grieving for a pet

Grieving for a Pet – Beautiful Story of Dexter

Grieving for a pet is difficult and a complicated process. But, faith, support and love can heal. Let me share with you this beautiful story of Dexter and his kind owner. This is a guest post. For confidentiality and respect to the story teller’s privacy I have not shared the name of the owner.

How I met Dexter?

It was a rainy evening. I had just stepped out of my office in a rush to reach home. Instead, I found myself standing stranded on the pavement, under my big orange umbrella and getting sprayed by the rain as the wind blew it haywire to and from all directions. Every bus that had arrived was overcrowded and every cab occupied. I stood cursing under my breath. I had no idea how much longer I would have to wait. My clothes were almost dripping, and my socks in my ballerinas were soaking wet. My legs had begun feeling heavy and uncomfortable. To top it, I could feel something tugging at my feet. What the hell! I jumped in fear and quickly looked down in utter alarm and the very next moment, my entire life changed.

Looking down, I saw a sight I can never forget. A brown and white, dappled, dripping wet dog, rather a pup, was trying to stick closer to my legs while shivering violently in the cold. As I looked down, it instinctively looked up and met my eyes. That look in its eyes! A strange mixture of vulnerability and strength, compassion and companionship, seeking help and offering friendship. It all so strangely blended into one unforgettable look in those beady, glassy, round little eyes. Compassion overcame me. It was a feeling that I had never felt before. I immediately picked up the pup and tried offering it some warmth. As if magically, the very next moment, an empty cab appeared out of nowhere and came and braked right before us as if to say, “Time to go home!”

I had to leave. So, I looked around wondering if the pup belonged to someone nearby. But there was not a soul around. The street was getting increasingly flooded, and every door and window of each building on that street was securely locked. I could not figure out how the pup had reached this street corner, who it belonged to, and where it came from. It was getting darker and stormier by the minute. I could either leave this stranded creature there in a city fast submerging itself in the rains and the swelling drains or I could take this stranger home and offer it some Love. I suddenly recalled what my mother had taught me years back, “When you’re confused between the right and the wrong, choose love because love is always right!” That evening, I chose love, and it transformed my life forever.

Dexter, my brown and white angel with beady, glassy, round little eyes and long drooping ears transformed my life forever. Till date, I have no idea exactly which breed he belonged to. And it never mattered to me. I knew I truly loved him from the moment I set my eyes upon him, and hence, his cast, creed, race, and religion had no real significance to me. Our love was true and pure. And forever! Dexter left for a bigger home as recently as two months back. He left for a home where he must be sleeping in peace, occasionally waking up to play with his favorite chew bone which I had carefully buried beside him.

Fading Away of Dexter

Yes! Dexter passed away two months back, breaking my heart into a million pieces, yet making it a thousand times stronger. He made me believe in love and perhaps afterlife too. And yes, magic! Dexter helped me believe in magic again. Why again? Because just a month before he walked into my life, on another equally wet, cold and stormy evening, I had sworn to myself that I would never believe in lies like magic and love again. That was the fateful day when I had decided to walk out of my first long-term relationship, by then verging on abuse and lies.

That whole month, I had cursed through the days and at nights, wept myself to sleep, calling myself way too gullible to ever believe in the magic of love. In real life, such fantasies didn’t exist, or so I thought in my temporary flood of rage and pain. That was until Dexter arrived!

Dexter was “the walking and talking magic of love” from the very first moment. How else did I manage to find an empty cab suddenly in a stranded city, riding straight up to us the very moment I picked Dexter up? How else did the otherwise cramped, damp and littered apartment turn so big, warm and cozy the moment both of us stepped inside the house that night? And suddenly, how else could I suddenly feel the weight of a dead elephant lift off my chest and my heart once again fluttering chirpily around the house like a little blue bird?

Finding Dexter, bringing him home, striking an unexpected companionship with him had been immensely transformative to my mind, body, and soul. We were not owner and pet or even pet-parent and fur-child because I think my maternal instincts still have time to bud. We were best friends. Bum-chums! Confidants! Partners in crime! And now that he’s gone, I have lost so many people in one blow! I have lost my best friend, my magician, my laughter riot and my late-night street food hunting team. Sometimes, I wonder if another pup might fill in these roles. Then, I sigh hard and re-realize one unambiguous truth – no one can replace my Dexter!

Grieving for a Pet is Tough

After Dexter passed away, some of the colleagues at work suggested I get another “pet.” Some others commented on my overdoing of the grief I felt for a “mere pet.” I could never make anyone see how Dexter was NOT my “pet.” He was my “Person.” My one and the only go-to person at any given point in time. Looking for a hug? Dexter! Wanting to cheer up? Dexter! Needing to reaffirm my faith in love and faithfulness? That’s Dexter’s department! Wanting to go on an evening stroll to smell the wildflowers after a brain-busting day at work? Dexter’s the perfect walking companion. Daring to go scavenger hunting on the lonely city streets to quench some sudden late-night food craving? You definitely take bodyguard Dexter with you!

Now, I hardly go out late in the night for food hunts. It is not because I am afraid to venture out without my “bodyguard.” On the contrary, it is because the absence of Dexter sniffing out my food plate or sharing a buttery masala bread with me sends a stabbing sensation down my throat right into my gut. Those special memories I spent with Dexter are irreplaceable and also impossible to recreate with another “new pet.”

Having said that, I am not entirely closed off to the idea of getting another fur friend. I am sure Dexter would also want to see me less lonely and depressed than I am right now. He had this peculiar observation power about my emotions almost like human empathy and could sense when I was down. He knew whenever I had had a bad day at work, and he knew my moods like the back of his palm or paw, I should say! I am not entirely sure if that amount of sensitivity can be found in another.

Yet, knowing Dexter always wanted to see me bubbly, bouncy and bright, I could try to get a new furry friend sometime in the future. But I need time for that. Right now, my heart, lungs, head, and home are still too full of my departed Dexter. His body is gone. Yet, I can feel his presence closely. Non-believers might call me delusional, and this tangible presence of Dexter just a habit of my mind, but I know it’s not just a whiff of memory or a mere flash of imagination. Dexter is tangibly present all around me. And that’s what has helped me not grieve him to the extent of plummeting in the severest lows. I do grieve hard for him. But this presence also soothes me. It’s as if one bridge was burnt for a new bridge to be built.

Speaking of bridges, Dexter had a favorite sport we often played. On Sundays or holidays, when I had time, we would go out to a nearby bridge on the local river. It has a low secret niche on its Southern end where butterflies gather in hundreds to drink honey from the wild weed flowers growing beneath the bridge, in the shade. Dexter loved running up to that spot and “nosing” the winged creatures. By nosing, I mean he would simply lift up his nose at a funny angle and wait until a butterfly or two came and momentarily parched on his moist black nose. How on earth did he manage to get butterflies to come and sit on his nose, I don’t know! Except, Dexter was the walking talking, err, barking, magician!

He would rush into the fleet of butterflies, making his presence known to them, sending them all in a scared flurry. Then he would pause, look around intently and hold up his nose in the air, as if to smell something distant until the winged friends came and lightly sat on it, before flying off soon again. That sight was sheer magic, unforgettable and nothing like I have ever seen in my entire life. This also made my faith in the “magic of love” stronger.

Dexter gave me my first real lesson in love, I suppose. He loved butterflies. He taught me that when you really love something or someone, you just have to be fully present and simply allow the other to come and accept that presence. No running, chasing or demanding! Definitely not barking and pawing and clawing for love to come and sit at your table, or on your nose! When it did come, you enjoyed its light footings, and let it fly away whenever it wished to, and simply continued being present for it to return home again. Dexter taught me to love. He was my teacher! And now, I miss my favorite teacher!

Now that Dexter is gone and so untimely, I wonder at times if he was sent to me only to teach me certain priceless lessons I desperately needed to learn. I think to myself while brooding and grieving this four-legged teacher’s loss, if he was an angel sent specially to help me learn some things, and once his purpose here was over, he returned.

I know it sounds fantastical, yet that thought soothes me a lot. Or why is it that I could never trace his owners, even after going back to that office neighborhood and asking people extensively about a lost puppy? How did a puppy end up in an office area where there were hardly any residential houses? How is it that not one soul was around that evening when I found Dexter if a passerby had indeed accidentally lost him? More astonishingly, why had no one come forward to claim him even after I put a lost and found ad in the local newspaper?

Even after Dexter has gone to what they popularly call the Heavens, I still don’t know where he had come from that evening. And it somehow makes me glad to think he had actually come from heaven! Dexter was my angel in every sense of the word!

His departure was sudden. But I see a bigger picture in that too now.

The infection, the vet said, had come from the roadside food. But this wasn’t the first time we had had junk food! We had been bringing on such nuisance once in a while for the last three years! However, the vet had been convinced that Dexter caught the infection from our last nocturnal street food escapade. “What kind of a pet owner feeds a dog junk street food?” he had asked me so rudely, without even realizing how guilty I was feeling already.

But Dexter loved accompanying me on these food trips. He was never fed huge chunks, only nibbles from my plate. He had not fallen sick even once over the previous three years. Yet, the vet’s question triggered a lot of guilt in me that morning. I took Dexter for all the necessary treatments over the next few days, but his condition kept worsening. The worse, however, was yet to come. After a whole week of infection, when Dexter began falling severely weak and staggering, an emergency checkup revealed that he had cancer!

I recall that moment when Dexter’s vet announced that fatal word – cancer. Even before I could digest the word, he quickly added to “help” me understand the dog’s problem that “Junk food often results in cancer in dogs!” I won’t ever forget that horrifying feeling. Suddenly, I realized that I was the only reason Dexter was dying so prematurely. First, I gave him a gastrointestinal infection. Now, cancer! I gave it to him by not being a responsible dog owner, by feeding him “junk street food”! At times, I still recall the thick, nauseous blend of shame, guilt, and remorse rising in my throat that evening sitting in the emergency room, holding Dexter tightly in my arms. I failed Dexter. I got him sick. He was about to die because of me!

That doctor chalked out an extensive treatment, much of which was too expensive and practically unaffordable for me. Yet, I began his treatment by borrowing some extra cash from my office. But I couldn’t complete his treatment due to the increasing medical bills. That was the third whammy of guilt I had to boil and writhe in, watching my dearest Dexter die right before my eyes, thanks to my own previous irresponsible gift of this disease to him. Those last days of Dexter, I frequently felt I could die myself of guilt. But through it all, Dexter’s love for me never wavered for a second.

Even in the last days of his life, he would remain snuggled up to my leg, at times wagging his weak tail when he saw me cry, and growl in gladness just as ever to see me bring him some milk or food. His love didn’t wane for a minute, though his life kept waning by the day. Whenever I would hold him close and cry, or apologize profusely for my negligence, Dexter always looked up into my eyes with his beady, glassy, round little eyes and growled each time softly! It was as if he was saying, “Stop blaming yourself. There’s a lesson in this too. I am busy making new magic for you. Wait and watch!”

I never understood what that could possibly be. What could be the magic in my best friend, wisest teacher and guardian angel dying so untimely and that too, due to my own human errors? It felt like the magic had gone horribly wrong.

Dexter passed away soon after. I buried him under the Pipal tree in my backyard. I also buried with him his favorite chew bone and a few other toys that he loved playing with. For the next few weeks, I even walked up to our favorite butterfly bridge to find him any dead butterfly lying around by some random stroke of luck. I even found some, twice. I brought them and laid them on Dexter’s grave, right near his nose. He loved to make these winged friends parch on his nose, after all. These silly rituals soothed me a lot. Yet, the guilt was eating me away.

Then one fine day, it suddenly dawned on me like a bolt from the blues that guilt had always been my most potent poison. Having a set of mildly narcissistic parents, umpteen one-sided, manipulative friendships in school and college, and later, with several un-emotive, noncommittal lovers, my pattern so far had been to take up tremendous guilt over everyone else’s life falling apart. I did that even when none of it were my fault. I don’t know whether Dexter indeed contracted cancer due to me feeding him junk food. However, the guilt that the whole episode left me in finally forced me to seek professional help to cope with the grief of losing Dexter, along with my lifelong struggle with guilt.

Only now I have begun learning that guilt, regardless of the situation, is always a useless emotion. Only now I am finding new courage to rise above all the guilt people close to me all my life kept making me feel. Had this last violent guilt of Dexter’s death not been gifted to me, I would never have thought of working with this one potent poison of my life.

Even after his death, Dexter’s bigger plan was to perhaps push me off my perpetual guilt threshold into a new-found sense of freedom. Dexter, my magician, my teacher, my love, knew the sheer magic of love. His sudden sickness and departure was perhaps his secret master-plan to teach me a new way of living guilt-free. Of course, I still need more time to process the loss, the remorse, the regrets and the residual guilt that haunt me from time to time. But the healing has begun. And I am so thankful to Dexter with each passing day.

Grieving for a Pet – Life Goes On

I hope that someday soon, I might get a Dexter Junior home. Or a Daisy! But my first love shall always be that one gem of a Best Friend I had – Dexter. He came out of nowhere. He left so suddenly. But in between the two, over the past three years, he touched my life in many ways. Sometimes, I look into the mirror and wonder how much I have changed for the better. And yes, often, when I look into the mirror, I also see a glimpse of Dexter’s magic and love shining in my own eyes. Dexter left for another home. But perhaps, a part of him is right here in my soul.

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