On Sunday we started a conversation about what makes writing live and breathe for a reader. Tuesday I explained my way of doing it. Today and tomorrow I’ll give examples. Forgive the length of the posts; it’s part of a book not a blog, so I have to get you up to speed with the story a little .
This is from my book Savvy Stories, as suggested by Allison as an example of going where the pain lives.
I never cried when I found out that my newborn daughter was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, potentially fatal heart condition. I never cried later on, when it was learned that I had it, too. I only came close to crying about it once, when she was in the NICU a few days after being born.
A few years prior to that, we had lost my wife’s beloved dog of 16 1/2 years (okay, okay; I loved him, too. We would share pepperoni pizza together – how can you NOT love a dog like that?). He basically died of old age and kidney failure.
She had raised “Bear” from a puppy, and for many, many years they were inseparable. They went everywhere together. He was a little guy, so she could sneak him in just about anywhere, and he was a cute little guy so most places didn’t mind. He looked like a teddy bear. Whether it was movies, restaurants, vacations, you name it, Bear tagged along with Michele. He went to Key West with us in our boat; and he went to Canada with us, flying in her lap, hidden under a blanket.
But his last months with us were very difficult on my wife, especially the final few weeks. We were torn between putting him out of his pain and continuing to give him the most comfort possible.
My wife couldn’t sleep; she was feeding him food and water by hand… holding him at night in a bunch of blankets. Some days were better than others, and when we were getting right down to it, we did not know what the right thing to do was. I told my wife that I didn’t think he should go to the vet to be put down. He never really liked going to the vet, and he wouldn’t like being surrounded by strangers in white lab coats while he sits on a cold metal tray. I certainly wouldn’t want to go that way. I told her that if it were me, the best thing I could think of, what I would want, I would want to go while being held in my loving mother’s arms, with her singing quietly to me, and wrapped in my favorite blanket, sitting out on the back porch on a quiet sunny day under gentle breeze of the big ceiling fan… fall gently to sleep and just not wake up.
The vet had given us some pain medication for our dog, to take about once every 4 hours or so for the pain. He had told us to be careful with the dosage, because if we gave him too much, he would pass away in his sleep from it.
I told my wife that I thought our dog would let us know when it was time.
One day he was breathing really hard, like it was painful to take each breath, and he was fighting to do it. He was tired and he was ready. I was at work about 45 minutes away from the house; my wife had called me on my cell phone to let me know how he was doing, and he wasn’t doing very well. I told her to give him a little of the pain medication now, and then get his blanket and go out on the back porch and sit under the big fan. It was a nice, quiet, sunny day. I told her to tell him that she loved him and to rock him in her arms, and then in about 45 minutes or so, give him some more of the medication. And then we would give him a little more in another hour when I could get there. I quickly wrapped up what I was working on and headed for the house.
But before I could get there, my cell phone rang again. It was my wife, and she was in tears.
He was gone.
A lot of people quote a famous author, or a deep thought by some philosopher. I think people should quantify their thoughts and quote themselves instead. Here’s mine.
If you have never cried over the passing of a pet, then you have missed out on an important piece of life. It is only by allowing yourself to fully care that can cause you to experience pain when they are finally taken away.
Your sadness is a testament to how much you cared for them.
Michele had taken Bear out on the porch in his blanket and sat under the big fan and rocked him gently, and after a few minutes he looked up at her and gave a big sigh, closed his eyes and passed away. She was sad, of course, but relieved. It turns out that our dog had been ready to go for a while; days, maybe weeks. He just knew my wife wasn’t ready, and he hung on for a while until he got her to where she needed to be to say goodbye.
That’s a good dog.
Now, I told you that to tell you this: during those few weeks at the end, it looked like my wife was aging 20 years. She wasn’t eating, she wasn’t sleeping, she was just worrying all the time. It affected her. I was afraid I was going to lose my dog AND my wife. It’s hard to explain.
After he passed, it took a few days, but my wife was suddenly 20 years younger.
See, the constant stress of not knowing when or how the dog would die, that was really working on her. Having to feed him by hand, and sometimes having to squirt water down his throat with a syringe, just so he could get a drink, it all added up.
So when we were in the NICU with our newborn baby girl, and our baby was all wired up to all these gadgets, I could tell right away that my wife would be there 24/7; and here again, if I lost one I might lose both.
So the only way my wife would sleep was if she would leave the hospital, and the only way to do that was if I stayed in the NICU with our new baby.
So I did.
In fact, the first night I ever spent away from my daughter was at the Sudden Arrythmia Death Syndrome conference in Atlanta when she was about 1 ½ years old. Prior to that, we had never slept NOT under the same roof. But by me staying at the hospital, in the NICU, or on that lumpy hard couch across the hall with its TV that only seemed to get Nick At Night, and by me sleeping there at night, my wife could go home and sleep – and sleep she did! We both stayed at the hospital all day, and then she would go home at night and get some rest; I would go take a shower at the house and get some sleep in the morning after she came back.
That only went on for a week, but when you are doing it, you don’t know HOW long it’s going to go on for; could be weeks… for some it was months. During that time, I saw the stress adding up on her, just as it had during the weeks when our dog passed away, and I knew sleep would help her.
So one day, a few days in, I’m sitting there with Tracie, a dear friend of my wife’s, who came over to visit and hold the baby. Friends were allowed in the NICU for about an hour at a time. As we were talking, she said, “Would you like to hold your daughter, Dan?” I said, no I hold her plenty the other 20 or so hours that I am here each day.
But she could see that I was stressed, so she asked.
I almost broke down right then and there.
“She could die…” was all I could get out.
Tracie gave me a reassuring look and said with a smile, “But you can’t think that way.” You can’t dwell on the negatives. The kid picks up on that. On the negative stress or negative energy or whatever you want to call it. They perceive that things aren’t all right. And she was right. I needed to be positive. Not in a BS way but in a real way.
There were never any doubts before that moment about Tracie being our daughter’s godmother, and she had just cemented herself into the position.
My daughter needed me to be strong. What would help most to lift MY spirits would be to lift my wife’s spirits, and to do that we needed all the friends and family we could get to come in here and visit and oooh and ahhhh over her pretty little baby.
So I called them all and had a parade of positive energy streaming through the place for as many hours as they would let us – and then some.
And it worked.
Of course, a few visits from adoring grandparents would probably cure the ills of the entire world. My kid immediately started doing better, and so did my wife, and so did I. After that, everything got a lot easier. It’s still getting easier.
I learned that day that there were people – a LOT of people – who would help me, who would help US, who WANTED to help us… sounds silly, but I just never realized that before.
I had a lot to learn about a lot of things, and I was just getting started.
So that’s one example of going where the pain lives.
Tomorrow I’ll give you another one.
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great upcoming sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to read a sample chapter. Click HERE to check out his other works.