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When is it time to say goodbye?

Saying goodbye to a pet

Saying goodbye to a pet is totally dreaded. Heart wrenching. Confusing. Dehydrating. Unfortunately, too many of us know too well. Here's Twix's story. And mine. 

People failed Twix, badly, from the start. I'll skip the details on that. Then he came to me, and I loved him madly.

He was as laid back as a guinea pig could be. None of that macho boy drama for Twix. Great hair, too. I mean really, great hair. He never told me where he got his highlights done though. He had a sweet tooth and would hide the tomatoes from his brothers. Every day he did this, and they let him. He loved me, he loved his brothers, and they loved him. He wasn’t supposed to live very long and did always have ongoing health problems. He always stayed skinny - under two pounds - and battled serious issues with malabsorption, bloat, diarrhea, thyroid trouble, and tooth problems.

But he was always okay.

We had just moved to a new state where it always rained and the people you love walk away and you get tickets for the weeds that grow in the cracks in the driveway because it’s always raining. No one has time to weed their driveway when they’re trying to build white picket fences and new lives and such. Or when you're just trying to find the right thing to do, or the right thing to say, and then everything will just go back to normal.

I could still fix this.

I wasn’t okay, but Twix always was.

He started needing dental work every five weeks. Then every four. Then every three. Then the infections started. Abscesses. Jaw fractures. I syringe fed him once a day to keep his weight up. Then twice a day. Then a few times during the night. I’d come home from work at lunch. Then I’d make up a second fake lunch. For several months, he lived exclusively on me hand feeding him for hours a day. In more than 25 years, I’d never seen a guinea pig lose so much weight and still survive.

People failed Twix, and I sat with that anger long enough until he helped me realize the anger's real identity was grief. Grief for him, grief for my family, and grief for myself. Grief for my failures, and grief for everything over which I'd finally lost control.

Not everyone supposed to be in your journey is meant to stay until the end. It knew it wasn't the goodbyes that would hurt, but rather the reminders to follow. Some of the most painful departures are the ones never said or explained.

That middle space in the process of grieving was the worst. The bridges were burned. You can't turn back time. I was too far in to go back home, and it was too late to save Twix. In that middle sphere, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It's messy. It's uncertain.

I didn't want to say goodbye to my pet, but one day I suspected it was time. We went to the vet, the only exotic vet in town with an appointment that day. I was ready. But he ate a piece of pineapple on the car ride there. He wasn’t allowed sugary foods due to digestive troubles but LOVED pineapple. Before that, he hadn’t eaten by himself in weeks. He was going to be okay! Yes, the vet looked at me like I was insane for keeping him alive this long, but he just didn’t understand.

This was a sign!

Let’s just try this new antibiotic. We will get the infection under control this time and he will get stronger. When he’s strong enough for another surgery that will fix the problem and we can manage it from there. He will be okay. He’s always okay. Maybe I would be okay now, too.

Except this time, he wasn’t. The bleeding got worse. He spent more time unable to stabilize his tiny body. I spent 8-10 hours a day on feedings, but he lost even more weight. Now it was really time.

His vet had late appointments on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I made an appointment for 8 p.m. on Tuesday. But Tuesday morning came and went, and I called them back. I wasn’t ready. He gummed some cucumber and it wasn’t raining that day and I just needed a little time. I could fix this whole mess and I’m getting to the weeds in the driveway, I promise. Just give me a little more time.

I wasn’t ready, but he was. On Thursday, his two brothers, Peppy Le Pew and Piglet, accompanied him to the vet for the last time.

I cried in the car every day thereafter, driving home from the life I thought I wanted, with plenty of time to think about whether I’d made a big mistake because there’s always traffic when it’s always raining.

I should have tried harder. I should have set more alarms during the night for feedings. I should have tried one more surgery. One more medication. One more second, third, fourth opinion. He just needed more time. I could have been better. I gave up on him. I shouldn’t have brought us here. I failed him. I failed as a daughter. I failed as a friend. I failed as a wife. I failed as a mother.

I didn’t want to answer rescue emails for a while. I wasn’t deserving of being trusted to solve other people’s problems, right? I said I was busy. I became busy silencing irrational thoughts. I was busy fixing messes no one could understand. The ones I still can't talk about. I was busy becoming unapologetic for having weeds in my driveway because little mouths depend on me.

One day it wasn’t raining and someone sent me a guinea pig in need of help. His name was Twixie. Yeah, I know. He wasn’t small, didn’t have good hair, wasn’t laid back … at all, but Peppy Le Pew and Piglet liked him. Thus, Prix joined our family because he was deserving of one.

And he reminded me that I still was, too.

I’d been asked the question many times. When do you know it’s time? “When the time comes, you just know,” is what I’ve always said. And, in the past, I always had known. But this time I didn’t. You don’t always know, and that’s okay. All we can do is the best we can for the ones we love.

Pets come into our lives for a short time. We have weeds in the cracks in the driveway and people that leave us, people we have to leave, and really rainy years. Our pets just have us. They can’t make the tough decisions. And so, we must. That doesn’t mean we will always know what to do. Saying goodbye to a pet? We'll probably never know what the right decision is... there aren’t always right decisions or wrong decisions. Sometimes, there are just decisions that move us forward. 

"How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." - A.A. Milne

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