Friday, December 27, 2013

Dear Nova

Dear Nova,

Today's the first day that you're gone.  Today is hard.  We miss you.

When you came to live with my parents, you were just twelve days old.  When we saw your pictures, T and I both felt something strong.  I fell in love with you then.  We wanted to bring you home, to have you in our family.  We waited and hoped and finally, just before you turned six weeks old, it became official that you'd become a McGill.  The day before you turned eight weeks old, you had your spay and your scar adhesion removal surgeries, and we brought you home to Tucson.  That was a special day.  December 2nd.

Over the next weeks, you grew and you ate and you loved and you chased and you dug holes in the yard.  You ran and played and snuggled and grew some more.  We started leash training and went on daily walks.  We began working on basic commands - you loved to learn new things!  By the time Christmas arrived, you knew come, sit, up, down, crawl, and we were working hard on stay.  You were so quick, so intelligent, so curious.

You loved your little girl, E.  You were so gentle with her.  I really appreciate you being careful with our toddler, even when she tried to sit on your head or hug you too tightly.  She loved taking you outside and praising your potty training efforts.  "Good girl!" quickly became her phrase of choice. She loved you from the start.  You two were supposed to grow up together; we'd hoped you would sleep in her room and be her champion.

Christmas morning arrived, and you happily pulled your new quacky duck toy from your stocking and ran around stealing wrapping paper and ribbon.  You got your very own tag for your collar - it had just arrived two days earlier in the mail.  We took Christmas photos and hugged your silvery body and kissed your wet black nose.  You went to bed a happy pup.

But the morning after Christmas, you weren't feeling well.  You scarfed down your breakfast as usual, but then you threw it back up.  You wanted to go lay down.  That was already the beginning of the end, but nobody knew how seriously sick you were.  I'm so sorry, Nova.  I'm so sorry I didn't know.  I wish I'd taken you sooner to the vet, maybe that would have made a difference.  But you were so damn strong, you were acting just like your normal self until you could not do it any longer.

You laid on your little dog bed, your blanket tucked around you, all morning.  All morning we watched and worried.  I tried to get you to drink water, but you didn't want any.  I syringed water into your mouth and you swallowed it.  I listened to your lungs, they sounded clear.  Your heart rate was getting higher and higher and you started working hard at breathing.  We grew more concerned.  We called the vet and were referred to the local emergency hospital.  My dad started his car and drove us.  You sat curled up in my lap, shivering and breathing hard.

The vet did some x-rays.  You had pretty bad pneumonia in both lungs.  Even when the vet listened to your lungs he'd said they sounded clear, so everyone was surprised.  He also found that your belly was full of gas from you swallowing air while trying to breathe more oxygen in.  Your intestines were inflamed, he said from a "dietary indescretion".  We'll never know what had your intestines so upset, but our guess was that you had too many different new kinds of treats and maybe you'd eaten some plants in the yard.

Dad and I left you in the vet hospital's ICU, in the oxygen box to help you breathe.  They hooked you up with IV fluids, antibiotics, anti-vomiting meds, antacids, and some pain control.  Your oxygen saturation was at 97 percent.  We had to open a Care Credit account to pay for your hospitalization, but I was just focused on getting you home healthy.

After dinner a few hours later, my phone rang.  I recognized the emergency hospital's phone number and my heart began to deflate.  It was your doctor.  He said that despite all the treatment and being in an oxygen saturated environment, you were looking worse and your oxygen saturation was down to only 91 percent.  He suggested that we come back to see you and make a decision about your continued care.

We packed up the family and drove to the hospital.  You lay in the oxygen box on your side, belly clenched tight, head up on a folded brown towel.  You had an IV in your leg, a temp probe and an oxygen sensor attached to your lip, and you were shaking with the effort to breathe.  Your eyes were open, but not focused.  I put my hand in through the small opening in the plexiglas door and touched your velvet nose, rubbed that soft little hollow between your eyes, and then I held your paw while the vet talked.  He left T and I with you to make a decision.  I took my hand out after we'd talked, and went to go get the doctor.  T said to wait, that you were upset I was leaving.  She said you tried to get up, you lifted your head and looked for me.  I came right back, but my hand through the opening and held your sweet face.  You looked into my eyes.  At that moment, I thought you were asking me to not to give up on you.  I think that's what I wanted to believe.  We decided to give you a few more hours to fight.

We let my parents come in to visit you while we played in the lobby with E.  A few minutes later, the next shift vet came running out to get us - you'd begun trembling violently and barking out.  We rushed back in and I again placed my hand on your head.  You stopped barking, but I could feel the vibrations through your skull of you groaning and growling as your eyes rolled halfway under your silver lids.  I knew that you were done.  I knew I couldn't bear to watch you suffer a moment longer.

Gently, the vet asked me if this changed my decision.  Tears spilling down my cheeks, I nodded and croaked, "I can't ask her to fight like this anymore." He touched my shoulder before going and getting the meds he would need to help you go to sleep. A tech gently lifted you out of the oxygen box and placed you on a table, leaned up against my body.  Your little girl came in and she wrapped her arms around your neck and hugged you one last time.  She touched her forehead to your head, and then she waved at you and said, "Bye!" so brightly that it cut me down deep.  T carried her back out to my parents while you and I waited for the end.

I curled my arms around you, I kissed your soft head and I whispered how much I loved you and how wonderful you were into your ears.  T came back and held us both as the vet injected an overdose of anesthesia into your little body, and I felt all your weight slump into my arms.  He listened to your chest with his stethoscope and said quietly that your heart had stopped.  It felt like mine had, too.  Tears upon tears slid down my cheeks as I hugged you again and kissed you and stroked your wonderful face one last time.  I laid you gently on the table and left as quickly as I could after shaking the vet's hand.

The feeling of your warm body in my arms is all too real.  The scent of your puppy breath, of fresh dirt in your fur, they are stuck in my nostrils.  The memory of you doesn't even feel like a memory yet; 'It can't be true! She can't be gone!' my arms cry out.  I cried off and on the whole drive home from Phoenix.  I cried myself to sleep.  I woke several times during the night, convinced I heard your little voice again.  I cried myself awake.

Your toys were still strewn about the house this morning.  Your pen is still set up by the table.  E is still carrying around your dog bowl and pointing at the backyard, asking me, "Good girl?"  And I have to say, "No baby, Nova isn't here anymore."  And I cry.

I've gathered up your things.  They're in a pile.  I think I'll donate your blankets and puppy pads to a rescue group, and your puppy toys if the rescue will take them.  I don't know if I could bear to see them around the house for Manni to play with.  Your collar with your brand new tag sits on top of the pile.  Those I'll keep, though I don't know where.  You looked so beautiful with your periwinkle collar and your copper tag with stars stamped into it.  You only got to wear your tag for two days.  It should have been a lifetime.

I miss you so much it hurts.  But I thought you should know how very much you were loved.  I wanted so badly to do right by you, and I hope upon hope that I made the right choice.  And I hope that one day, I'll find you again, my Little Grey Dog.  You were a wonderful piece of our lives; you touched hearts and you will be remembered.

Goodbye, SuperNova.

Love always,

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas

I got up this morning before the world turned to see the sun.  For the first time in years, I am awake almost as early as I used to be as an excited kid.  Granted, this morning I was up early to start breakfast instead of anxiously awaiting the appointed hour at which time it was acceptable to wake my parents, but it has been a nice reminiscence.

It reminds me of everything I love about Christmas.  Many of my favorite parts are likely borne of all the years my brother and I would spend almost the entirety of Christmas Eve decidedly NOT sleeping, but waiting for Santa to arrive and taking turns slowly creeping out into the living room to look at the Christmas tree and its bounty.

I absolutely love looking at a softly lit Christmas tree while the rest of the house is shrouded in darkness. Even moreso once some gifts begin to accumulate beneath its branches.  I gaze upon each ornament, trying to remember when and where it came from. The glow from a Christmas tree in the night is what fills my soul with fond memories and love from a time past.

The meaning of Christmas is debatable, and I know there are plenty of "reasons for the season", but a warm Christmas tree in a cold room helps me try to live each year like the child I once was: full of hope and excitement.  I don't truthfully wish to live Christmas as an adult, because it is full of stress and deadlines and complications and arguments over which family gets which piece of Christmas. Like a pack of coyotes fighting over flesh. Without the childlike wonder... Christmastime is not all that pleasant.

And now I am a mom. This is E's second Christmas, though she still doesn't understand about Santa and she doesn't yet expect gifts, it is still full of more magic than all my other adult Christmases combined. I look forward to all the years to come with my children, but I especially look forward to seeing my kids' tired faces on Christmas morning, knowing that they'd been up all night, huddled together in bed, wondering what was waiting in the living room.

Yes, I think Christmas should be about family and togetherness and kindness and love.

But it should be first about magic.

Something us adults could stand to remember.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 18th

A young woman, belly swollen tight with a full-term baby, feels the beginning of her labor begin.  It hurts her body; it hurts her heart.  She fights against the contractions, willing her body to hold tight onto that infant for just a bit more.  Not yet.  Don't take her yet. 

December 18th is the day of your birth.

Heralded into this world a week before Christmas, enveloped in sorrow and love and regret, you were born and became your own person.  You were given a name that nobody alive knows (or will admit they know).  You were cradled in the arms of a young woman who loved you desperately, though she couldn't keep you for her own daughter.  

Placed into the arms of another mother, you were left with a new family to grow up and discover yourself.  

Still, after all these years, you aren't much for celebrating your own birthday.  I cannot imagine how this day makes you feel.  When I was younger, I wondered how you managed to shrink away from a day that is, by definition, a celebration of YOU.  Now I realize that you don't see it as a celebration of you - not the whole day, at least.  In part, it's the day that changed the path of your life.  It's the day that you were given up by the person who is supposed to love you unconditionally.  It's a reminder of how many questions there still are, a memo that there's a whole other family out there who share genetics with you - a family that we have yet to find.  How could you celebrate yourself on such a day? 

But if you can't celebrate this day, know that I can and I do.  

I'm grateful for my biological grandmother.  I'm grateful for all the love and sadness she had in her heart for you.  I think that even as you grew inside her, you were already becoming part light and part darkness.  

You are the golden light that bathes the world as the sun sinks below the mountain tops. You see the good in all people, even when it's a single grain in a sea of rice.  

You are the blackness that shrouds the earth while she sleeps.  You hold your loved ones close and safe, while you shield us from the storm.  

You feel deeply; emotion flows thickly through your veins.  Your highs are higher, and your lows sometimes lower, than most. 

On this day, this 18th of December, I want to honor the person you've become.  I will think about the forty eight other December 18ths you've already lived, and wonder about who you were on each of those days.  I will hold your birth mother close, and offer that young woman in my mind a fierce hug.  Her story grips me; the idea of giving up a child breaks my heart and knowing that baby was you crushes me.  She had to be strong.  She had to be courageous.

And she imparted those qualities to her firstborn daughter.

You are kind.  You are generous.  You are loving.  You are empathetic.  You are passionate.  You are supportive. You are questioning.  You are enthusiastic.  You are interested.  You are selfless.

I admire you, Mom.  I love you dearly, and with each passing year I learn more about the depth of your personhood - and the more I learn, the more awe and respect I have.

Happy Birthday, mother of mine.  You are very special, and very important to me.  I hope you know that although this day is full of both darkness and light, I will always think of it as the day the world changed.  And I will always celebrate you.