A Sunday (42) in Life of a Pastor/Mother: Grief

Chewy past away last week. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of anal cancer last year, but with surgery he made it through another year. We found out two months ago that the cancer came back and spread throughout his entire body. You could tell the vet was struggling to give me the news that my only option was to put him down. For some reason, I felt compelled to ease the vet’s concern for me by telling her I was a pastor and have walked many people through grief, which by the way didn’t make her feel better or me for that matter. I whimpered like a baby the moment she broke the news to me. I thought we only had days as I took home our 75 pound dog that had deteriorated to 30 pounds with a prescription from the vet to spoil him and love on him.

I’ve never been through this before. This is unchartered territory. Although I have known people who have passed away, I was not close to them. Although I had experienced loss, it was nothing compared to this. Chewy was our first pet as a family. He has been in our family even before the children were born. He argued with my son as if they were brothers. He potty trained my daughter by showing her how to pee on the carpet and cover it up with cuteness. He cleaned up dropped food from the dinner table so that I wouldn’t have to clean it up. He browned the green grass to spare me the trouble of watering it. Even in his last hours, he was a generous dog.

Soon after I took him home from the vet, Chewy started doing better. He gained back all the weight. (Of course, it could be feeding him all the things we would never had fed him before.) He perked up. Even when he tore a hip muscle running around in the back yard that only surgery could fix, he managed to function on just 3 legs. The dog was amazing. This was not a dog who was dying. This was a dog who lived to the fullest. Nothing could stop him. For awhile, I forgot that he was even dying.

The time came when I had to make the call to the vet. Even though Chewy didn’t seem sick, I knew that we were just prolonging the inevitable. In many ways, I started to feel angry and frustrated with Chewy that he didn’t look so sick as if that would have made the call easier. By looking so happy, I just doubted whether I was doing the right thing.

I made the call on Tuesday. I had set the date a week from now, thinking that I would take him to his favorite park one last time, then drive by my son’s soccer practice so that he could say good-bye, and finally take him to the vet for the final good-bye. But the next day, Chewy wasn’t looking so good. It’s amazing how fast things change. By that evening, his breathing was labored. By that night, while my husband held him, he went to sleep. It’s as if he spared me from having to make the decision for him.

It’s interesting how when you experience loss there is no logic to the stages of grief one goes through. What I instantly feel is lots of regret. I regret not celebrating his 9th birthday on September 28. Every year, we celebrated it, blew out a candle, made him wear a silly birthday hat, sang to him, and bought him presents, but I just couldn’t do it this year. I don’t know if it was denial or lack of acceptance that it was going to be his last one.

I am a pastor and a mother of two beautiful children, but I neglect to say that I was a mother of a beautiful dog named Chewy. It’s funny how the body still remembers. I still open the back door when I wake up to let Chewy out. I still side step the spot where his food bowl used to be. I still get a lump in my throat every time I see some leftover hair wander across the floor. Thank you for nine wonderful years.

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