Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grandma Sunday

Is one of my favorite days of the week.  My mother gets to have her "Mason time" and I get to have some "Me time."  It is a win/win for everyone.  This particular Grandma Sunday, my mom said she would keep Mason through dinner time and Fred and I should go to a movie or go out to dinner.  We decided to take her up on that offer and chose a movie.   *I warn you ahead of time, the following story might cause you to tear up so grab some tissues, go somewhere comfortable and read on.
Zeke DeSpain Briggs April 1999-December 2006

    We just arrived home from the movie theatre.  We saw the movie Marley and Me.  I had started reading the book about a year and a half ago (wow! has it really been that long?).  My mom, still working at the library at the time, always brings books home that she thinks I might like to read and passes them on.  She read this one and thought it would hold a special meaning for me and so passed it on.   I didn't get too far into the book before realizing that with a newborn I had absolutely no time in my life to read so it was then added to my constantly growing list of "currently reading" books that fills my shelves.  Of course the book is now a movie starring Jennifer Aniston (one of my favorite actresses) and Owen Wilson.  It is a true story about the Grogan family, in particular their dog Marley.  I knew the premise of the book going into the theatre but wasn't expecting to feel as heartbroken or as inspired as I did.  

     The particular scene that resonated so much with me that it brought me to uncontrollable tears was at the end.  John is in the vets office after Marley got sick again and is faced with the decision to put him to sleep.  I flashed back two years, one month and fifteen days.  Standing in the small room of the Leesburg Emergency Animal Hospital and saying my last good-byes to the cutest orange tabby on the planet.  
     It was only two months earlier that we received the horrible news.  Results from the biopsy of the tumor the vet found a month ago during a routine checkup were in.  She said it was Hemangiosarcoma.  CANCER.  This type is very very rare in cats and Zeke's was very malignant.  There is no cure and surgery, while risky, would only buy him months.  We had decided to let him live out his remaining days at home with those who loved him.  We spoiled him with catnip and lots of affection.  I continued to document everything about our lives with Zeke.  All I wanted to remember that was so special about him.  
     Watching Marley laying on the table almost lifeless with the catheter in his paw and John saying his good-byes, was too much for my fragile emotional state.   It could have been the pregnancy hormones but I know it was emotions deeper than biology.  I was balling like a baby, just as I had that December night and I didn't care who saw me.  To me, I was reliving the worst moment of my life.
     First, Zeke was given a shot to sedate him and I was told he would go to sleep and may or may not close his eyes.  Then the overdose of barbital as pumped into the tube, telling his brain to shut down and his heart to stop.  
     As I watched this familiar scene unfold on the big screen before me, I could see Zeke's eyes as he rested his head in my hand.  Heard myself say, "mommy is here, it's ok."  Marley close his eyes signaling his passing.  Zeke's had stayed open so sweetly looking at us as he always did.  I heard the word's, "he's gone" echoing in my mind as I bent over his lifeless body sobbing that I wanted him back over and over.  Sobbing now in the dark theatre,  I thought about how much one small (well Zeke wasn't so small) orange tabby, only 7 years old, had affected our lives so deeply.  That night I saw tears in Fred's eyes for the first time in the 10 years that I'd known him.  
     At the end of the movie John says something profound, "a dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull.  Give him your heart and he will give you his."  I believe cats are the same but Zeke gave me much more than that.  In the seven years he was a part of my life I was given some of the best lessons:
I learned to love unconditionally and in the process strengthened my belief that I have the responsibility and soul to be a good mom;  he taught me to appreciate the simple everyday things like the importance of a good nap, no matter where you are and to soak up the sun whenever possible;  he taught me to always make room for fun, it is an essential part of living; I learned there is a need to misbehave every once in a while, but try real hard not to get caught. If you do, however, just put on a cute face and act like you haven no idea what is going on.   It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission; I learned to be brave in the hardest and saddest of situations but that it is also o.k. to be scared; I learned you can never have enough good food and to always use the potty no matter how dirty it is; he taught me the significance of greeting those you love when they get home, no matter how late in the day or night or how long they have been gone; I was shown that you should always fully inspect new things and that change is inevitable so just go with the flow.  Most of all he taught me to always be yourself.  All your quirks, faults, habits.  You will be loved anyway and all those things that make you, "you", will be greatly missed when you are gone.
I'm not saying that Zeke was a saint.  Most times he would push my buttons just like a child and see how far he could go before I blew my lid.  As John Grogan said, "many people remake their pets in death, turning them into supernatural, noble beasts that in life did everything for their masters..."  Like him, I want to be honest.  Zeke was a pain a lot of the time.  He would jump on the countertop looking for food, splash the water from his dish all over the floor, manage to get his hair on everything, eat anything off the floor like a dog, beg you for food every time you walked into the kitchen, and trip you up the stairs just so he could get to the top first.   He was also very good at hiding.  We'd spend hours looking and calling for him convinced he'd somehow gotten outside and was either killed or ran away only to find him buried in the closet behind clothes and shoes or in the basement tucked in the corner of Fred's workbench.  But he was a presence in the house that resonated so loudly and that we became so comfortable with, it felt empty without him.   All in all though, we lucked out with Zeke.  He never tore up the furniture, though a few times he dug at the rug outside our bedroom door; and always used his litter box no matter how long it had been since it was cleaned last.  
     After his passing, I was told so many times by people that while it was tragic losing Zeke, he left behind someone for me to take care of in his place, my newborn son.  I used to get so angry at statements like this.  You couldn't replace Zeke, how dare they even suggest it.   Now I wonder if maybe it was true.  That maybe Zeke left behind a bit of his spirit in my son.  Mason, like Zeke, is a fairly well behaved child.  Even at two, he isn't so bad.  He has his tantrums and dramatic moments but he also has a barrel of laughs and crazy, fun, demeanor.  Maybe it is Zeke's way of easing my grief.  He always comforted me when I needed it most.   
     If anything is taken from this experience it is that I even though I feel guilty and have regrets about my son, and soon to arrive daughter never growing up with Zeke as I had planned; I will forever treasure the moments we had with him and know that we were blessed that he was a part of this family, no matter how short a time it was.  

*Dedicated to all the fur babies loved and lost.  They are family too and always will be.  

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