The Gifts that Charlie Keeps On Giving

I thought I would know when the “right time” would be to write about losing Charlie, but I don’t think there is, or will be one. It’s never going to be easy to talk about our precious boy not being here anymore — the pain is always going to be raw and overwhelming. I guess I wanted to wait until I was “ready” so that I could find the perfect words to match how perfect he was; how much we loved him and how wonderful he made our lives… But that’s a lot of pressure, because no words will ever be able to explain that kind of beautiful and unconditional love. So I’m just going to write how I feel.

I have a very “all or nothing” approach to how I think, feel and do things. When I had my breakdown a couple of years ago, I could barely function. For months, the only thing I could get out of bed for was to shower, use the bathroom and see my psychologist. I thought it was because I’m highly sensitive and really, really *feel* things, but truthfully, it’s because I’d never learnt how to properly cope and deal with difficult emotions. I’d avoided them for so long, that I completely and utterly broke down.

I’m still recovering from that and even though I’m not working right now, I know I’ve come a long way since then. But when we found out Charlie was sick in January, I was bracing myself for another breakdown. I told my therapist, “When Charlie’s gone, I’m not going to be able to cope. I’m not going to be able to look after myself or Alex because I’ll be paralyzed by my devastation and grief. I don’t want to live in a world without him.”

In the couple of months that followed, every week she would help me work through that and tried to help me prepare for “finding the middle”; a place where it’s possible to feel all of the heartbreaking and devastating emotions, and still do the things I need to do on a day-to-day basis.

I really struggled with it at first (and still am) because all I could think was, “I don’t want to function without him. I don’t want to be happy without him.” I told her I didn’t think I’d be able to function every day and cope with difficult emotions at the same time when the time came. And she told me that she knew I could, because I already was.

We found out that Charlie was sick at the beginning of the year, and in the days, weeks and months that followed, I was still functioning. I was crying every day, terrified of losing Charlie and the pain he would feel eventually. But I was still eating, showering, making meals for Alex and I, doing chores around the house and giving Charlie his medicine, walks and food (and all of the cuddles in the world, of course.)

My therapist made sure she emphasised just how much I was doing without completely falling apart. She acknowledged that when Charlie went, it would be so, so much harder… But she knew that I could cope, because I already had been. She wanted me to think of what I’d been going through as Charlie’s last gift to me; he was helping me learn how to stop avoiding difficult emotions, and start to really feel them and still live. Charlie dying wouldn’t be in vain, not just because of the perfect life we had with him in the 6 years he was with us, but also because his final gift would mean that I was finally going to learn how to cope with fear, grief and loss. And gosh, what a wonderful gift for him to give.

The night we took Charlie to the emergency vet was the worst night of my life. In his last couple of weeks, it was hard for us to know if he was in pain because he was still wagging his tail, loving cuddles with us, eating and drinking. But that Saturday, the cancer in his mouth had become so enlarged and intrusive that we couldn’t stop it from bleeding. We knew it was the right thing to do to take him to the vet, but it didn’t make it any easier. I’ll never forget just how Charlie he was when we got there. He had been as content as he could’ve been, wrapped up in his blankie, cuddling into me on my lap in the car on the way there. When we got there, he was walking around with his tail wagging in the waiting room. When it was time, we sat in a lovely room with him and cuddled him until he went. Right before he left, he licked both Alex and I on our faces, as though he wanted to tell us he loved us one last time, and that he’d be okay. It was peaceful for him, but so painful for us.

When Alex and I got home, we sat with eachother and cuddled and cried until we went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to wake Alex up, so I went in the living room and lay down on the couch. I sobbed painfully; the kind of crying that hurts every part of you and is so loud you have to muffle it with a pillow. I went back into our room where Alex was and he cuddled me as I cried myself to sleep.

It’s been 2 and a half weeks since then, and I’ve been sobbing every day. I wrote in my journal that I didn’t think it was possible to feel this much pain and for it not to actually kill you; for you not to actually die from a broken heart.

I’ve been so lucky to be able to talk to my psychologist every week since then, to have Alex working from home (even though the circumstances that led to that with the pandemic going on are just horrible), and to be able to talk to Mum every day on the phone. All three of them have emphasised just taking baby steps and doing the little things to get through it. My therapist said that I should consider doing the “little things” as a big thing, because right now, doing those things seems impossible and it’s a huge feat for me to be able to.

At first, the little things were having a shower, going to the toilet and pouring myself bowls of cereal. Gradually, more little things were added- making cups of tea for Alex while he worked, cooking meals, doing the dishes, folding washing, and I’ve even baked a couple of times. I’ve felt completely and utterly devastated while I’ve been doing all of these things, but I’ve still been doing them. And I think that’s the point. Making sure I’m feeling everything and still functioning.

The pain hasn’t eased. It hasn’t gotten easier. I’m still painfully crying every day and spending some of it in bed. But every day, Alex and Mum have been making sure I know how proud they are of me for doing the little things. I feel like I’m not doing enough sometimes, and other times I feel like I’m doing too much. I just want to crawl into bed and cry and never come out again. But as near-impossible as it is, I have to fight like hell to try and make sure I’m finding that “middle place” — where I’m feeling everything and still doing those little things every day. Even when I don’t feel like it. Especially then.

Charlie wasn’t “just a dog”. I don’t think any precious pup is ever “just a dog”. He was my best friend; my precious boy; my heart and soul. A few days after he died, the pet crematorium called me about his ashes. The lovely lady said “your darling boy is ready to come home”. Gosh, that broke my heart. The next day, his ashes arrived and I felt like it was right to have them with us. Mum said “you know he’s always with you anyway, don’t you? In your heart?” I told her that all I can feel in my heart right now is pain. And she said that little by little, the pain would be eclipsed by his love and memories I have of him. The healing is slow and painful and I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel right now, but I believe it’s there.

My heart is broken and I miss him every day. The pain feels unbearable, but I’m feeling all of it. I’m not pushing it down or avoiding it like I have in the past. And it hasn’t killed me. Our precious boy gave that to me. The power of his love is still so strong, even after he’s gone.

In my darkest moments, I think of Charlie up there with my sister Michelle and his little cousin Budgie (my sister Colette’s sweet cavalier). I think of them all together in a perfect dog park, at peace and the happiest anyone could be. I think of him chewing on a toast crust with his perfect little tail wagging, and watching over us, making sure we know how much he loves us. And in those moments, the pain I feel in my heart is eclipsed by that love. He’s always with me, even when the pain tries to convince me otherwise. And I’ll forever feel blessed to always have him with me.

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