Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Abigail - a memoir

This is dedicated to Chelle and Becca at “Crazy Thoughts” who desperately miss their beloved Charisma.

February 1991 our cherished Abigail died. She had lived with us since she was a puppy in 1977. Except for the oldest, who picked her out, she had welcomed each of our babies.

She was funny and happy and a scaredy-cat. She would curl up next to our feet as we watched TV. She took naps on floor blankets with the kids when they were tots. She was the best soccer dog around - take that Beckham.

For almost two years we had known she had a bad heart valve that she was not a candidate for surgery to correct. When the vet first discovered it he told us not to try to protect her, that she would self-regulate her activities to her diminishing heart capacity.

But at first we did try to save her, to stretch out her days with us a little longer. We stopped taking her to the kids’ soccer games, and to the slide park when it would be crowded, or on walks where there would be a lot of squirrels.

It wasn't any good though. She was unhappy about being left behind and we were unhappy that she was at home alone. After a while we agreed to reverse our decision about her activities and trust her to tell us when she needed rest and quiet.

As summer move into fall and winter it was more and more apparent that she was able to do less and less as the temperature turned colder. Shortly after the Christmas holiday we came home from school to find her stuck in the basement because she could no longer climb the stairs.

Just before Valentine's Day we noticed that she was sleeping more and more, while trying to prop her head above her heart. Putting my ear to her chest I could hear the rattling rales from the fluid trapped in her lungs because the heart wasn't moving the blood efficiently.

A week later on a Wednesday night she looked very sick; and her wheezing and rattling were audible across the room. Dad took the kids to their church activities while I stayed home to write the following day’s care plan for school and comfort Abby as much as possible.

When the family came home around 9 o’clock her breathing was very rapid and shallow. Nonetheless the look in her eyes implored the kids to sit next to her and stroke her for a long time. Finally we explained that it seemed she had waited to say good-bye but she would not let go while they were present. So we had them say their final good-byes and get dressed for bed.

Our daughter suggested setting up an inclined bedding area for Abby in her room for a while since it would be quiet there. That way she could listen for her and I could finish my project. But it didn’t quite work out. About ten minutes after going back to the kitchen, “No” was heard from the second floor.

Soft little feet padded down the steps and in the doorway appeared a slip of a girl holding the now lifeless Abby swaddled in her old flowered pink sheet. Giant tears welled up over the lower lashed and splotched across her cheeks and onto Abby’s fur. Then a terrible sob wracked the tiny shoulders and the accumulated grief broke through the dam that courage and cheerfulness had earnestly tried to sandbag.

After a while the sobs began to subside to hiccoughs and sniffles. The fierce grip on Abby did not relax however. Gently we persuaded her to release her grip and let us rearrange Abby in the sheet so she wouldn’t leak. In the meantime the commotion had prompted the boys to creep back down the stairs to the kitchen. Seeing Abby swaddled on their sister’s lap, they crowded around and stroked her again.

At length we brought the farewells to a close. We explained that it would be the last time they would see Abby; that we were taking her out where it was cold because bodies begin to smell when they stop living and we did not want them to remember her with that smell. So with heavy hearts, all four youngsters filed out of the kitchen and back up the stairs to their beds.

Late that night as I lay awake in the dark, the house seemed all too quiet. Though really, it wasn’t actually any quieter than any other night because Abby had never been a night prowler, preferring instead to sleep on a towel at the foot of our bed her whole life. But the anticipation of the coming day, which would be faced without the companionship of that little black and white ball of boundless energy, created a vacuum through which no sound emerged.

It would take us until 1999 before we could risk bringing another pet into our household. While we missed the companionship we couldn’t face the risk of such a loss again. Year blended into year and as the intensity began to abate the talk would occasionally turn to getting another fur-bearing pet. But a chance reading of a tiny volume about life with a cat, juxtaposed with an acquaintance offering us one of her recent kittens, nudged us all that the time had come to set grieving aside and to pick up living a full life again.


Anonymous said...

This is a magnificent tribute to Abby. Your words brought tears to my eyes. Actually, you had me sobbing. I lost my best friend Sam last March and I am still reeling, and desperately missing his smiling face and wagging tail. Thank you for sharing this story of love and heartbreak.

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

For sure, there is no time-limit on grieving for humans or pets. It takes however long it takes.

Glad you were able to open your heart up to take in another beloved pet.

chelle said...

gasp. Thank you.
What a heartwarming moment in your life to share. I am glad the day came when your family was ready to have another pet.

G's Cottage said...

Chelle, you are so welcome; and I have to thank your post for helping me find a way to write about saying good-bye to Abby. I have a little file of thoughts about her but none of them ever came to fruition. Maybe I'll write some more about her in the future. And find some photos to scan.

Melissa and Karen, I hadn't meant to start a sob fest. But personally I was a moment of refreshing too.

Margaret Cloud said...

I don!t know if I can see to write this, what an honor you gave Abigail, pets should be loved like that, she is at Rainbow Bridge waiting for you. Margaret in Michigan