This morning before dawn, I pulled my lighted alarm clock to my chest, rested my hand on Ramona’s sleeping body, and counted her respirations.
Over the course of sixty seconds, fully at rest, Ramona took seventeen breaths.
After we got up and ate breakfast, I wrote her respiratory rate in the log I keep magnetized to the bulletin board in my home-office cubbyhole. I looked at the list and felt a huge relief: At seventeen breaths per minute, Ramona’s breathing rate has stabilized since it improved significantly in September, shortly after she started taking medications and her respirations improved from rapid and gasping.
In late August, Ramona collapsed.
The emergency room didn’t have good news. “See a cardiologist as soon as possible,” the doctor said. The cardiologist diagnosed congestive heart failure. “We can put her on medications to control the symptoms. I don’t know how long they will work, if they work at all.”
Tears had come suddenly and uncontrollably since Ramona’s first collapse. I’d sobbed the entire way to the cardiologist’s office. I sobbed before Ramona’s diagnosis. I sobbed when they took her into the back to do tests. I sobbed when they told me the news, only relieved that they didn’t advise me to let her go that day.
I couldn’t have done it, if they had so advised. She would have had to continue to suffer. How long? I don’t know.
Hold on. The tears have come again.
Fortunately, Ramona has responded relatively well to treatment. We’ve made it a few months and the medications still work, according to my morning monitoring. (We’ll see what the vet has to say next weekend.) Her energy has improved. Her spunk has come back. She still knows how to make me laugh—and she does.
For now? And for how long? I can’t bear to think on it. I had hoped the medications would buy me enough time to come to terms with the reality of her—of our—impermanence. Instead, I’ve only reached the point at which I can talk and write about her condition without crying.
Instead, I don’t believe that we—any of us—can ever come to terms with losing each other. I don’t think we can ever prepare for it—at least, not so that it doesn’t make us rage with sorrow when it comes.
Since the diagnosis—and perhaps even during the limbo period between Ramona’s collapse and the cardiologist’s news—I’ve talked to a few close friends, some of whom have gotten sudden calls at odd hours when I couldn’t talk between the tears yet needed to hear a loving voice. In these conversations, I’ve said that I don’t believe people—especially single people who live alone—should have pets.
I have no one in my daily existence to fill the void of Ramona’s eventual loss. She’s the only creature who waits for me to come home at the end of the day, the only one to greet me, the first one I talk to in the morning and the last one I talk to at night. I’ve structured my days around our joint schedule; in her needs I have a purpose and a framework. I kiss her good morning and rub her back as we awaken. We eat our meals together. We start and end our days with a companionable stroll around the neighborhood. I talk to her, dance with her in the kitchen, and feel she knows me better than almost anyone—humans included.
The bond between a single adult with few other equally intense emotional attachments and a companion animal grows so strong over a dozen or so years that the loss feels unbearable.
I can’t go through losing her. And so I can’t see how to justify this pain—nor can I see my way to voluntarily go through it again. A large part of me feels that having a pet isn’t worth the anguish of its departure.
For what do we live if not to love? And how can anyone love without loss? We can all lose the ones we love—and unless we go first, we will.
If I wall my heart against the suffering and contraction of loss, I buttress it against the joys and expansion of love. One cannot exist without the other. We may think love and hate pose polar opposites, but I disagree. We do better to oppose love and loss. Love and hate at least share passion and fire.
Ramona introduced me to my current and former neighbors, some of whom I count among my dearest friends. She surprises me. She amuses (and frustrates) me. She gives me love and affection—and has done so through some of my most difficult moments. She’s taught me how to interact with others in a way I can’t describe in this post, though I’ve sat here and tried. And now she’s showing me anew the challenges and rewards of helping a creature leave this world.
Yet I won’t rush out to get another pet anytime soon. Not before she leaves me and not after. Not for a long time after.
I won’t feel ready. If I’ll ever feel ready.
Do you believe pets are worth it?
P.S.—I suggested the topic for this post—whether pets are worth it—to a few sharp blogging friends. I felt a need to write it, yet I hadn’t felt ready to write it. I didn’t know how to write it. I couldn’t face putting the news into the world, for fear of making it real. Clearly, I still haven’t gotten ready. Yet other perspectives on the subject as I struggle through a new world order with Ramona help. If you want to read some brilliant takes on the same question I’ve tried to answer above, all posted on the same day, read the following blogs:
- Joan Johnson, at One Fish Taco
- William Pora
- Rebecca Harvey, at Bayou City Postcards
- James McPherson
- Jenna Sauber, at Lagniappe
- Jon Lundell, at The Real Mil
P.P.S.—The bloggers listed above and I have decided to choose a topic each month to post on at the same time, with the intention of getting multiple perspectives on the same subject. Stay tuned for next month’s post from this same group, on a topic suggested by Joan Johnson.