It’s been two months

Today, before we headed out to do some errands, a big black and white butterfly flitted around and headed to the santan (West Indian Jasmine) plants out in the garden. It stayed there for a while, while I watched it, transfixed. I never actually paid much attention to butterflies until I learned from my mother-in-law how butterflies are connected to spirits of loved ones who passed away. During my father-in-law’s wake years ago, there was a white butterfly hanging out in the living room curtains. My MIL pointed at it and said matter-of-factly, “o, si Papa ninyo iyan.” (“That’s your Papa right there.”) Which floored me completely because she made it sound like it’s the sanest conclusion to make. To me, it sounded a wee bit loopy.

But I saw a brown butterfly on the day that we buried Zack. It was around for nine days after his burial. It would stand in the spot in the grass where Zack would stand. Sometimes it would just hang out in one of the tree branches, its wings barely moving. It was the same brown butterfly every single day. Which wasn’t around by the tenth day. I haven’t really seen a butterfly in the garden lately. Recently, a butterfly flew so close to me during our anniversary lunch. It was followed by a small white butterfly flitting around during our recent Ilocos jaunt. Everywhere we went, a butterfly would be near us. So today, I was pleasantly surprised to see one, which happens to be the second month since Zack passed away.

Two months. Just like that.

We still haven’t ordered his headstone. What’s holding us back? It’s the sense of finality. Once it’s ordered and delivered, what next?

For a time, I found myself randomly singing songs like “Could We Start Again, Please” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” (this one here). Or this part of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” at the oddest of times:

“We only have each other, it’s just you and me
What are we gonna do?
Do you wanna build a snowman?”

Which echoes back to that day when Zack passed away. I remember thinking, “what am I gonna do now?” I really didn’t know and couldn’t imagine what I was going to do after that day. It’s been two months since he went away, and I’m still trying to find or create a new routine for me.

I haven’t really met up with a lot of friends since we got here. Bilang na bilang. It’s really weird. When I visited the Philippines alone before, my schedule was jam-packed with meet-ups left and right. Now that we’ve been here for three months, there are still so many people I haven’t seen. Which is sad because a part of me wants to see other people just to take my mind off things, yet there’s another part that just wants to hide under my blanket. Kung ayaw, eh di huwag. Bakit ko naman ipipilit sarili ko? I’d meet up with those who want to see me.

Then again, life is funny. I already met up with a high school batch mate whom I was never close to in high school, but for some reason, Facebook made us friends. We even spent 12 hours together! That’s way longer than my usual meet-ups, but it was actually pretty fun. She messaged me yesterday that she wanted to meet with me again. She wanted to give me a birthday gift – a hand-painted bayong. I’ve seen her lugging one around in pictures, and it’s really pretty. She asked me for a design and my immediate thought was Zack. I just can’t make up my mind which picture of Zack to use. But I really want him to be the design. That way, it’s like I’m carrying him around when I go out.

So that’s how it’s been after two months. Zack left a void that can’t be filled by material possessions (have I mentioned that we’ve done so much shopping lately?), which I hope can be partially filled by people. But I guess people are afraid that my grief is still contagious at this point, and/or that I’ll just be a bummer to hang out with. Then again, maybe Somebody Up There is opening new doors to new people. Who knows?

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“Owner, Dearest Friend”

Last night, during a meet-up with a friend whom I haven’t seen in 20+ years (but have been in touch with via Facebook), I received a third offer for a puppy. Yes, you read that right – third. So far, we’ve been offered two shih tzus and one husky – all newborns. I declined because my heart is nowhere near ready. But all the owners understood my…our need for time. The babies wouldn’t be ready right now anyway. They’re all still breastfeeding from their mommas. Perhaps in a month or two or three. I asked the same question of the three persons who offered – “why us?”

Their replies were all along the lines of they saw how we took care of Zack and how much we love him. That’s what they want for their own furbabies. They wanted the little ones to be in a good home, and we can give them that.

Tonight, I came across this video from the pet grief support group I’m part of. It made me cry.

Here’s the poem itself:

~ Owner, Dearest Friend ~

I could never say enough,
Owner, dearest friend,
To thank you for the love you gave
To me, until the end.

I’m sorry that I hurt you
By saying my goodbye.
You gave me such a happy home.
I lived a happy life.

I leapt and played and laughed in ways
You maybe couldn’t see.
Of all the pets you might have loved,
I’m glad that you chose me.

It’s okay to miss me,
For I will miss you, too.
It’s okay to bow your head
And cry if you have to.

However hard it seems today,
Your dear, sweet heart will heal.
For now, my friend, remember me
And feel what you must feel.

But don’t give up on loving,
Owner, dearest friend.
Although the cost is oh-so-high,
It’s worth it, in the end

To know that you made this pet’s life
The best one it could be.
It should be no mystery why
You meant the world to me.

So here’s my final word, my friend,
This is my last wish.
Find another lonely pet
And give to them my dish.

Then every time they make you smile,
Know that I’m smiling, too.
Still so proud
To once have been
A dearest friend to you.

~ Vivienne Mathews (2013)

The grief goes on

I’ve been quiet here lately. Not that I didn’t want to blog. I’ve been having so many thoughts that I’m continuously processing and distilling them in my head.

People haven’t asked how I’m doing. They probably assumed I’ve moved on based on what I post on social media. I realized early on that much as people feel sorry for what happened to Zack, not many can relate to the grief over a pet. So no one bothers to ask how I’m doing. Then again, it’s not that different after Daddy died. People just don’t want to reach out to grieving people, not even with a ten-foot pole. Sad because that’s when it’s really important to do so.

How am I doing? Barely getting by. Smiling on the outside. During bad grief days, sleepless at night. Tired during the day. Good days, I can sleep for 5-6 hours, 7 hours if I took allergy meds.

Last night, I was in the bedroom and I thought I heard three sniffs that sounded like Zack. That happened after I had a quick crying spell when I saw his picture by accident. Last weekend, we went on a road trip and I drove all the way to our destination for 8 hours. While my husband was asleep, I sang while driving, but when I heard certain songs that reminded me of Zack, tears streamed down my cheeks (that’s what I get for singing so many songs to him). We stayed in a lovely hotel museum, yet a part of me got upset. If Zack was alive, we wouldn’t have been able to stay there because they weren’t pet-friendly. Darn them.

I joined two pet grief support FB groups where I learned that so many pets are dying everyday, mostly due to kidney disease (which is what got Zack too). Then there’s a bunch who dealt with inept veterinarians providing mediocre care (which we experienced as well). Even those who put their pets to sleep encountered problems. All very heartbreaking stories, really.

But what have I learned since joining those groups?

  1. We’re not alone in feeling this way. We’re not crazy for feeling this level of grief. Grieving furbaby parents express a lot of regret and self-blame. We’ve done that and continue to do so. Maybe, hopefully, it will taper off in time.
  2. There’s no easy or perfect way for a pet to pass away. If they die on their own, you grapple with wondering if you did the humane and compassionate thing by letting them die naturally. (This is something I personally wonder about.) If they were put to sleep, I noticed that the owners wondered if they made the right decision…”what if our pet wasn’t ready to go yet, but we ended his/her life?” Some even had the process go awry with their furbabies fighting it out, looking at the parents as if asking why, having seizures, etcetera before eventually succumbing to the cocktail mix of meds. If they died in an accident, the owners blamed themselves for not protecting their furbaby the best way they can. If they went missing and are presumed dead, the owners wanted closure – they want the body of their furbaby back.
  3. There are some furbabies that show unusual strength and vigor the day before they passed away, which gave their parents false hopes. It’s like they know it’s the end of the line for them, but they’re giving their parents one good day to remember them by. Zack did the same thing for us (and I can’t even type it out without tears welling up in my eyes). I watched a documentary about the state of corals all over the world before, and I learned dying corals glow brightly before death. That thought popped up in my head when I learned about that one good day.
  4. Zack really was a fighter. Most of the people in the group have pets of various ages dying so quickly that their parents had no chance to say goodbye. Zack, my sweet little boy, came back to us twice allowing us to tell him what we wanted to say. I’m simultaneously comforted and saddened that our voices were the last things he heard as he drifted off to eternal sleep.
  5. I miss Zack more than ever. Every day. Every night. But this was a pain I was willing to accept just so he can be free from his pain, so I tell myself, “suck it up, buttercup.” There are still good grief days and bad grief days. Some days, I’d be in this “no tears or sad thoughts today…this is good” mood. But when the bad hits, it’s really bad. No sweeping it under the rug though. I’m embracing whatever I feel.

My birthday is coming up this month and he didn’t even make it to my birthday. I hope he’ll at least appear in my dreams in a good and happy way. That would make my heart glad.