autism,  empathy,  family,  motherhood,  teen years

The heart wants what it wants

Fred’s last day. “When the Best is gone – I know that other things are not of consequence – The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care -” Emily Dickinson. Spring 1862.

It’s been one week and we’re doing better than I thought. Of course, Monday afternoon was hard–heart-wrenching hard. After coming to terms with saying goodbye to Fred over those last few days, the kids were ready (or as ready as they could be). W had requested to keep his collar, while J requested to keep Fred’s leash and water/food dishes (for the next dog he insisted). Steve came home early Monday afternoon and the four of us went to the park to spend our last hour with Fred together and it really was a special time. I was as mindful as I could be–trying to be present with my kids, with Fred, the sunshine, the ice cream (although Fred didn’t eat very much of his ice cream). I was sad, but knew it was time.

We came home and collected Fred’s blanket and then it really hit all of us. We were all okay until that last goodbye. W was clinging to poor Fred and just started sobbing. I was sobbing. We were all sobbing except for J. He came over to hug Fred and I heard him whisper, almost in awe, to W: “how do you cry like that?” J knew it was a sad time, and that everyone was sad, and that he should be sad too and I could see that he was struggling to respond in the same way as all of us. He wanted to respond in the same way as all of us–that’s why he was asking W “how to cry like that.” It’s one of those big autism struggles–knowing how to join into a shared group emotion or reaction–and he so badly wanted to join in.

And then it was time for Fred to go. Steve scooped up Fred and then it finally hit J. He started sobbing. Great big sobs. He came over to me and I held his bigger-than-mine 14 year old body and felt those big heaving sobs. Wow that was hard. Watching your kids’ hearts break and feeling your heart break and watching Steve’s heart break. I was sad for my kids that they had to watch this all happen. I was a little afraid that J would be mad at Steve for taking Fred to the vet for that last time. But it ended up being okay. Steve came home and J wasn’t mad. He just was really sad. And as heart breaking as it was, I think it was important for my kids to know what it was like–witness what it was like–to love so much and miss so much.

We’ve all been grieving in our own ways this week. Grief and loss is funny like that–how we all go through it differently. I was a bawling mess Monday night and the day after. Cleaning out the bowls for the last time, washing the leash and collar, un-staking the tie out in the backyard, just made me cry all over again. I’ve vacuumed each room a little by little. All of that darned dog hair I had cursed these past 3 years–all of a sudden I didn’t want it gone. Even Steve’s gotten teary over Fred at times during the week. Steve–the one person in our family who never wanted a dog. Turns out he loved Fred just as much as the rest of us 😉

W hasn’t said much this week. When I asked her how she was doing, she told me she didn’t want to talk about it because she didn’t want to miss Fred again. But Tuesday we got a garden stone kit and she dedicated the stone to Fred. She’s coming to terms with it in her own way. Sunday she got teary and admitted she really missed Fred.

J is the one person who has surprised me the most over the grieving process. I’ve just assumed that being autistic he wouldn’t feel or go through the same emotions as we would. But he has. And he’s probably the one person in the family that has been the most verbal about it. He asked to watch Marley and Me again on Tuesday (I don’t think I’ll be able to watch that movie for at least a year) I’m guessing to help process what is going on. He’s told me that he’s sad Fred’s gone. That he’s angry Fred’s gone. He talks about dog heaven. At random moments in the day he looks off for a moment and says, “I miss Fred.” He hasn’t cried since Fred left. But Fred’s always on his mind. I expected that as soon as Steve got back from the vet that he would demand that we get a new dog right away–a replacement dog–since he was so insistent that we get a “new Fred” when we told him that Fred was going to die. But he hasn’t said a word about it. He doesn’t want a replacement for Fred. He’s processing losing Fred. And that’s a huge thing, especially for a child who has so much anxiety. J constantly wants to move on because of his anxiety–sitting around too long, especially in one emotion–triggers his anxiety. But right now he needs the time and space like the rest of us because he knows Fred is irreplaceable. At the end of the week I asked him if he would ever want a new dog. He said, “yes, but right now I miss Fred.”

Originally recommended by Steve’s old PhD advisor–a dalmatian mama.

Each day has gotten better. We’ve felt a lot of love–a lot of kind messages from people. My friend Angie brought over this book for us (we brought her the same one about a month ago when her Sadie passed away–it’s really a great book). My friend Sunny sent a kind note in the mail. Even the vet sent us a nice card. Our neighbours brought over sweet bread. I’ve felt a lot of Facebook love. The kids and I are planning on making Shutterfly books of all their Fred pictures. I’m glad we’ve taken so many pictures of Fred. We really do have some great ones, and going through them with the kids has spurred a lot of “remember when” memories. We also have some great video too. I’m really grateful for the video. It really captured Fred’s personality.

Every year at Christmas I make an “end of the year Beck family video” but this week I made a Fred video for the kids. It was really (surprisingly) therapeutic. I think a lot of the grief I felt this week was mixed with a lot of guilt. When you choose to put a pet down you really “choose” and there were moments where I really second-guessed that choice. Going through the video I really got to “see” how Fred aged–and was reminded of all the things he was able to do and in the last year was not able to do. It was a good reminder that we did make the right decision after all.

Here is our little Fred video made up of the best little snippets to a little Cat Stevens. I’d forgotten how this whole little adventure started. I forgot how anxious Fred really was in the beginning–the first clip is the first night Fred’s foster family dropped him off and poor Fred looks so scared. By some miracle J thought he was okay enough for a quick pet. Fred had SEVERE separation anxiety any time we left the house when we first got him. I used to joke that Fred and J were similar in many ways. It’s fun to see the progression of both the kids and the dog. It’s crazy how quickly both the kids and the dog got so much older over 3.5 years. I love watching how they learned to grow together.

Who knew a little rescue dog who touched our lives for such a short time would mean so much to our little family?

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