Libby

by Jen on February 19, 2011

This post was inspired by The Red Dress Club.  This week’s prompt was to write about finding a lost article of clothing.
My cleaning frenzy had begun on a Saturday.  Most likely at 11:30 at night, as I was single, and lived alone, and had no rules.  I’d scoured and wiped, and disinfected into the early morning and after a few hours of sleep, I sprang out of bed on Sunday morning to complete the battle.  I’d finished the guest room, the bathrooms, changed my sheets, dusted blinds, cleaned dead bugs out of my hall light globe, swept behind the clothes dryer, changed my air filter, and had only two rooms to mop and one load of laundry left to do before I was able to check everything off the list.
I lifted the lid to my Westinghouse and started the water.  I poured in laundry detergent and shuffled down the hall into my bedroom to get my final load of laundry.  I lifted the lid of my dark wicker basket and leaned in to extract every last article.  And that’s when it happened.  My gut sank and my throat tightened.  I felt almost nauseous – like the world might implode.  My arms felt like they were stuck in concrete as I lifted the tiny t-shirt out of the basket.  Without thinking, I lifted it to my nose and inhaled.  Deep.
I found myself on the floor.  Clutching the tiny white t-shirt to my chest, I silently hoped I would choke on my sobs.  My cheeks were red hot and stained from sticky tears and yesterday’s eye liner.  I cried.  Man, I cried.  This ambush was stronger than I could ever be.  I pictured her, resting beside me in this t-shirt with faded pink script that described her perfectly.  Best Friend.  I’d thought it was a silly shirt when I’d bought it, but it had turned out to fit her bony frame best.
I had done my best to prevent this.  I’d known she was near the end, and I’d carefully and strategically staged my home in such a way that was certain to keep something like this from happening.  I thought anyway.  I’d hung her collar on my key hook, washed and folded all of her other t-shirts and put them in a drawer, left her food bowl in plain sight, and had even put her favorite toys on top of my armoire.  I did not want to stumble upon “her”.  I wanted her things in obvious places so I wouldn’t be sucker punched on a day I wasn’t feeling so strong.  But I’d forgotten one thing.  The t-shirt that rested at the very bottom of my laundry basket.  How could I have forgotten?  Stupid, stupid – gut wrenching stupid.
The t-shirt was completely accurate.  She was my best friend.  And had been since I was ten years old.  She’d done farm chores with me, accompanied me to softball games, shielded me from the pain of my parents’ divorce, protected me from nightmares, and helped me through heartaches.  I was an only child for most of my life, and she was with me everywhere.  Before she died, I’d cried only a handful of times, and for almost every one of them, I would clutch her tightly and let my tears fall onto her.  For 16 years, she’d burrowed in the curve of my stomach as I inhaled the back of her sweet little head while I slept.  We were co-pilots, roommates, best friends. 
I’d known she was sick.  She was 16 and had proven to be the most loyal and fulfilling creature to walk this earth.  It only stood to reason that someday, she’d be too tired to go on.  I’d often wondered what would be easiest.  Would I want to come home from work to find she’d passed away while sun bathing on ottoman?  Or, would it be best to schedule her euthanasia so I would be prepared… so I could say goodbye?
The answer came to me easier than I’d thought.  She gave it to me.  I’d watched her struggle to urinate for a couple months, but until that day in June, I knew she was still up for the fight.  The day I saw her determination fade and embarrassment take over, I knew she needed my help.  I knew that after 16 years of taking care of me, she needed me to return the favor.
I scheduled to put her to sleep with the vet.  I allowed myself four selfish days to say my goodbyes.  I spent those days imprinting every expression and every sound to my memory.  I slept outside of my own body, so I remained conscious of those last few nights of breathing in her sweet smell and feeling her frail, but warm body against my chest.  I began the strategic placement of her things around my apartment.  I didn’t measure her food.  I gave her whatever she wanted.  I took pictures.  I told stories, I wrote her a letter.  For the first time in my whole life, I truly knew what it meant to be heartbroken.
The morning of her appointment came.  I put on my game face and loaded my car for our last outing together.  I drove through two different drive thrus to get her favorites, and laid a blanket underneath a tree at the park where we shared a chocolate frosty and french fries.  I placed her on my stomach and stared up the trees and into the sky.  It was weird, but I knew she knew that today was our last day together.  She rested her head in between my chest and our breathing synchronized.  I was silent, but I cried.
Wrapped in her blanket, I carried her into the room where she’d take her last breath.  The doctor injected her with a mild sedative to help keep her calm.  She didn’t need it.  She knew why she was there and wasn’t scared.  But I allowed it – if only to savor a few more moments with her.  Within seconds, I felt her body relax.  I felt a small warm spot on her blanket, as the sedative had caused her to relax her bladder – her poor cancer laden bladder.  She became more pliable than I’d ever felt.  I pressed her into me and whispered a lifetime of gratitude into her leathery ears.  I told her I loved her a thousand times.  I thanked her.  I kissed her.
The doctor returned with a syringe.  I knew it was time.
“Can I hold her?”  She needs me to.”
He nodded.  He was kind, and I knew his heart was breaking for me.
He explained how things would work, gave her a few delicate pats on the head, and asked if I was ready.  I wasn’t.  But I was never going to be.  But I was her mother – her voice, and she needed this.
He pointed the needle toward her tiny leg and I gripped her tight and closed my eyes.  Then, I felt it.  Her very last breath.  It was deep.  And appreciative.  And I opened my eyes, hoping it had been a dream.  But I knew it wasn’t.  It’s an unreal experience to watch a life you once knew leave the body you still hold.  Unreal, and painful.
I spent about 15 more minutes with her, alone in the small room.  I tried to leave four different times, but I couldn’t find the strength to walk away.  Had it not been for my dear friend waiting in the lobby to drive me home, I may have stayed there forever.
I spent the next few months recreating my routines, breaking old habits, feeding one dog instead of two.  I cried myself to sleep a thousand times, missing the smell of her tiny head.  But with each day, I found strength.  Millie adjusted to her role as an only child and nursed my wounds in her enthusiastic way.  We played at a different area of the park for a while, slept on the couch when my bed felt too large, and slowly but surely, began to put Libby’s things away.  
By October, we’d found our new normal.  I’d stopped crying.  And, I’d managed take her collar off the key hook and her toys off the armoire.  I’d said a final goodbye before stuffing the last “baby” in a drawer.  I’d survived.  With Millie’s help, of course.  I was feeling strong again, and realizing the pain I thought would never leave my chest had become bearable.  And I was proud, because I was going to be okay – until the day I was ambushed by that tiny little t-shirt at the bottom of my laundry basket and my whole world came crashing down all over again.  And I was left heartbroken.
Libby Belle Elliott
4/1990 to 6/2006
Peace & French Fries, Baby
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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous February 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Hi Jen, girl you know how to write, that was so sad and so beautiful. I remember when you and your mom came and stayed with us a couple of nights and you had a litter of puppies, I don't know if that was Libby or not but I know you were close to the mom. You brought back joy, laughter and a lot of tears reading this as we lost Isaac and Jacob last year. You have such a gift with words, have you ever thought about writing a book? You would be a great author. Take care and thank you. Jeri

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2 Ninja February 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

This totally made me cry. Really beautifully written.

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3 Nichole February 18, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Oh, this just broke my heart.In October of 2007, I had to bring my beloved kitty, Ashley, who had been with me for 16 years,f in to help her find final peace.It was one of the hardest days of my life. My heart cracked open in that room that day. Leaving without her was unfathomable…never seeing her hazel eyes again was more than I could bear in those moments.I am sending you my love as you remember your sweet Libby Belle…she was just lovey.

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4 Natalie February 18, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I'm gonna be honest, we have dogs, but I don't consider myself an animal person. Your beautiful words brought me to tears and made me love your Libby. I can't imagine your pain and I'm glad you had so much time with her. Being able to write with that kind of feeling? Is beautiful.

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5 HonestConvoGal February 19, 2011 at 9:13 am

This is why I won't have another dog. I had one. He died. The pain is too much to bear again. You wrote about it realistically and honestly. Nicely done.

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6 Stephanie February 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

I am full on sobbing. Your heartache touched my heart in ways that I felt your pain. This is hard feat to accomplish and you did it effortlessly here.

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7 Cheryl February 19, 2011 at 10:17 am

Aw…my heart breaks for you. It is the saddest thing, and people who don't have pets just can't understand how much they become a part of you.My two dogs are 10 and I'm already soaking up the minutes, knowing they're limited..

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8 KristelKlear February 19, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I totally cried!!! That was a beautiful story.

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9 Jessica Anne February 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

This is so sad. Made me cry. She was clearly well loved and a lucky girl. What a sweet face.

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10 Jennifer Bruno February 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Thank you all so much for your comments. This was a fun/grueling post to write. I loved remembering her – even though it stung. Your feedback makes me happy. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by!

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11 injaynesworld February 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm

No matter how long we have them it's never long enough. I've gone through this myself so many times and can relate so well to everything you have so exquisitely expressed here. I stopped by from the Red Dress link and I'm glad to have discovered such a wonderful writer. I'll be back.

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12 Mommy 2.0 February 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm

This was a beautifully poignant post. I just happened upon your blog through a blog hop, and I am instantly hooked on your fantastic writing. I will be back for more.

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13 Anonymous February 19, 2011 at 8:20 pm

And the tears flowed. This is so beautiful.

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14 THE SARCASM GODDESS February 19, 2011 at 8:42 pm

You took my breath away and brought me to tears. I whole time I read, I hoped it was only a work of fiction. My puppies are my babies and I live in a disillusioned world that they will be with me forever.Heart-breaking story, great writing.-Fellow red dress club member

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15 THE SARCASM GODDESS February 19, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Oops. I meant *The* whole time I read…

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16 Jen HaHA February 19, 2011 at 9:59 pm

So touching! What a sweet little girl! Sixteen years is longer than some human friendships.Found you on Weekend Wanderer. Yor blog title caught my attention, of course. We're rhyming Jens! Wait, I just read the rest of your blog header and I say the same thing in my e-mail sig except I say it about my blog. Freaky Friday! Well, it's actually Saturday. Sunday is some time zones.Nice to 'meet' you!

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17 Jen HaHA February 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I didn't even comment on your writing itself, just the content. You are such a great expressive writer! I could envision it all–sadly. I look forward to reading more of your writing!

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18 Mandyland February 19, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Oh! I'm so very sorry. Our pets become such a huge part of our lives. Our dog is nine and I can't imagine our lives without her. I'm in denial and claim that she'll live to seventy. *sigh*This was a beautifully written, heartfelt post.

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19 Andrea (ace1028) February 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I am sitting here with my oldest cat laying against my chest. My heart hurts for you. What a heartache that must have been. We've lost two of our cats over the last year or so and it's so sad, so hard, even when you know it's what is best. Hugs to you and thanks for sharing. What a beautiful baby you had and what a lucky one to have a momma like you. {Hugs}

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20 kimberly rae February 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm

oh man. not sure if its because i knew libby, or bc i knew how much you love(d) her or because i have a dachshund or because my sweett little baron (dachshund) got put down when I was 22 and I had had him in my life since i was THREE but this was almost tooooo much! i read it on the plane im obviously sitting by the window sobbing like a nutcase. when we put baron down my stepdad didnt tell my mom and took all his stuff out of the house so when my mom came home from work she knew but never said a real goodbye-goodbye. whhhyyy are dog-lives so short? because it takes us so long to get over it (and by get over it, i mean, never get over it).jen, i love your unabashed love for your dogs. thank you for writing this. xoxox!!!!!!

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21 Jen Has A Pen February 22, 2011 at 5:08 am

Thank you all so much for taking the time to leave such heartfelt comments. Means so much to me. Really.

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22 Karen Thurston Chave February 22, 2011 at 9:53 am

I love this post, Jen. After my sweet Raven's lung-cancer diagnosis, I cherished every day we had left. It's been nine years since I had to put her down, and I still miss her.

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23 Jen Has A Pen February 24, 2011 at 5:34 am

I am really touched by all the sincere comments. That dog was such a massive part of my whole world and being able to tell her story makes me feel awesome. Your kind words magnify that.

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24 (Florida) Girl February 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

I lived through something similar and it really tore my insides out. I can completely relate to your story.

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25 Rach_DonutsMama June 19, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Oh Jen, my heart just breaks reading this. Libby knew she was so loved. You were a good mama to her. Your writing is beautiful.

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