Usually, I treat cleaning like the wretched chore it is. An activity to bear because I dislike clutter, and dust makes me sneeze, and sticky things make me gag. But when my thoughts are scattered, or when I need to work through a problem, or when I’m upset, cleaning is therapy.
Today, I cleaned.
On Friday, June 7, my husband and I said goodbye to our dog Ivan.
Dysplasia settled into both of his hips at about the same time. We tried giving him joint health supplements, but he hated eating anything if it wasn’t in his food bowl. He ate around what we put in his food bowl. He stopped eating when we crumbled the supplements up in his food.
I just have picky eaters, I guess.
Last weekend, his right leg swelled twice its normal size. He stopped eating again. He stopped drinking. He didn’t have to go to the bathroom. His fur started falling out in patches and chunks. He couldn’t play. He could barely walk.
We knew it was time.
Not that knowing made it any easier.
My husband and I process grief differently. Crying, holding hands, sharing memories — those we need together. We also need to be alone to process this grief — him resting in silence or with soft music playing, and me in a cacophony of sound, moving, doing, cleaning.
It took two days to get through the grief to pick up the mess we’d made of our house — the empty pizza boxes, the glasses half-filled with water in every room, the shoes and clothes and clutter. Two days to fix the blockage in the vacuum that had previously felt so overwhelming. Two days to oil the dining room table, do the dishes, sweep the floor, start the laundry. Two days to cry and feel and clean.
He was our first deep love, our gentle lead. He reached out to us and curled up at my husband’s feet. He loved walks and fetch. He was big, and he was sweet. He pressed his face into the carpet when he slept. He carried the cat around in his mouth. He boofed at the mailman and shadows and squirrels. He loved the snow. He hated the rain. He chased his tail and happy hopped for dinner time. He destroyed every toy we ever gave him. He destroyed his bed and preferred the couch. He loved us, and we loved him.
Eleven years is not forever, but forever is how long I love you.