Dog-in-a-box

I don’t know why I picked up my cell phone at work, usually I don’t pick up any calls but my husband’s. Today was different, perhaps because I was working sooooooo hard and getting things accomplished without interruption because it was so quiet at work. Two-thirds of the people in my work area were out today, so it felt like I was there alone most of the day.

A hushed voice on the other end of the line said, “…Happy’s remains are back. We’re open ’til 7.” I hung up and started crying. I’ve been doing a fairly good job at pushing away the reality that she is gone. Truly gone. But those words, and even her gentle quiet voice reminded me.

I was on the phone with the vet, staring at her lifeless body. Slowly she began to breath and her eye opened. “I can’t believe it!” I told the vet. “She’s alive again!” I looked beyond where she lay, looking at me with her upward facing eye. There she was, walking around! For a moment I was overjoyed, then I realized that she could not be at once laying there quietly breathing and staring at me and walking around three feet away. “Oh, nevermind,” I told the vet. “I’m hallucinating.”

Yes. I was hallucinating in my dream. What? There are moments when I feel like I’m just about to go into full panic attack mode, or what feels like that. Like the grief will overcome me and I will shake and cry and hyperventilate and collapse on the ground until any sane person would lock me away for 72 hours. I forced that away at work, willing the panicky overwhelming grief to leave me so that I could work and could drive to go get her. It’s all awful. I couldn’t stop crying, but I wasn’t hiccuping, panic-attacking, so I managed to drive to the vet. I did a semi-okay job parking (I didn’t hit any other cars and left enough room between us that a wraith could get through.) I walked into the vet and waited my turn at the reception desk, while a long-haired German Shepherd type dog stared at me. With them there, with this bright-eyed, healthy dog standing in front of me, I was hoping they would conclude their business and leave before someone followed them and stood behind me while I asked for my dogs remains. I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, reminding them of this sad fact of pet ownership. Of course, they were still standing there at the counter when a second lady came to help me. I quietly told her why I was there. It felt wrong somehow to bring the specter of death into the room. She handed me the green box from the Cemetery and Crematorium and gently said, “I’m so sorry.” She started to say something else, but I cut her off. “Please don’t say anything nice. I’m trying not to be a basket case and I still need to make it home.” She smiled sadly, understandingly and I carried my dog-in-a-box to the car.

Some who don’t know me (and some who do) may find it distasteful that I call it dog-in-a-box as if I’m making light of it. Those who REALLY know me know that this is how I deal. I make light of the unbelievable, the horrid, the painful, the too hard to accept. I have to. It isn’t making light of it, so much as it is putting a light coat over the darkness. It is dark humor. I say dog-in-a-box so that I don’t let loose the depth of grief that is waiting inside me. I am incapable of that expression. I feel it, but I cannot express it. I can’t.

I have many things in life that are dreadfully painful, things that when I tell them, counselors stop and stare at me slack-jawed when I tell the tale. I cannot say those things with the gravity that some feel they deserve. Because they happened to me, I am not certain I understand the full extent of the horror that others show when they hear the tales, but I do know that for me to bear the weight of these things, I must bear them lightly. I cannot grip them in a white knuckle-grip, nor carry them chained to my ankle at all times, I must give them buoyancy by tying the helium balloons of humor to them to help carry the load. I would never make it a step with the full weight of these things on me.

This is, I suppose, what I do with my grief. I tell happy tales, so that those happy tales may carry a portion of the load of grief. I make morbid jokes, attaching more helium balloons to my pain so that they are bearable.

I’m embarrassed to say that I am crushed to have lost my dogs. A few years back it was Barney, oh my beloved Barney, and now it is his companion and mine, Happy. I feel these odd desires to hold onto her things, even though I know it’s crazy. I want to keep her bed. What for? What possible use do I have for it? Am I going to move her empty bed and place it next to the window in our next place? I’m tempted. Oh, I’m tempted. Crazy, yes? What, am I going to put her now empty bowls in the kitchen there, for us to trip over? Amazing the odd thoughts that run through my head. I never thought I would be the kind of person who would go buy a special shelf for the pets remains, nor sentimentally hold onto her coat, to hang on the wall by her boxed remains. NEVER. But, here I am. Barney has been through two moves already in his white box, and now he’ll go through another.

I don’t know whether to hope the dreams stop or to hope they continue. It’s nice to see her breathing, looking at me, walking around, even if it’s a hallucination in a dream. Maybe next time I dream of her, she’ll be running up a trail, or riding in the car with her ears flapping out the window. Maybe I’ll see them both together, on an adventure together where there are no more fences to try to contain their wandering hearts.

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