Half a dozen trips to fill up my husband’s Prius, back and forth between our home and the car I go, mechanically piling things in the front and the back. When I’m finished, there’s barely room to drive. Loose dog food in a huge plastic bin, dozens of cans of specialized food. Then the treats: an assortment of tiny, teddy-bear-shaped biscuits; little rawhide chews; meatball-shaped, chicken-filled balls; and other specialty treats Ghillie loved, along with the standard medium-sized biscuits. There’s also an IV drip we used at the end, distracting our Sheltie with frozen cream-cheese balls and spoonfuls of peanut butter while he endured the needle for 30 minutes.
Plush squeaky toys go on top of the unopened treats, the fluffy stuffed toys that were a favorite of Ghillie’s long after he was probably too old for them: a giant, multicolored jack; a Santa Claus he loved so much there was no stuffing left; a plastic bone that lit up when it bounced; and various balls. And then the animals: a partridge, a squirrel, a hedgehog, a bunny, a tiny cat ballerina, a dragon, a monkey, a fox, a donkey, a mouse and many more that he dropped throughout our home like a toddler’s playthings when he tired of them. These toys sometimes served double duty when, like Harpo Marx, he communicated his displeasure at one of us having been on the phone too long: squeak squeak squeak until we signed off, laughing at his antics in spite of ourselves.
Along with everything else I take to the vet, I toss in an old, blue, quilted bedspread, something I’d owned since moving to the East Coast in the 1980s. Normally, I’d never have thought to donate it but, the day before, my husband and I had sat on a similar one in a private, grassy area next to the vet’s office. That one had been bright red, big enough for all of us: Ghillie, the vet, the tech, my husband and me. Thinking about it later, I am reminded of the ancient Egyptian tradition of putting a funerary mask on a departing loved one. But, in a reversal of history, those of us accompanying Ghillie wore the masks, not him, as we said goodbye to our furry friend of more than 12 years on an otherwise beautiful spring day.
Last in my load of Ghillie’s things is a bag filled to the brim with all of his various medications, ointments and gels, along with a medicated shampoo. Some of the pills and capsules were special prescriptions from pharmacies that supplied my husband and me with our own meds; another was a special mail order from a lab in Washington State, for his heart condition. Year by year, the list of meds grew. Eventually, we needed a cheat sheet to ensure that, twice a day, we gave him the right amount of the right medicine at the right time. We were like chemists in a lab, carefully mixing, measuring and checking off the components of our experiment, except this “experiment” prolonged Ghillie’s life, improved the quality of his life, gave us more time with each other.
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His paraphernalia had propagated like tendrils of ivy throughout our house—the toys, the meds, the treats, the beds, the water dishes, the supplies—just as Ghillie had quickly spread into the marrow of our bones, into our hearts, leaving a gaping hole with his absence. Such a loss.
Loss/Lost. So many meanings. She lost her keys. She lost weight. She lost her way. She lost her patience. She lost track of time. She lost her mind. She was lost without him. She lost a loved one.
We’ve all lost so much during this pandemic, and many of these losses, we’ve shared: loss of movement, of choices, of loved ones … on and on. But each of us has our own unique list of losses. Ghillie is at the top of that list for me.
As I drive home, I ask myself if my donations were motivated by wanting to be helpful to other pets and their owners or by the desperate need to alleviate some of the grief from all the memories these things evoked. Both, I think.
Someone from the vet’s office calls an hour or so after my drop-off errand. Because of the coronavirus, there is little direct contact with anyone; I’d left everything neatly piled up outside the office door for them to sort through, waving through the window to signal the donations.
“Do you want a refund on the meds or the canned food that’s still sealed? Some of these are pretty pricey,” the vet assistant asks me, carefully choosing her words.
I tell her no, thinking Ghillie would be happy to have helped people and their pets, owners struggling to make ends meet during this unsettling time, having to make tough choices. This will be a legacy of sorts from Ghillie. His gift.
A few days later, one of Ghillie’s vets at the same practice leaves a message on our voice mail, expressing her condolences. At the end of the message, she tells us that the leftover meds and food have been put to good use, given to people who couldn’t have afforded them otherwise. A tiny silver lining to lift our sadness.