Thursday, July 7, 2011

Guilt

Sometimes, life has a way of stabbing you in the heart.  We've all experienced it - grief, and a whole rainbow of unpleasant emotions that come with it.   Perhaps one of the most distressing ways that it does this is through guilt...  honest guilt, for something that you were actually at fault for, and someone else paid the price.

When I was 11 years old, I inadvertently caused the death of my first puppy.  It is a heart-breaking story, and one that I don't talk about very often to this day because I still wince with guilt when I think about it.  But since I've been on a memory-lane kick lately, I thought that it might be good to write about it.

This puppy was one of the most anticipated puppies on the planet.  The neighbors had a female Pekapoo, who they had bred to their male Pekingese before having him neutered.  I was promised one of the puppies, for free.  The reason for this is because I loved their dogs, with an earnestness only found in 11-year-old children.  I walked them every day, and went over to spend time with them regularly, sometimes bringing treats with me.  The dogs loved to see me coming.  They would leap and cavort at the ends of their chains if I even crossed our driveway to go over to their yard.  I can still remember seeing those dogs dancing on their hind legs in anticipation of my arrival.

I waited for the birth of the pups with great anticipation, and it finally came.  There were only two pups in the litter.  I was at the neighbors' house on a daily basis, down on the floor with the puppies.  I was beside myself with joy, and couldn't WAIT to get my pick home.  I'd already named her:  Magic.

The day finally came, and I brought my beautiful little  girl home.  Her coat was silver, her muzzle black.  She was tiny, and could curl up and sleep in the palm of your hand.

She slept in a box beside my bed, so that when she got lonely for mother and sibling in the night, I could simply reach down and comfort her.

Except that one night she would not be comforted, and I sleepily brought her up to lie up against me.  I fell asleep, when I shouldn't have, and couldn't monitor her. She fell off the bed in the night.  The fall crushed her chest, because she was so delicate at that tender young age.  I found her, gasping for air, under the headboard.  We desperately rushed her to the 24-hour emergency vet, but she died before they could even end her suffering for her.

I was devastated and completely eaten up with guilt.  I certainly hadn't meant to hurt Magic, let alone kill her.  I'd only wanted to comfort her and make her stop crying.  But that didn't make her any less dead.

I didn't get out of bed for two days.  I didn't talk about it to anyone, and had difficulty even shedding tears about it.  I was just numb.  Nothing anyone said could make me feel better about it...  I mean, it WAS my carelessness that caused her death, even if I hadn't intended to.  I mean, Dumb Luck played role in it, but Dumb Luck never would have entered the picture if I'd just left her in the damned box. Or been able to stay awake.  Or any number of various possibilities that I tormented myself with.

I think that my parents realized that I wasn't going to so easily recover from this, and that I needed a distraction.  I think that they also didn't want for me to feel like I was being punished...  I was doing enough punishing myself; I certainly didn't need any more.  So they decided to get me another puppy about a week after the incident.

I was very uncertain of it at first.  I was afraid that I would kill yet another puppy, and even at that young age, knew that I would never entirely be able to forgive myself for Magic's death.  I also felt guilty for still wanting a puppy, even after everything that had happened.  Like I was being disloyal to Magic.  But I went with my dad to a breeder who had a Pekingese puppy for sale - really cheap.  In hindsight, I have to wonder if it was a bit of a puppy mill that we went to.  The only puppy left was not in very good shape.  He was even more delicate-looking than Magic was, and skinnier, and his coat was already matted.  He was in all likelihood the runt of the litter.  I was still on the fence about getting him, until the breeder put him into my open hand.  He (the pup, not the breeder) looked up at me with his huge brown eyes, and looked so pleading.  His little tail wagged hopefully, and his entire body language was asking, "Are we going to be friends?"

My heart melted, and my father paid for him on the spot.  We took him home in a shoebox, and that puppy began the first of many days of his over-protected life.  If I could have wrapped him in protective bubble-wrap and kept him in a hamster ball, I would have.  I had completely learned my lesson, probably learned it too well.  I'd panic if he got too close to people's feet, if the cats hissed at him, if it looked like he was going to  try to climb up onto the furniture.  I did my very best to keep him out of harm's way, which often just meant picking him up and retreating to my bedroom with him, away from all of the other distractions that the house can provide for a young pup.

This one was named Wicket, yes, after the Star Wars trilogy ewoks.  (Yes, I was a bit of a geek, even back then.  But have you ever SEEN a picture of a Pekingese puppy?  They totally look like ewoks.)

Wickett lived a good long life, and died well after I'd gone to college, so as it turned out, I didn't have the "cursed touch" that I feared I'd had.  I don't deny that what happened to Magic was a tragedy, and I certainly don't deny the role that I played in it.  I will feel deep sadness for that event for the rest of my life, even though I know that it's not fair to me to beat myself up over a mistake made when I was 11.  I am thankful that he lived such a long life.  Wicket was my best friend during the painful growing-up years, and was a major stabilizing influence on me at a time that I desperately needed one.

There is little to be thankful for in Magic's untimely death, but it did teach me that you can, indeed, literally kill with kindness, and it taught me to use caution when handling animals, that sometimes what they are asking for is not what they actually need, or is not what is necessarily best for them.  It also brought me Wicket, who I would have never known otherwise.  

I guess in some ways, my guilt still plays a role in how I interact with my own animals.  I am so, so very careful with them.  It's made me hyper-vigilant.   But one can't let guilt be a crippling force.  Guilt could have kept me from ever taking in another animal again, for fear of hurting them too.  Except that I would have cheated them out of a good life with me.  And cheated myself out of animal companionship.  So, I've taken that experience, and learned what I could from it.  But I can't let it cripple me, deprive me of what happiness I can find.

9 comments:

  1. Such a sad thing for you to have go through.
    I know how you feel. My first Newf puppy named Storm died at 3 months. He was accidentally run over by a car in our driveway. I had left him with my friend and ran inside for just a minute, when I came back out I was devastated. I always thought what if I wouldn't of went inside at that very moment, he would still be here. It still breaks my heart to this day to even think about it. I understand about you being over cautious, I am exactly the same way.

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  2. I had a Sheltie puppy that I adored, and in one weekend, he was just gone. My sister and I left and went to visit my dad, and when we came home, he'd died from Parvo. I wondered for a long time if we could have done something different for him, in the way many kids internalize tragedy and make it their own fault. The truth is, he had fragile health and was just a lot more susceptible than other puppies would have been. Magic sounds like she was a fragile little dog, and sometimes even though we do want to wrap them in bubble wrap (I know I do at times) things happen that are just beyond our control!

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  3. Gosh, I just don't know what to say. I feel so bad for you, to have had such a terrible experience at a young age and then to carry that guilt all of your life. I wish there was some way you could find forgiveness for your mistake. We all screw up, and some mistakes even result in tragedy. But if ever there's a time to find forgiveness, this would be it. I want to cradle the young child that lives within you and tell her it's time to let the guilt go so she can be free of the sadness this unfortunate incident created for her life.

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  4. You just couldn't have known that doing what you thought was right to take care of Magic was going to cause her death, but I know it doesn't make it any easier. I am so sorry that you had to go through such a sad and scary experience with your very first puppy and so sorry that accident that happened.

    Here's something of the same nature that happened to me:

    I incubated a duck egg a year ago, when I was looking at the development while candling (using a light to see the inside of egg), and the embryo filled half the egg, I changed to 100 watt light and moved the light so that it was almost next to the egg. While there were a bunch of other factors involved that caused his death, he died the day after while using the hot bulb next to the egg. And I have always struggled to forgive myself for killing him. I had made a huge mistake and had a horrible time getting over his death after watching him grow for 30 days. It was one of the hardest things I've had to accept of playing a part in his demise. I still wince at the thought of what I think was a stupid move on my part and wish I had never done that.

    While isn't the exact same thing, this was just last year and I didn't know a thing about incubating a duck egg or any egg and I screwed up. Please give yourself a break, you were a little girl, it was an honest mistake. I bet Magic has never blamed you once. :)

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  5. This is a mob of sorrows, in one moment. My heart is wrung. I'm sitting here looking at the rest of this box, waiting for more words --




    -- but I want nothing more to distract from this stark offering.

    Maybe just one prayer. May all beings be -- or become -- happy.

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  6. Thank you, everyone. Your words mean a lot to me. I really don't spend every minute of every day thinking about that night, but every once in awhile, the sadness comes back to the surface.

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  7. Oh, my heart goes out to you - it's a mistake any of us could have made. I remember bringing my new puppy into the bed with me when she wouldn't stop crying... I would never have even imagined that my act of comfort could have had such consequences. I can understand that it must be hard to let that guilt go... but it was an honest mistake and it could have happened to anyone. Sometimes things happen for a reason, and it did bring you Wickett, as you mentioned, so at least there was something positive that came out of the situation. The idea that sometimes what our animals want is not what they need is such a true one. Sending lots of hugs to you...

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  8. Thanks for sharing this story. That's a lot to carry around all these years and I can tell it is still very difficult for you. Sometimes, things just happen and they don't make sense and they are awful and we just have to keep going. When I was a freshman in high school, I left the basement door open and our dog escaped and was hit by a car. It was completely my fault and I can still see him running into traffic - I will carry that image with me forever ...

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  9. I have some heavy guilt that I carry regarding animals. A cockatiel, a sheep and a dog. I won't tell their stories here, or even on my blog but let's just say I know exactly how you feel. And even though sometimes we want to wallow in the guilt we know how unhealthy that is and have to get on with life. I learned some hard lessons and hope I carry on practicing them. You are doing the same:)

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