Last month, my family and I lost a beloved pet and family member, Zeeka, after fourteen years together. It has been incredibly difficult to cope with the loss, despite the knowledge that his passing was considered to be “at the right time”. He was no longer hurting – he had Cushings, achy joints, and severe allergies due to springtime pollination and fungus levels in the air – and had seemed to let my mother know with extended amounts of cuddle time the week before that it was okay to let him go. Despite all the extra love and attention he gave his furless parents, it was still a shock for each and every one of us. Spending almost every day of fourteen years with another creature by your side does not prepare you for the sudden loss of that companionship, despite however much mental preparation you were given beforehand. It’s like being thrown into an alternate universe, a twilight zone, where nothing feels quite like it had before.
My best friend Katie and her boyfriend Jake are experiencing that same twilight zone. Three days ago, they made the tough decision to put their black lab-mix, Lucy, to rest after fourteen happy years with Jake (three happy years with both of them). During the three years that my friends have been dating each other, I have discovered that Jake is a man of action, not a man of words. The way he treats Katie, looks at her, even the tenderness with which he holds her hand while sitting on the couch together or watching a movie made me swoon for them when I was single, jealous of them when my own (previous) relationships were failing, and – during the period in which I fell into step with Sawyer – joyful at the radiance in which Jake made Katie feel inside and out. Thus, when Katie confided in me that Jake wouldn’t talk about the preeminent loss they would suffer over Lucy before the veterinarian came to his house in northern Vermont, I wasn’t altogether surprised. I could understand the difficulty that marinating in emotions poses for an action-oriented man such as Jake. Katie, bless her soul, is much like me in that we need to talk things out with others. It allows us to feel more secure, more in control, of things that aren’t remotely in our control despite our wanting of it. It is comforting to think that if we could just weasel out the deepest emotions in our partners, we would be able to stitch things up just as before and move forward without anything coming apart at the seams. Sadly, that’s never the case, is it?
Jake is hurting. He didn’t want to talk about it before it happened, and he doesn’t want to talk about it now. Katie is there for him, supporting him by means of having a someone to spend time with, a person who will keep some order to his evenings when he comes home from work, and – at some point – someone to talk to about Lucy. Sawyer, while a little more open to sharing his feelings than Jake is, is still difficult to hold a conversation with about raw emotions. There is a stigma in this country that strong men don’t express their emotions. Strong men keep their feelings bottled up inside. While that stereotype of a strong man is still apparent in our lives, I don’t believe that either Jake nor Sawyer are attempting for the strong-man approach. I believe that neither of them are completely comfortable with the range of emotions that they feel. And let’s face it, who is? Even the most confident person can sometimes be knocked down by a sudden wave of emotions they weren’t prepared to deal with. I am proud of Katie for supporting Jake during this difficult time, and Katie is gently pressing forward with Jake toward a brighter horizon.
People say that time heals. I agree with that statement. Time has certainly eased me into coping with Zeeka’s passing with more grace and less nose-blowing. A scar tissue of sorts has developed over those emotions. I choked up at the beginning of this post, both for my own loss and for Katie and Jakes’. I sympathize with them. It’s easy to do so when someone loses someone so near and dear to them, a friend and companion that had lived with them for years. Despite how he’s feeling right now, I have faith that Jake will recover from his grieving process with his head on his shoulders.
My mother has always noted my love for and generosity toward animals of all shapes and sizes. I remember wanting to be a veterinarian as a little girl. Perhaps it’s that animals can’t speak for themselves that I feel so strongly about giving them a voice. There is so much going on around us on a daily basis when it comes to the “animal world” (check out Nick Brandt’s homage to the lost animals of east Africa here, Jane Goodall’s stand against Montana’s plans for $150 grizzly bear hunting licenses, and a dangerous motion to disempower the Endangered Species Act, to name just a few) that it is easy to become overwhelmed and feel hopeless. I continually try to do my part for the animals whose lives I can both directly and indirectly affect by living a more purposeful life. I rest easier knowing that I no longer endanger the lives of fish, turtles, or marine life simply by avoiding buying beverages with plastic rings, but also because I know Penelope has shown symptoms of Pica when it comes to plastic being in the house. I use home-made compost created by all-natural food scraps for my garden to protect the soil acidity levels and neighboring Lake Champlain from toxic runoff when it rains, but also to protect little kitten paws and noses from absorbing harmful pesticides and chemicals. To cap it all, I recently refused to declaw my cats despite the requirement in my lease agreement for the new apartment in Philadelphia (thankfully, declawing the babies was not the be-all-end-all of the agreement and Sawyer and I will still be living there in August!). All animals deserve to be cherished, respected and loved the same way I love my cats, the way I loved Zeeka, and the way Jake and Katie loved Lucy. Although you wouldn’t want to cuddle with a sea cucumber or black-footed ferret, that doesn’t mean we can’t take certain steps to protect them and their habitats. Pet owners are thoughtful in their lifestyles, they take great care in providing for their pets and offering the best possible care and respect for their animals. Before I was the proud mama of two kittens, I knew I wanted to live a more thoughtful lifestyle; having cats just aided me in that journey.
Losing a pet, a valued member of a family, is not an easy loss to cope with. I know that, with time, Katie and Jake will find that the pain over Lucy’s passing will become easier to deal with, but right now, it is raw. Any and all life is sacred, and the loss of that is like the snuffing out of a candle that can never be relit. It reminds us all to cherish the time we spend together, because life ends, whether or not we’re ready for it.