no way I could return there the following day. So I chose “Darling Douni, Its always sunny in heaven. We miss you.”
It was relevant at the time and its relevant today.
I know I wrote it just to make me feel better. And I’m satisfied with that. Who says heaven exists. Who says its sunny. In my mind, I’ve placed Douni in a place called heaven and its sunny there. When he was alive, my house was his heaven and we often sat in the sunshine. It was always sunny.
The wonderful sharing of emotion from Douni’s carers
For the next ten minutes, two vets and the secretary stood there crying. This demonstrated the love they had. I thanked them for loving Douni. The vet who was responsible for Douni’s final moments was devastated. I thanked him for being there and I told him “I’m sorry for what you just had to do.”
I love remembering and re-living…I NEVER WANT TO FORGET
My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run for my darling Douni.
I even told my friend to make sure I don’t forget certain details.
I have his photos and regularly rearrange his memorabilia in different positions around the house. Douni lives on.
Things I do for Douni
Each time I go away I kiss him goodbye and I position his stone somewhere special. I have a picture collage poster of him that my friend made for us. And candles with his picture on it. I even have him smiling at me on my home screen of my mobile phone.
This is me and the patterns that I run. I’m not interested in changing a thing. Every second week my other dog Koukla continues to get washed /groomed but the reminder on my phone has not been updated. It still says Douni groom at 3pm. I got his picture on my phone cover too. I still try everything to keep him alive. Every so often I send random photos of him to my friends and we all chat to him for a brief minute.
When I fly, which is often, I “hi-5” him in the sky and when I meet the clouds I smile because I’m flying along side him. I love that I have created this. This is when I love my imagination. My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run.
I’m keeping my patterns
And how unrealistic is all of this. But thats not the point. My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run. It’s the patten that I run as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. Here I am just sharing my process; we are all unique in how we consciously and unconsciously run grief. I know this; my patterns suit me for this situation. I still cry in the shower. And I have no intention of stopping any time soon. I miss my Douni.
When people ask me about my pets, I tell them I have a cat, and a dog that live with me, and a dog who lives in heaven. Not one person has looked at me like I’m ridiculous. They all accept what I say with a smile. It works for me.
I expect my next grief and loss will have a different impact on me and I accept this too.
But right now, its sunny right here on earth.
Blessings to all of those who we grieve over.
Missing my Douni
I would like to thank my friends who offered their love and support when I lost him, I would like to thank the vet who sent me flowers and a beautiful card, and I would like to thank Douni’s groomer for bringing it to my attention to get him checked out. And for loving him the way she did.
This was definitely my first grief and loss. My grief and loss – the unique pattern I run. I first wrote this blog in July 2017. Since then I also went through another loss. I lost my father to the same cancer 28 September 2018. He was diagnosed end March of 2018. He too went through Chemo. On his grave stone I also wrote that I hear its sunny in heaven. I bet they hang out and play together. I wrote about that grief and loss too; Losing a parent.
By the way, we still have Koukla. And last year Beba joined our family. Now “she’s” the naughty girl.
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