The past week was supposed to bring rest and rejuvenation, but, you know, best laid plans. The goal for today, therefore, is as simple as it is ambitious: shake off the past week, and return to business as usual. And so, I blog. This post won’t be especially elegant, nor will it prove especially inspiring. Honestly, this post isn’t for you. It’s for me.
Last week, I flew to South Florida to meet up with my mother and brother, with whom I was taking a four-day-long cruise to Mexico. This was our Christmas present, and—in my case—an early Spring Break. Seeing my family is always wonderful, and we were very excited for our vacation, but we also had a lot on our minds. There were many shoes in the air, so to speak, and waiting for them to drop cast something of a pall on the skies over the Liberty of the Seas.
Those shoes did indeed drop. And how.
On day three of the cruise—the day we docked in Cozumel—we came home from a wonderful day of sun, shopping, and dolphin encounters, only to find out that my paternal grandmother had died. She was ninety-seven, and had entered hospice earlier that week, so we were all prepared—indeed, anxious—for her passing. But, of course, being on a ship at the time of her death, we had almost no internet access, and no cell phone service. We couldn’t plan her memorial, we couldn’t notify relatives… we couldn’t do much of anything.
To be clear: I am glad my grandmother is gone. The past three years of her life have been challenging; this past year, well, it’s been simply awful. Her death is a blessing and a relief. While I’m not grieving my grandmother, it was difficult to be so utterly disconnected from the reality of her passing. So we sat there, in the casino, playing the slots and sipping on virgin piña coladas, because what the hell else were we going to do? It was a strange feeling, to put it mildly.
Our cruise ended yesterday. We disembarked in the morning and drove three hours back to our home, making calls to the nursing home, the hospice facility, etc. on the way. Things were getting back to normal. We picked up three ecstatic dogs—and one very grumpy cat—from the kennel. And then, when we got home, all hell broke loose.
Sadie was bleeding.
Sadie had cancer that, while not impacting her appetite or her sunny disposition, had badly disfigured her. She had a tumor (at least) the size of a softball on her leg, and another baseball-sized tumor on her stomach. We all considered it a miracle that she’d survived to celebrate Christmas with us again; it seemed like the only one who wasn’t holding their breath was Sadie. It’s a strange thing to see a dog who looks so sick dancing for her dinner, wiggling her stump, and running to the sliding-glass door to bark at passersby. We were always worried that we might let her go too long, that we’d miss a warning sign, that she’d be in pain and we’d inadvertently allow that pain to continue. We took her to the vet over and over again, only to hear the same thing over and over again: not yet.
When my mother and brother dropped her off last week, the tumor on her leg was oozing slightly, but all seemed well. She was still a happy dog. She was a happy dog when we picked her up. But by the time we got home with her yesterday, all was definitely not well. In the span of about thirty minutes, everything changed.
When she got out of the car, blood started spurting out of her tumor. Our garage was covered in droplets of blood. We looked at her leg, and realized the skin had finally ripped open. We tried to bandage her, but the shape of the tumor being what it was, the bandage came off within minutes. There was nothing we could do. Sadie didn’t seem terribly distressed by her condition, but we knew that it would only get worse. And so, within twenty minutes of arriving home with our menagerie, my mother and I packed Sadie into the car and returned to the vet. As my mom put it to me, it felt like we were playing a dirty trick on her, taking her back like that. Timing’s a bitch.
When we arrived at the vet’s office, we were met by a staff that seemed almost as devastated as we were. As one nurse put it to us “We knew this day was coming, but we’d all hoped she had a little while longer, because she’s such a special dog.” Dogs are tremendously empathetic, so it’s possible she was responding to the emotions flooding the room, but Sadie’s attitude gradually changed. Her usual vet-visit jitters seemed to melt away, replaced by resignation. After a lot of kisses and tears, Sadie laid herself down in-between my mother and I, and quietly, peacefully, passed away.
To summarize: I took a four day long vacation. In that time, I lost both my grandmother and my dog.
I would say that I was still numb, but I’m not numb at all. I wish I was numb. If I could get right back on that ship and sail away from this situation, I would. As every co-worker you’ve ever had has said at least once: I need a vacation from my vacation. The idea of getting back to my academic work—to steeping myself in other people’s loss—seems impossible. And yet, I desperately need to get back to my routine.
I shouldn’t feel bad about my lack of grief at my Nana’s passing, but—now that Sadie’s gone—I do feel bad about it. I’m struggling with the knowledge that I’ve cried, repeatedly, over Sadie, and not once for my grandmother. It actually makes a lot of sense that I feel that way. Sadie was happy and dancing on the day she died; if it weren’t for the giant bleeding tumor on her leg, she’d have had at least a few happy months ahead of her. My grandmother, on the other hand, was gone months before she died.
Feeling guilty about grief is as stupid as it is inevitable (in my case, anyway). The only way to make those feelings fade is to acknowledge them… to let them stretch out a little, announce themselves, and enjoy their moment.
That’s why I wrote this post. It’s for me, not for you. The guilt and sorrow I’m carrying right now is heavy, so I’m offloading it onto the Internet. Those feelings can run free all over my blog, but their time in my head has come to an end.
“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.