They had eight years to ease the grief their new family member felt over the loss of HER family, and when she left them she taught more than they expected about getting over grief.
Saying goodbye to a beloved family member is one of the most difficult experiences in life, and this past week our family had to do just that.On Monday, November 10th, 2014, we had to have our sweet canine family member, Kya, put to rest.
Kya came to live with our family eight short years ago. She was eight years old at the time. My husband and I were newly married, with no pets, and decided that adopting an older dog would be the best fit for our blended family. We had both raised puppies in the past, and were clear that we did not want to take on that kind of responsibility and hard work. We found Kya at a local shelter, and fell in love!
To my surprise it would be a bumpy start. I naively thought that Kya would fall madly in love with us right away, I’m not sure what planet I was on, but I never saw the uncomfortable transition process coming!
As much as we loved Kya, we also learned that despite her not being a puppy, with no worries of training etc., there would be a different type of “work” involved; bonding. Kya was frightened and nervous when we first brought her home, she stayed in her crate most of the time, very rarely engaging with her newfound family. I recall growing impatient some days, wondering what could be wrong, until I realized that Kya seemed to be grieving. Grieving! Of course, it made perfect sense.
Kya had been given away after her original owner had a baby, and as it turned out, Kya did not like babies. Sadly she was placed in a local shelter. It made sense that an experience like that would be quite traumatic, and Kya would take some time adjusting to her new home. Eight years of knowing and loving only one family, her family, she now seemed so lost and alone, inconsolable.
Days, weeks, and months passed, when I began to notice that Kya’s mood was finally improving, we were learning about her likes and dislikes. She loved playing fetch, and would literally play until she grew lame. She enjoyed rawhide chewies, a plethora of stuffy toys, especially the ones with squeakers!
We kept a basket with all her toys in it close to her bed. Whenever anyone would arrive home she would greet them, stuffy clenched tightly between her jaws, grunting, and groaning sounds echoed through the house, as if to say “HI! WELCOME, WELCOME!” She would also spend hours in our wooded back yard doing something we lovingly referred to this as “chipmunk chasing.”
Kya would dig and dig, never tiring, arriving home with four muddied paws and a now blackened face. I also noticed that even between her playtime, engagement and smiles, she would seem to slip away again in moments of sadness, grief. I remember watching her, the way her eyes would fall down in her beautiful face. I always wondered what she was thinking. Was she missing her first family? Did she wonder why they left her, and if they were ever coming back?
As the years passed, Kya continued to heal, and I had the honor of watching her lovingly become open to her new family, and we to her. The times where she lay sullen were fewer, sadly never truly dissipating, but Kya had now become more accepting of us. She seemed more comfortable, enjoying car rides to the beach, mountain climbing, walking trails, and running to anywhere the adventure would call! We were her new family, and she was our Kya, our sweet, loving, and strong, brave girl.
Family relationships continued to flourish with each New Year, but the truth is Kya, even with all of her heartache, had also arrived during a volatile time in our lives. We were still in the process of merging two family units, including my teenage daughter, and my husband Jason’s teenage son. Kya spent many special moments, providing the unconditional love that each of us needed so very much during this time of change, almost unknowingly. Through all of life’s changes, Kya’s grace and love shone through, and won the hearts of all of us.
In the early years of owning Kya, I remember watching my daughter Tasha and son Justin playing fetch in the backyard with her. Both would tirelessly throw that ball, back and forth, back and forth. Tasha’s relationship with Kya would continue to evolve, into what I like to refer to as a sandwich ritual. Kya would patiently, yet relentlessly, sit staring and drooling while Tasha ate her daily Italian sub. Tasha would periodically cast a tomato her way, Kya’s favorite. Mind you, this was truly a selfless act of love and kindness, understanding that tomatoes were Tasha’s favorite!
Justin also developed a strong relationship with Kya, always being sure to stop and acknowledge Kya’s consistent, and loving greetings. He would always take the time to lay with Kya, I’m sure if she could talk, she would say that he provided the best head scratches and belly rubs in town! Over the years our extended family and friends also would have the pleasure of meeting Kya, they would all comment on what a great dog she was, noticing her kind and loving nature. Kya never met a human she did not like!
Kya was also an avid runner, more specifically, my husband Jason’s hiking and running partner. For years Jason, no matter how hard he tried, would always come in second. It was only within the last couple years that Jason would find himself in the lead, looking back only to see Kya hobbling along behind him. First place no longer felt like the winning position, at least not in this race.
Kya would eventually succumb to the reality of living eight additional years, this sort of thing will take a toll on a dog, being 16 years old and all. The strange thing, I never really believed that it would. The day Kya passed ironically resembled the day Kya became part of our family. Misperception is funny, and yet so cruel in that way.
Eight years ago I met an eight year-old grieving dog, eight years later, I am grieving, and I never saw it coming! Don’t get me wrong, I knew I would be sad, devastated even. But just like the first day she and I met, wondering why she was not jumping into our arms, licking our faces, on this day too, I wondered why I wasn’t suddenly relieved and at peace for Kya; knowing there would be no more suffering for her. I had underestimated GRIEF, yet again.
Throughout this experience I have learned two things:
One, when we lose someone we love, whether dog or man, grief will greet you, EVERY TIME.
Two, grief is pain like no other, sliding into your mind, down your throat and into your belly. It is then when you least expect it; you begin to feel sick, and suffocated, until you believe you cannot take one more moment, and suddenly, that moment arrives. We gulp the relief down hard and quick, knowing there isn’t much time before we are sick and suffocating again.
BUT, despite grief’s agonizing stages, I know this, thanks to Kya. I know, that with time, and lots of love, grief can be overcome. Not entirely of course, but just like Kya, I believe that I will always “grieve” for those I have lost. However, I will breathe again, I will love again, I will LIVE again, just like Kya!
The lesson has indeed come full circle, wouldn’t you agree?
Images contributed by the author