This past Thanksgiving break, I decided not to go home. I knew I would see my family in a few weeks for Christmas and plane tickets are expensive. Instead, I took a two day vacation to Universal Studios with my boyfriend. On day two, I called my dad to tell him how I was doing. He sounded as if he hadn’t slept all night. After politely listening to me, he said he didn’t want to ruin my trip, but he knew I would want to know. My aunt had fallen and hit her head. She was in the hospital getting staples to close the gash and would be held for observation to make sure she didn’t have a concussion. She was going to be fine. Then he built up the courage to tell me my dog, who I had gotten for Christmas in third grade, who was my little baby girl, had skin cancer. It was a very rare type, so the vet had no idea how long she may live. I couldn’t process this. I tried to push the thought from my brain, to distract myself, to enjoy my vacation because there was nothing I could do for my puppy. All I could hope was that she lived long enough for me to say goodbye when I was home for Christmas.
I was able to enjoy lunch with my boyfriend by having him not allow even one minute of silence, which would give me time to think about what I had learned. I even was able to keep my tears at bay. However, three hours later I got a phone call from my mom while waiting in line for a ride. She was sobbing, taking great strength to try and calm herself long enough to get her words out. She was on her way to the hospital. My papa had fallen that morning and broken his hip in his driveway. He had laid there for an hour before the neighbors saw him and lifted him up. He was using all his energy to not pass out from the pain that he was unable to tell them to call an ambulance as opposed to shove him in the car. All while my nana finished her phone call with a friend inside. The doctors said it was unlikely he would survive. This is when I broke down. I had never regretted anything more in my life than the decision to not fly home for Thanksgiving.
I spent the rest of Thanksgiving break crying, ignoring my homework, and distancing myself from people. I called home every chance I got. My boyfriend and I spent Thanksgiving with his family, but I didn’t talk to anyone. When they tried to start a conversation about what I was going through, I didn’t know how to respond. I was not a good house guest and put even more strain on my relationship with them than there already was (I’m already unliked). During dead week and finals, I was distracted. By this point, I knew my aunt had recovered and my papa’s surgery had been successful. But I could not stop wondering if my puppy would make it until I came home and if she was in pain. When I finally flew home, my papa was doing better, but my dog was depressed. She had lost her energy and her medication had taken a toll on her. On December 30th, my dad asked if I wanted to accompany him to the vet. I turned him down and said I would see my dog the next day. That never happened. That night she had a seizure. My dad called me so I could meet him at the vet where I would say goodbye to my baby girl.
Whenever someone asks how my Christmas break was, I think of those last moments with my puppy. I always reply fine because I don’t want to start crying all over again. People are just trying to be polite and are expecting some great story. So I shy away and change the subject. That is one of the hardest parts emotionally, reliving that loss over and over each time someone asks.
I would not have handled this without my boyfriend and best friend back home. They are the only people I told the entire story to, who knew what I was really going through. My boyfriend listened when I wanted to talk, sat in silence when I was really struggling, and distracted me so I could still enjoy myself. My best friend snapchatted me weird faces all the time. On New Year’s Eve, the day after my dog passed, my best friend sat with me all night, letting me talk and let it all out. She encouraged me to get all my feelings out and was there for me through all the highs and lows.
This is something I will be handling for a long time, but I feel like I have grown a lot from it. It made me realize how nothing lasts and you need to take advantage of every opportunity you are given, whether that is to spend time with you family or go out with friends. I have been surrounding myself more with the people close to me and the people I want to be close with.
I did actually post on Facebook over Thanksgiving break the basics of what had happened and received messages from people who said I could talk to them whenever I needed. Looking back, I wish I had taken some of those people up on the offer and let them in. I also posted when my dog passed. However, I did not post any of my emotions or any details of these event because I didn’t want to come off as depressed or like I was seeking attention. Something I didn’t post was how my papa was in so much pain from all his other medical conditions (Parkinson's, the discs of his back and neck completely fused together, among others) that I actually wanted him to die in surgery since his life is not what he wants (and I wasn’t alone in wanting this). I also didn’t post that I stayed in the room with my dog’s body for an hour after she passed because I knew if I left then she really would be gone forever or how my dog was so scared after they gave her the sedative to “calm” her before putting her to sleep that she made her own tongue bleed from biting down on it so hard. And I most certainly didn’t post that the vet told us if my dad had brought her in when the medication stopped working as well, they may have been able to fix the dosage and prevent the seizure. Posting those things would have put my vulnerabilities out there for the world to see. Even though I wasn’t, I wanted to appear strong and like I was still enjoying life. People expect social media to be positive and where they can see all the fun things in their friend’s lives. I didn’t want anyone to go on Facebook or Instagram for a relaxing study break and walk away dejected.
If I had posted these details or if I posted afterwards about how much I was still struggling, I think I would have had more support from my friends. Instead of just saying they were there if I wanted to talk, some of them would have called or insisted on seeing me. I think more people would have checked in regularly. This added support would have given me more places to let out my feelings instead of saving them for the couple people I told everything to. It would have helped me handle it better.
For anyone else struggling to cope with tragedy, know you are not alone. While you may want to appear strong, holding your feelings in does not allow you to process and accept what happened. Take advantage of those friends who offer to talk and tell at least one person every single detail of the experience so there is someone who is in it with you, who you can cry with.