Wednesday, November 3, 2010

(What they teach us) Hershey, July 31, 2002 - October 27, 2010

It all happened too fast.

One moment, everything was fine and the girls and I were saying hello to Hershey, who was glad to see us as we came home from doing some shopping for Aisling's Halloween sleepover, which was coming up in a week. We'd been to Dollar Tree and Wal-Mart and a couple of other places and we were laden with bags; he came to the back door to greet us, tail wagging happily. He followed us into the dining room, where we flung our spoils on the table to begin sorting them out, and Meelyn dropped down on her knees so that she could be at his level to hug him.

Hershey was hugged at least a hundred times a day. He was just that kind of huggable, snuggly dog, always very tolerant of being kissed and cuddled, although there were occasions when he'd heave a heavy sigh if we got a little too lovey-dovey.

But this day was different. When Meelyn hugged him, Hershey cried out with an extended wail of pain that went on and on, his eyes frantically seeking me out, his body shaking. Meelyn jumped to her feet saying, "What did I do? Hershey, what did I do? Hershey, baby, it's all right..." and I just knew that things were not all right, they were definitely not okay.

Since it was late on a Friday afternoon, the vet's office was already closed.

Hershey finally stopped that howl of pain (and I wish I could quit hearing it, wish I could just erase that sound out of my memory) and came over to me. I felt his head and it seemed the same as normal, ran my hands over his neck and his chest. And found four lumps. Big lumps, the size of hard boiled eggs. Where had they come from, so suddenly? How could things like that appear so quickly on a dog that was petted so often? He began panting heavily and went to wearily sink down under the dining room table. He stretched out on his side and we all looked at him, then looked at one another.

"What was that all about?" Aisling whispered fearfully. "Something really hurt him.

"Is he going to be okay, Mom?" Meelyn asked, her lip trembling.

"I hope so," I said, and I began silently praying. "Please. Please please please please please..." was what it sounded like. Hershey's panting continued, heavy, heavy panting that sounded labored and almost painful. I sat in the dining room with him, one of us under the table, one of us at the desk (when I spoke to him, he'd cut his eyes up at me and thump his tail gamely on the floor), and I entered his symptoms "enlarged lymph glands + panting" into Google.

And came up with canine lymphoma.

Which is what the vet diagnosed after a blood test on the following Monday. She put his life expectancy at two to eight weeks, and the girls and I drove him home, crying. I called my husband and could hardly get the words out, and he stood in the parking lot of the car dealership where he works, and cried with us.

Hershey died two days later.

It was so unexpected, so fast, and to keep from coming totally unglued, I had to think hard about what a pet's death teaches us, and these are the things that I told my family as we sat tearfully in our living room on the day Hershey died, one week ago today.

1. Dogs teach us about unconditional love, how they love us even when the water dish is dry. Hershey used to grip his bowl in his teeth and bring it to me, dropping it on the floor by my feet and giving me a sorrowful look that seemed to indicate, "I'm sure through no fault of your own, this oversight has occurred and I'm equally sure that you'll get up RIGHT NOW and fill this bowl up with water. And two ice cubes. Please. Because I know you love me."

2. Dogs, with their limited life spans, teach us about the cycle of life. In one human lifetime, a really dedicated dog lover could keep company with maybe nine or ten dogs, even more than that if the house seems empty without at least two. They teach us that death comes and sometimes it is bitter, but somehow, in the midst of all that sadness, there's still some hope to cling on to. Will this be a help when we lose our human loved ones? Yes, I think so. Because we'll have the experience of knowing what it is to grieve, and recover from that grief finding that there are still things to laugh about, things to look forward to.

3. Dogs teach us to celebrate their short lives with the gift of more dogs. Even while we're still mourning Hershey, we can save another dog from being euthanized by going to our local animal shelter or animal rescue, and picking out a new pet that will become part of the history of our family. The shelters and rescues are so full right now, with pets dropped off because their owners can't afford to keep them, or because their owners have to move, perhaps to a place where they're not free to take a pet. As it happens, our household is jarringly empty with only one dog -- we all feel the absence of that second canine presence keenly -- and we can help with that.

There are so many more things Hershey taught us, most of all that you can have a little bitty head, a big, blocky body, beady eyes and a bulbous nose and still be the sweetest, handsomest, most loving Big Buddy (my husband's nickname for him) or Mommy's Angel Sugarboy (my nickname for him) ever seen.

Hershey, sweet darling boy, we'll love you always and you will be missed.

Thanks so much to my sweet sister-cousins Susie and Carol, who helped me over the roughest part, to my friends Catherine L., Katie W., Debbie J., Julie P. and Jerri K. who were so good at expressing their sympathy, and to my parents, who loved Hershey too.


Cat said...

I wish that I was close enough to hug you right now. Reading this, I'm sitting here in tears, with a horrible pain in my chest, remembering the pain of losing those dogs that I've loved. I ache for you and your family.
Thank you so much for writing this. What a great memorial to Hershey.

Shauna said...

Oh, Shelley. I can't even think of anything to say here. This post made my heart break for you and your family. The loss of a loved pet hits us hard.

Amy said...

I know how much you all loved Hershey. Hope your pain eases soon.

Kayte said...

We are going through this right now as well. I took Sophie in for her wellness check and found out she wasn't quite so well...she has a large tumor, the size of a golf ball and then another slightly smaller...cancer...prognosis nil. We brought her home to say goodbye and she doesn't seem ill at all, but the tumor is growing quickly and we know that it won't be long. She is 16, the boys got her when they were 2, she is actually Alex's cat, which is really bad right now for all that he is going through. It's a sad time. Our condolences to you all about Hershey. I didn't know this, but Hershey and Matt have the same birthday, July 31st. And Harry Potter. RIP were much loved and will be much missed.

FairyLover said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Katie said...

Aw, I'm sorry. RIP, Hershey <3