One of the benefits of working in a veterinary clinic is that any time I'm concerned about one of my pets, I just take him along to work for a check up. So when my Shar Pei, Ritz, didn't want to eat his breakfast and seemed like he didn't feel good, I loaded him into the car thinking I'd take an x-ray to ease my mind. No one ever got too concerned when I took Ritz to the clinic because he had a chronic disease and I was often overly cautious and/or able to treat him easily. I was definitely not the only one who was shocked by his abnormal x-ray, then abnormal blood work, then abnormal ultrasound. When the doctor was preparing for surgery and discussed the possibility of not waking Ritz from anesthesia, it was out of the question for me. When he found the advanced cancer throughout his abdomen, he woke him up and let me bring him home. 48 hours later, the doctor was at my house performing euthanasia. Obviously I've always known that at some point, Ritz would pass away. Only 25% of the dogs with his illness (Familial Shar Pei Fever) live past five and the average life span for his breed is 9-11, so when he turned seven last August I knew what a special occasion it was.
I'm fortunate that I'm 34 years old and had not experienced a significant loss before this. I'm thankful that I was able to make the arrangements and have a couple days to say goodbye. This little dog had been by my side for almost eight years. I got him shortly after I separated from my ex-husband and when I moved from North Carolina to Montana to start over, Ritz was in the passenger seat. It was just the two of us living alone for a few years. I wouldn't be the person I am without that creature. He was my companion and my guardian. I remember lying on the floor with him after he'd passed away, crying out "I don't know what to do" over and over because I simply couldn't imagine my life without him. He was at my feet when I went to bed at night, when I woke up in the morning, even when I was in the bathroom. Some days I look around in awe of the fact that life in still going on without him.
It's been almost four weeks since he passed away and although I'm getting used to the fact that he isn't here anymore, I'm not any less sad. I cannot put into words how much I miss him. I pat his urn every day (but I don't pick it up because he didn't like to be held). My friends and family have been incredibly kind and supportive. They say things like "He'll always be with you" or "He's watching over you" but I have to admit I don't feel any of that at all and I'm disappointed. All I feel is a huge absence, but with a sense that he's coming back. There are times when I still feel like I'm waiting for him to come in from the yard.
In an unforeseen but positive turn of events, Ritz's passing gave me an opportunity to bow out of a job I wasn't enjoying and was planning to leave anyway. My significant other has been extremely kind in encouraging me to take some time to not worry about working so I can take care of myself and heal. However that means I'm home all day and notice Ritz's absence that much more. Before he passed away, I kept thinking "I can't go back to normal after this" and what I've learned is that I didn't have to. I couldn't, actually. What I'm working on right now is creating my new normal, a new me that doesn't have a chronically ill dog who sometimes threatens to bite people. Instead I have one "normal" dog who keeps me company and doesn't ask for much in return. I've been sleeping in, reading, doing yoga, walking Charlie, gardening, writing and roller skating. Sometimes I don't eat breakfast or have a beer at 1pm. Sometimes I feel a little anxiety about not working (and not being motivated to do so either) but I know this isn't going to last forever. I know one morning I'll wake up and feel like getting a job. Until then I'm going to try to enjoy this final gift from Ritz.
Me & Ritz 2010