My Squash, My Grief, My Healing

I got a part-time job. And no, that's not really what this blog is going to be about, but I am going to start there. It's nothing like I have ever done before and it's humbling. It began as caregiving and personal assistant, and is settling more into personal assistant. A PhD as a personal assistant for another PhD. One that can't communicate. If you have ever read LITERALLY ANYTHING I have ever written personally, you can imagine how hard that one little part is for me. The premise of all of my writing resides in being heard, and learning how to communicate. And here I am working a job that involves very restricted communication. Plus, I am doing what I always do when the fear of financial insecurity (okay, it's real financial insecurity) hits, I am hiding behind my "work." Running myself into the ground, so to speak. Avoiding all the big feels threatening to pop up, and shoving them down deep into the tiny black depths of a void I have spent years trying to heal. 

So in other words, I'm FINE.
It's FINE.

Then I got a day off midweek, so like any normal and completely sane person I decided that today was the day I would create a website. For myself. We will call it Step 1, also referred to lovingly as a fucking first time. Perhaps not the best idea given my struggle to suppress all those feels I have been avoiding. But whatever. I did it anyway. Best part, I did this on a 'new to me' Toshiba laptop circa 2000s that a friend gifted me. I have to say...I am certain this is what Carrie on SITC felt like, click clacking away on her lifestyle blog and articles. Me? I feel lost. And while I want to say that I know why, I think a big part of it lies in my denial of my why. See above references for shutting out my feels.

I am grieving. 
And I fucking hate it.

When I had taken enough baby steps into the world of website creation, I began scrolling through my old blogs and realized how much I have written about one loss (the business), and how little I have written about the other. Today is the day I stop pretending that losing our business is what has me stuck. I mean, it is a very big part of it. But the core of the issue is that since July 2020, a piece of my heart has been missing.

And his name was Squash.

Squash in Spring of 2020

I know why I haven't written an entire blog about him. I haven't been ready to let go. Not really. Even now as I type, barely seeing the words on the screen through the hurt and tears, I don't want to be typing this. Instead, I want his giant, warm body curled up next to me without a care in the world except being here with me right now. Probably snoring loudly, or watching me and my tapping. I'll reach down every once in a while and rub his velvet soft ear, reminding myself that we are safe in each other's love. My Squash, the pup that pulled me out of my own shit more times than I can count. He stood by me when others couldn't, and let me cling to him when I thought all my pieces would spill out and be lost forever. He always knew. He also took my yelling and loved me anyway, always knowing that my pain was not his fault. He taught me what an apology really was as he forgave me my imperfections over and over again. And I sang and held him as he took his final rasping breath last year. Far too soon for the beautiful soul that he was.

We got Squash very soon after we lost our old pup, Rambo. His chronic seizure condition finally overcame him at almost 9 years of age. Rambo was a gentle giant, and predominantly my husband's dog. Though he was well loved by us all, and a sweet and quiet soul that stood guard over our family. I found the emptiness from his passing unbearable during early sobriety, just a few months after beginning my own healing journey. So with the help of two very little humans, we convinced Marvin that our family needed an addition sooner than I think he was ready for. I have often felt guilty about this over the years, but I know that Squash was sent to our family for a reason. And he was the perfect fit for each of us.

We went to the local Humane Society just after Thanksgiving in 2017 to look at 'small dogs.' With a small townhome and 2 little humans in the house, we didn't need another big dog (Rambo had been big enough). We found a cutie that we all felt would be a good fit, and then...found out she was already pending adoption. We held Squash too, and he was adorable, but we worried he would grow to be a big dude. So we left, no puppy in our arms. We didn't make it out of the parking lot. Between the pull in my gut and the kids begging, Squash came home with us that day. And yes, he was originally named Squash. The last of a Thanksgiving litter; and the most goofy, squishy, floppy-eared boy of golden tan you could imagine. I cuddled him the whole way to PetsMart, where we spent money we probably didn't have to make sure he knew he had found his forever home.

The kids were over the moon, and so was I. Marv took a bit longer to warm up, but Squash would soon prove just how big of a heart he had. Our vet laughed when we told him the Humane Society assumed he would be a medium to large sized dog. His response, "I can't wait to see how big he gets."

And big he was. His final weight hovered around 94 lbs, and while he stood shorter than a Great Dane, it wasn't by much. He was huge, and strong enough that we had to help him learn early on not to pull. He would be our best trained dog, and he would teach us so much about letting go. Playing. Going with the flow. Appreciating the moment. Seeing the beauty in all things. And loving deeply.

When he was still young we learned that he had a fondness for chewing and eating non-food items. An unfortunate trait in Dane-mixes, and one that can prove life threatening. His first run-in with this was when he pulled clothes from the hamper next to his crate through the side while we were out of the house one evening. He ate a shirt and part of a sports bra, and then he began vomiting. Terrified, we took him to our vet for evaluation. A very expensive x-ray series and overnight stay later, he was in the clear. From that point on we made certain to monitor his chewing behavior. Eventually, and thankfully, he seemed to grow out of it. Unless he was mad at being left behind. Squash hated to miss out on an adventure. He was a pro at puppy-pouting.

(L to R) Squash watching the kids on the FireFly Trail, with Marvin taking a break on a trail, soaked from Ben Burton Shoals)

Last year, when the pandemic hit, I truly believe Squash thought he had won a prize. His family was home with him all the time. More walks, more adventures. It was so much fun. For all of us. really. He made sure we were outside as much as possible, he begged to go with us on hikes. He was a goat on steep trails, and a kid at the shoals. He knew exactly how to play and enjoy each outing to its fullest. And he never let us sit looking worried for too long.

Mother's Day 2020, with all my loves.

In July, despite all the things, we made the decision to take a socially distanced vacay to the beach (a very remote one, compliments of family). I still see his sad face when he realized he couldn't come with us. I wanted him to, but the place didn't allow dogs. I would spend months after that trip beating myself up for being a rule follower. Part of me thinks both he and I knew, sometimes I think we just vibed like that. The vacation was incredible. The pause amidst the turmoil of accepting we were going to lose our business. Marv and I came to the conclusion that this was the end of this chapter for us there, and as a family we allowed ourselves to sink into the deep joy of vacation. I even attended my 2nd Zoom JRNI class. It was a trip for the books.

And then tragedy struck.

Our dog sitter called to say that Squash would not stop vomiting. It all began with a bone, a type I didn't usually give him, but had left because I felt guilty about him not being with us. She said it seemed like it got stuck a little, but then he coughed it up and all was fine. Until it suddenly wasn't. She took him to the vet before even calling me. I firmly believe it was that decision that allowed him to survive until we could get home. We immediately decided to cut our vacation short by a few days, as we awaited the results. Initially, we thought it was because his stomach had flipped and he would need surgery. Fine, done. But then the news got worse. The stomach issue resolved itself, but his drooling and vomiting was not improving. He was transported to UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The place that had saved 2 of my furbabies previously. I felt confident all would be well, even though I was worried. 

We left the next morning.

After arriving home I drove straight to the hospital. I had been informed that he was still having drooling issues, but nothing could prepare me for the condition my beloved dog was in when I arrived. He barely recognized me. The drool soaked his mouth and chest. I burst into tears. I told the vet that I wished for them to keep him over night and run more tests, something was very wrong. I informed her that he was a very outgoing and loving dog, but his inability to even recognize me was a clear indication that his condition was severe. She took him back inside as I fell apart in my car.

My Squashy.

Morning kisses on the porch, our favorite time together.

The next day they managed to get him to a better place, or so it seemed, and when I arrived he crawled up under my legs and whimpered. He was asking me to take him home. In hindsight I wish I had accepted what he had, that this battle was lost and he just wanted to stay with me and his family. But later that night he began wheezing with what sounded like pneumonia. The vet later confirmed the worst, he had aspirated saliva into his lung. I still believed they could save him. I had to pick him up to get him out of my car. He knew. He knew what I refused to accept. Instead of being with me on his final nights, he was in the hospital fighting for his life. Not for himself, for me. The news finally arrived, he had megaesophagus, a condition in which the esophageal tissue becomes inflamed and swallowing becomes impossible. It can be treated, and feeding adjusted to maintain quality of life. But his was far too advanced. He was dying. I sobbed on the phone to the vet. Not my Squash. No. He wasn't even 3 years old. This wasn't happening.

But it was.

And so I did what I had to do for him, I accepted what he knew all along. This was the end.

We arrived the next day and said our goodbyes, and then I went in with him and stayed with him as he went to sleep for the last time. And nothing in the world prepared me for the grief. I have grieved lost pets and family before, but Squash was more. He was my strength. He was proof of my survival. He taught me resilience and worth. Most importantly, he loved me through all my mess.

I didn't want to write this blog and I haven't until now because somehow I knew this makes it real. These words are my final acceptance. He is never going to bound up to me when I open the door. He is never going to place his giant head on my lap when I am tired or sad. It's up to me now. I have to pick myself up and keep going. I have to take the next step, and the next, and the next. He won't be there to push me out the door, or help my day be better with his sweet joy for life. He is gone. But I refuse to allow my grief to hold me back. If there is anything of him that I can carry forward it is this, life will keep happening no matter how I show up. So I might as well jump in and enjoy it while I can.

For him.

For me.

 I love you my Squash.
~ jessica

No Words
by jlgc, 10/2/2020

No Words.
They will not come.
I cannot force them out, one by one.

No Words.
Try as I may.
Nothing arises, nothing emerges, noting to say.

No Words.
I'm breathing right now.
This must be enough, just as it is. Somehow.

No Words.
Tears fall steady.
While ways to speak my feelings are not yet ready.

No Words.
And that must be okay.
For I live to face another adventure, and love another day.

I will meet you on the other side of the rainbow bridge, my Squash. RIP 7/15/2020


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