‘I left this place
And head asea
Into the swells
No land I seek
No shore no more.
For me the end of revelry.’
It would be much later on when I learned that immediately following the death of a loved one, a sense of relief is very common. That comes from not only the end of suffering but the release from the incredible mental and spiritual strain from making constant medical decisions on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, whether a child, debilitated relative, or a companion animal.
Your sense of confidence is under continuous and often daily assault from measuring treatment against quality of life and your own self doubt. And to complicate matters, decisions are routinely made with a paucity of data and a preponderance of speculation so basically your best guess is no worse than that of the opinion of the most trained specialist.
That weight can at times be unbearable so after the passing of a loved one an unshouldering occurs. But the feeling is fleeting and often followed by emptiness. A week after Malcolm was cremated I held a small, private wake then quietly sank down into the dark side of sadness. The tailspin was swift and absolute.
You have to understand up and until then I had never lost anyone close to me. Both my parents and all of my siblings were alive and I’d never experienced a traumatic loss.
Hell, before Malcolm I never knew such a thing possible with an animal and that a human could have parental instincts and emotions with non-humans. And now it was gone. He was gone. That sun which had shone new light into my life had set and with it, my will to live.
Abraham Maslow constructed a theory of motivation in the mid-twentieth century called ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy ofNeeds’. Often portrayed in triangular form the highest level is self actualization – the penultimate goal of humans he argued. The bottom represents the most basic human functions like breathing and eating without which none of the higher levels can be attained.
And I was barely even there. I was on the ocean floor where you would find strange and grotesque looking creatures like blob fish, fang tooths, ghost sharks, and vampire squid. In the absolute absence of sunlight and air, their existence consists entirely of the basest of survival and when Malcolm died I drowned myself to live amongst them.
I never knew humans could suffer so deeply and for so long and for most of 2006, I remained at the deepest depths of despair desperately holding onto Maslow’s bottom rung. I slept for days then couldn’t sleep at all. It was a living hell, the haunting nightmare we all have of being a coma patient but conscious and awake.
For months after he was euthanized, I kept replaying Malcolm’s final moments, exhaling his last breath, and his limp lifeless body falling into my arms. My mind became caught in an endless video loop that played every night and I couldn’t make it stop.
I didn’t know it at the time I was going through what I now know as post-traumatic stress disorder. I was incapable of recalling the memory of Malcolm’s death without experiencing the extreme emotional trauma that came with it.
Even now years later, it's still painful for me to reflect upon because I blamed myself for it. The way I was raised, depression is a symptom of a weak mind and lack of will and character but I honestly couldn’t will myself to move on.
Isolated, wrought with grief, and devoid of all hope, I don’t know why I didn’t die that year. I felt like a big part of me had and I drank enough to do the job. But the absence of a will to live is not the same thing as a desire to die. I had made three promises to Malcolm before he was given rest and that kept me holding on to that bottom rung.
And slowly over the ensuing six months since Malcolm’s passing, I pulled myself up. One motherfucking rung at a time.
But I did get a little help. And by little, I mean an 8 week old Pyrenees named Hudson.
YBD’s Notes 1: Next week is the eve of our launch of Chef Big Dog so instead of starting Chapter 9, I’ll compile all chapters to date in a single blog for all of you kind and discerning readers. The following week, I should be in full stride and ready to publish the next chapter: Hudson & Murphy, the Fabulous Fuzzybutts
YBD’s Notes 2: The title of this vignette was loosely based on a duet between Lyle Lovett and, unsurprisingly the beautiful Emmy Lou Harris, a constant source of inspiration through most of my life. Here’s the link to a youtube performance of it with Lyle’s large band and even larger hair. If you do have the courage to walk through the bottomland, like they say in the song, there’s only one way to do it: without no shoes.
YBD’s Notes 3: One of the most invaluable things I’ve learned from the thousands of people we’ve met and the stories they have shared is that everyone grieves differently. That being said, I chose to suffer alone and I strongly discourage anyone from doing the same. There are support groups at many of the veterinarian hospitals throughout the country and there are online communities as well. And I am available to anyone at all hours of the day to anyone who needs an understanding ear.