Karri is an urbanmoms.ca member and mom of one who lives in Calgary. Last year she lost her beloved dog, Shelby, and this week she shares a glimpse into the grieving and recovery process of that loss in Remembering Shelby.
I had a moment tonight that hasn’t happened in a couple of months… a piercing, soul-stopping, all-encompassing memory, based on smell. I opened a bag of take-out Swiss Chalet that my husband had brought home, and (bear with me here) it smelled momentarily like Shelby after I used to walk her out in the summer rains of the big T.O. Now, setting aside the issue of my dinner smelling like wet dog, I was totally caught off guard, and found myself desperately inhaling the scent from the bag (I know, totally unsafe, in retrospect) and crying all over my white quarter chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. (And salad, for those concerned with my dietary intake.) I let myself smell that stupid bag until all the smell was gone, and then when it was, I was both mortified and relieved. And sad. And bleary-eyed from crying into my chicken. And although the dinner was yummy, I have to say it took just about everything I had to stuff it down, for a host of psychological reasons that even I don’t want to examine too closely.
I’ve had this moment multiple times since her death. Not with my dinner, mind you, and not even chicken-related. But there have been at least 10 instances in the past 15 months that have been copies of what happened tonight – moments where my heart nearly stops because some tangible reality of her past presence is somehow suddenly reintroduced into my world, and then simultaneously taken away by the knowledge that she is no longer here. I find myself so exposed in these moments – I crave them, for in that split second that the memory starts, I have my girl back with me. And I hate them, because after that split second is over, the happy shock turns into crushing pain and a flood of tears and emotion – I’m like a deep-fried nerve on a stick – raw on the inside, prickly on the outside, and bad for the digestive system.
These moments have run the sensory gamut so far – from hallucinating that I could hear the click clack of her nails on the hardwood, to coming down the stairs and actually sensing movement from the corner where her bed used to be, to hearing the metallic jingle of the tags on her collar when I come home and open the door, to finding the lid that used to fit on partially-used cans of soft food, to smelling the smell of her on her harness when it got unpacked at the new house, to forgetting that I don’t have to put my water glass up high and at least a foot in from the edge of the table anymore, to realizing we have a ton more plastic shopping bags, now that we don’t have to stoop and scoop, to finding myself crying and inhaling into a plastic bag because my dinner smells like my wet dog. Some moments are one-timers, and others linger for weeks at a time. They all have this in common, though: they never fail to catch me off guard with a punch to the gut, no matter how frequently or rarely they occur.
It’s like my system is programmed to remember Shelby as intensely now as the day she died. I remember everything about that day. The snapshots in my head may be slightly out of order when I tell the story, and even a bit messy due to the emotions, but I can put the day together like a puzzle bought from the Goodwill – the pieces may be jagged and used and rubbed raw on the edges, and the colour may be fading from some of the images, but all the bits are there, and they still fit together. No matter how many times I stumble across her momentary, and very real, presence, I am still then smacked upside the head by the jolting, big-picture reality of her absence.
Do I want this to stop? Yes. No. Yes. No.
Do I want relief from being an exposed nerve, capable of the highs-to-lows ratio of a high-wire artist? In those moments, yes. Afterwards, no, since I am slowly recognizing that this frustrating ability to feel and ingest and inhabit emotions is one of my most developed, yet underrated and maligned qualities.
Do I realize that breathing into a plastic bag is not FDA approved? And that it is somewhat disburbing that I proceeded to eat the quarter chicken dinner, even though it smelled like my pet? Yes. (Although, I’m trying to keep in mind that the very fact I managed it was also a victory of sorts.)
And do I feel embarrassed by myself, my psychological state, my impulse to put it online, or my admittedly long and loquacious note? No. I do not feel embarrassed. I may feel a lot of things, but not that. I feel sad. I feel better. I feel exhausted. I feel relieved. I feel numb. I feel drained. I feel exposed. I feel connected. I feel honest.
And I still miss Shelby.