Love, Loss and Learning

My husband and I rang in the new year in our pajamas, finished a bottle of champagne, and snuggled into bed with our sick puppy – a far cry from our typical New Year’s Eve celebrations. A few weeks prior, our 9lb maltese-yorkie mix pup, Bo, came down with a rash on his belly. Bo-Bear the morkie has been the center of our world for nearly five years (no really…search #bobearthemorkie on Instagram).

Given Bo’s spotlight status in our lives, it’s easy to see how and why we spent the last three weeks of December seeking answers about his evolving rash, recurring fever, and overall shifted demeanor. After three vet visits, one round of fluids, 3 different antibiotics, a steroid, allergy medicine, and topical mouse to hopefully clear his skin, Bo had an awful full-body yeast infection. In the final days of 2015, he seemed to be getting better. Nick and I were super optimistic and we were doing everything we could to get him back to healthy pup status. (One day, I made him homemade chicken and rice meals, while Nick drove to 6 different stores on the hunt for a special antiseptic shampoo.) At the advice of both vets we’d visited, we had also booked him the earliest appointment possible with an animal dermatologist at the Regional Veterinary Referral Center in Virginia. There are only about 150 veterinary dermatologists in the country; the appointment was for January 25th.

On January 1st, Bo’s health took a turn for the worse. After realizing he had become cold to the touch, had a stark white tongue, and couldn’t even keep his eyes open, we called the emergency vet and were instructed to bring him right in. We took turns holding him tight in a blanket with a heating pad and quickly getting ready to leave. When we arrived at the vet, they rushed Bo out of my arms. Sitting in the patient room waiting for news, my stomach dropped out of my body. Just minutes later, the vet returned with the news that Bo had no heartbeat when we arrived. Hopefully it was  reassuring, they said, to know that he had likely died in our arms. At just 4 ½ years old, the dog that had been our first baby, our third family member, the center of our world, was gone with no rational explanation.

It seems unfair that on the first day of the year, a day to reset, a day given to all of us to mark new beginnings, we had to mourn such a loss. But I found a level of comfort in the fact that there were so many other people in the world mourning and hurting too, and probably in much worse situations than ours.

The first days with this new void in our lives, my husband and I alternated moments of severe grief, wondering why and becoming angry when the other wasn’t struck with grief at the exact moment as the other. It took a few days to understand each other’s triggers, extreme pain points, thoughts of guilt, and ways of coping. In an effort to distract ourselves, we went on walks, to the mall, and to the movie theater. One night after a movie, I walked into the apartment, realized Bo wasn’t home, and proceeded to dump his entire bin full of toys all over the living room floor. I threw myself into them and I bawled – tears, snot, slobber (mine and probably Bo’s) everywhere. I slept with as many of Bo’s favorite toys and stuffed animals as I could that night. And my husband still loves me…I think.

Our friends and family responded in an amazing way. The outcry of support, the calls, the texts, cards, flowers, social media messages, and more were signs that we were loved, cared for, and showed that Bo had touched not just our lives, but theirs as well. I tried to watch the Disney/Pixar film Inside Out that weekend. My husband, Nick, couldn’t watch the first time; I watched it twice. I obsessed over how Bo could bring so much joy to our lives, yet so much sadness in his death. But I took solace in the fact that our sadness was a result of the overwhelming joy he brought.

My husband and I have learned a lot in the two short weeks since Bo’s death. As silly as it is, we’ve learned to talk to each other directly again, rather than conversing through Bo. (“Bo, tell your poppy you’re ready to go outside!” This was real…if you’ve loved a dog or cat, you know what I’m talking about.) We’re taking comfort in one another’s presence and have made an effort to arrive home together after work so the other doesn’t suffer the blow that comes when you walk in and realize your best friend – who greeted you with love, acceptance, smiles, and licks – isn’t there anymore. And most difficult for me, we’ve had to shift our projections of what life milestones will be like without Bo. He won’t welcome our future children into the world with us, or get to run in a tiny yard in our first home.

Last weekend Nick whisked me away to New York for my birthday – a much needed respite. We reflected on the love Bo brought to our lives, how the unexpected loss has changed us, and what we’ve learned from loving our first dog, grieving together, and leaning on those we love most when our strength isn’t enough. In 2016, January 9th was the start of our new year.

– Ashley Respecki

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