I used to tell people that my dog was immortal. It garnered a quick laugh; but honestly, I said it to protect my heart. The thought of losing Homer, the thought of not having my shadow every single day, is something my heart never wanted to prepare for. Homer was one in a million. He was 16 years old and was there for me through my fertility treatments, brought home every baby, and in his old age needed to be lifted in and out of bed. If you didn’t lift him up, he would claw at the bed rails until you met his demands. He lived with my husband for the majority of our younger days, but Homer favored me undoubtedly.
I noticed a bump. Not like the bumps on the rest of Homer’s skin that we constantly had checked out, but one that was in his mouth. It grew rapidly. I don’t remember the words or the phrases, but I remember the vet handing me a box of Kleenex because all I could do was sob and hug Homer closer while I fell to the ground. Homer had cancer. He gave us a 50/50 survival rate for his surgery to remove the lump and we needed to have an agreed-upon plan if the vet couldn’t remove it: do we even wake him back up. I would literally pay any price in our budget to save our dog- anything to wake him up.
No one talks about the grieving process starting when your pet is still with you. The tears fell every single day. This dog, who once devoured an entire medium pizza, was having trouble eating. My heart started falling and shattering into little pieces, bit by bit. My entire adult life has had Homer in it. He is the source of my constant frustrations when he chases baby bunnies, pees on the carpet, and incessantly steals the girls’ food out of their hands. And my constant joy as I could hear his nails clattering on the floor to come and find me since his vision was dwindling. He was my snuggle buddy every single day. He never talked back. At times I would even turn down overnight trips because I didn’t want him to have to stay at the boarding facility; he wasn’t getting any younger.
I knew our days were numbered. He was literally falling apart, but my heart was 100% not ready to let him go. I needed an adultier adult to come and tell me: it’s time. I wasn’t a great mom those weeks to my human children. I cried constantly. Every time I would look at him, every dog commercial, every pet story- more crying. Homer’s tumor returned, quicker than the first time. The decision was looming in front of us: when is it time to say goodbye to your dog? I tried to read but found myself simply in denial- was he still enjoying certain parts of his life, was he still eating, was he able to control his body movements? Sure… sometimes.
I tried to ask other people to make the decision for me. I researched having Homer euthanized in our home until my wise husband reminded me that I would never ever be able to enter the room where it happened ever again. I prayed every night that Homer would pass peacefully in his sleep. My Aunt said that is how I knew it was time. I was wishing for his peaceful transition, and I could give our dog that.
The tumor was infected, he was refusing even his favorite snacks and he was tired every hour of the day. And on a Monday when everyone else in the world carried on with life, mine stopped. I don’t mean to sound dramatic but my heart will literally never be the same. I now understand why people don’t get another pet after they lose like this. The sadness I feel, the amount of crying I have done- I don’t want to do this ever again. At times, it feels like the pressure of an elephant on my chest and sheer panic when I remember he’s not with us. I’m barely functioning and any time someone wants to show me their new covid puppy or talk about a new pet, I want to yell and cry. Yet somewhere deep down, someday in the far-off future, we all know I’ll rescue another pet because the love that Homer gave me and taught me far exceeds the grief I’m currently feeling today… I hope.