I was familiar with the stages of grief when Ashki died: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It’s funny though, even though I knew denial (or shock) almost always hit first, for those first few days after he died, I thought, Wow, I’m doing okay. I mean, yes, I cried, but I was also pretty functional. I donated some of his things, wrote and sent thank you messages and notes, ran some errands. Now I see that it was like the sea going out, before the tsunami hit.
For me, the worst of the grief-tsunami were the what ifs. What if I hadn’t decided to do the last transfusion, would he still be alive? What if I had ordered the blood product somewhere else, would he have lived? What if we had weaned him off the immunosuppressants that weren’t working, would he have recovered? What if his other auto-immune condition had been discovered earlier, would that have prevented his IMHA? Was it the last immunosuppressant we tried, did that make him worse? What about the med that I insisted we try, that was supposed to stimulate bone marrow, did that lead to his death? When he bloated, a month before he was diagnosed, and I thought his gums looked pale, I should have insisted that he be checked more thoroughly. And when he wouldn’t eat, I should have found a new vet sooner, then his anemia would have been caught sooner. Maybe it was the flea med, or the heartworm med, or both. Maybe it was when he jumped in the drainage ditch, maybe there was pesticide runoff and it poisoned him, I shouldn’t have let him do that. If I hadn’t moved, would he still be alive? Was it the food I fed him? The treats I gave him? Maybe if, what if, if only… around and around and around my thoughts would swirl, all day and all night.
Even though I knew this was a normal part of grief, that I was bargaining with death and trying to find some way to control the loss and avoid it (in spite of the fact that he was gone, I had seen him die), even though I knew all of that, it was torture. I would talk myself through it, Tamara, this is normal, this is you not wanting to accept that he is gone, that he is dead, this is you wishing it was different, that you could go back and change it.
In spite of knowing that the what ifs were bargaining, and part of the grief process, it felt like punishment. So then I wondered, is this me wanting to punish myself? Because if I punish myself that means it was my fault and if it was my fault then I could have done something to avoid this and if it could have been avoided then maybe somehow this can all be not true.
And then I realized that underneath this was that I just wanted to know, why did he have to die? Maybe if I could have answered those questions, all those what ifs, I could have found out why he had to die. And the truth is, there is no answer to that question. There is no answer to the question, Why did my beautiful, sweet, joyful, 4 year old boy die?
I can answer IMHA, transfusion reaction, nonresponse to treatment, but these are how he died, not why he died. And even now, a year later, there is no answer to that question. And I’m not holding my breath that there ever will be.
Some people find solace and answers in maxims or beliefs, and I respect that; however, I’m not one of those people, and I expect that to be respected, as well. We each must find our own way to peace.
So, a year later, I still turn toward grief. It doesn’t come as often, but when it does, I ask it to continue to teach me what it will. And I know that there are some things that I will never know.