The guilt at being happy

Those of you who read last week’s blog post will be happy to know there have been no further Sula Drop “incidents” since the one described by last week’s post.

Guilt is something I deal with on a daily basis. I feel guilty about most things. I feel guilty that I can’t do as much as I used to in the house due to my medical conditions. I feel consumed with guilt that our lives haven’t gone the way that we had planned them to go. At the moment I am being eaten up with guilt because for the first time in week’s I feel happy. I worry that people will think that I didn’t love Frankie and Mollie or didn’t love them enough because now I love Dembe.

I catch myself sometimes in a negative cycle of self talk telling myself that it is not possible to love another dog so much already if I truly loved the other dogs. I know that what is amazing amongst human beings is our capacity to love even when in the depths of despair. The love I feel for Dembe is different to the love I had for Travis, for Frankie, for Mollie or for Willow. Each of those dogs I loved differently but with the same intensity. I never felt the guilt of having Frankie and Willow after Travis passed away because they were born in the house, although Frankie was sold and came back to us. So I don’t get why I am struggling with the guilt of having Dembe?

Is the guilt stimulated by the fact we had to go out and buy him from another breeder? Rather than him be born in our spare room? I feel it acutely at times. Just looking at Dembe on occasion will reduce me to tears because looking at him reminds me of what we have lost. 3 dogs in the space of 55 weeks. That is a lot of loss to deal with, on top of the human losses we also suffered. 

I also feel guilty because my anxiety levels have dropped since Mollie and Frankie passed away. I knew that they weren’t long for this world even though you hope in your heart they will last just a little bit longer. Frankie had rapidly declined over the space of the 12 months and I am now pretty sure that the inner ear infection Mollie had in the summer was her first stroke. Purely because the symptoms the day before she passed were exactly the same.  Both dogs were spoilt rotten in the last 12 months of their lives. They really enjoyed themselves. We had hoped Mollie would have a good six months after Frankie passed but it wasn’t to be and that breaks my heart. In the days after Frankie passed I made such a fuss of her, plied her with sausages like they were the elixir of youth. I feel guilty that perhaps I didn’t see how much she was grieving for her son. The vet certainly felt that the grief was a contributing factor in her catastrophic stroke. 

My anxiety levels have dropped also because Frankie was having some quite bad mobility issues. At night I would never sleep very deeply because I was always listening out for him in case he fell or he couldn’t manage getting back upstairs after going down for a drink or to let himself out into the garden. Because Dembe is younger he doesn’t get to roam around the house at night or even during the day. He can’t yet manage the stairs so he is confined to my room at night by a baby gate.

I would talk about the day that we wouldn’t have the Weimaraner’s anymore and it always seemed like some mythical date in the future. Even though I could see them ageing and losing condition I must’ve practised cognitive dissonance because on another level I couldn’t believe we would ever lose them. They would live forever in our little bubble, being loved and returning that love tenfold.

Now I get anxious about loving Dembe too much in such a short space of time. I still look at him at times and have to remind myself that he is mine. I wouldn’t be without him, he is a devoted pup who loves Jay and I equally. Today at a friend’s place Jay was training Dembe in the garden and Dembe was so totally focused on him. All this little dog wants to do is please us, be loved and be fed the occasional piece of cocktail sausage when he has been a good boy. If we had tried to do the training with the Weims they’d have put two fingers up and walked away. We loved the Weims for that, they were so independent, free thinkers, the hooligans we used to nickname them – in a loving way. The relationship we have with Dembe is so totally different, he lives to please and be told he is a good boy.

He has a lot of traits like the Weims had, he is almost like a mish mash of all their characters. He reminds me a lot of Frankie the way he is such a mummy’s boy, the way he herds me ( nudging the back of my leg with his nose) when following me into another room. The way he has to be with me the majority of the time, although Frankie would have never climbed into the shower with me, Dembe does this frequently. The girls however would regularly poke their heads around the side of the shower when I was in there. Willow was the most adventurous and would come in and have a drink! She was the water baby out of the three, she would run to the pond on the common and dive straight in for a swim. She always looked like a human when she was swimming due to the way she held her head out of the water. I always imagined her with one of those 1970’s  swimming caps covered in flowers. 

I am glad that we decided to change breeds after the Weimaraners.  Weims will always have a special place in my heart, too many years involved with them not to. I have owned 4 plus 18 puppies were bred from Mollie over two litters. Life without them is strange. However my eyes have been opened to the world of Labrador’s now and although I know each dog has a different character, I love Dembe’s character. I can’t get my head around the differences in breeds of dogs. I was quite ignorant before and just thought all dogs were pretty much the same. We have gone from hose pipe / shower averse Weims to a dog we can’t stop getting wet at the slightest opportunity. In the shower no problem I’ll join you mum, got the hosepipe on ? I need to chase that and bite the water. He has us in stitches every day.

I guess guilt is just part of my makeup, I have always been this way. I feel guilty about stuff I haven’t done. I think it comes from a sense of always being in the wrong, even though that is untrue I always felt that way. I always doubt any decisions I make for fear of getting it wrong. Now I am trying to break that habit, I know the guilt is just a stage of grief. I have been through it with every dog I have ever lost. With Travis for years I felt guilty that we had given up on him – despite being told his kidneys were failing and that he had less than 12 weeks to live. I felt the same way about Willow, not noticing how poorly she was quickly enough – neither of us did and the vet told us how stoic our dogs were and didn’t show any signs of illness until at death’s door. I felt guilty after Willow had a closed Pyometra despite taking her to the vets in the preceding weeks saying that there was something wrong with her. I felt the same guilt when she had breast cancer, even though the vet told us he was surprised that we had felt such a small lump.

See how the guilt eats at me. Even when I make the right decisions for my dogs or discover something early the guilt starts that I could have been better, spotted it sooner. It is a pattern I am trying to break but its hard when this has been your thinking pattern for over 40 years.

Although I was terrified of what people would say about us buying  Dembe so soon after Mollie & Frankie passed away, even though I knew it was absolutely necessary to preserve Jay and my sanity. Unless you have lost two dogs within a week you aren’t in a place where you can judge. You never know what you would do until you were in that position. I now no longer care what people say about it. 100% it was the right thing for us. 

Whilst I struggle with the guilt of loving him so much,  I am a work in progress. I am learning to deal with the guilt of being happy again.

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