It’s always hard to say goodbye to someone you love. Even if that “someone” is a four-legged animal. But if you love with your whole heart it means that loss is felt with your whole being. And that’s where I’m at right now.
I got two guinea pigs in July 2010 (Martha and Lizzie) when I was living several states away from home. It was such a welcomed change to have something else in the apartment that I could talk to and pet. Those dust bunnies aren’t exactly friendly.
From the beginning, Martha was more social and affectionate than Lizzie. Martha purred a lot and gave lots of kisses. Lizzie fought getting picked up and had to warm up to the concept of cuddling and being held. She squirmed a lot. Over time though, she learned to trust me.
Over the years I’ve seen people mourn their pets and it didn’t always make sense to me. It’s “just a pet”, right? When Lizzie died it was very sudden. She was normal one day and the next she had some freak complication and then she was gone. It was a massive shock. I remember not really reacting. There was no crying. It was disbelief, numbness really. I drifted through the next few days feeling more detached than anything else. But it didn’t feel like I was mourning because I didn’t tear up.
Last Tuesday I got home from work and found Martha sounding very different. Her purrs were muffled. It was nothing I’d heard before. I knew she was either sick or dying. I took her to the vet and he confirmed that she had an infection. He armed me with medicine and sent me off. But I noticed she wasn’t eating or drinking much. I separated her from Nutmeg so that I could monitor that better. But all signs indicated she wasn’t taking food or water. Not a good sign.
By Friday she was even refusing lettuce, a much loved treat. I spent the weekend cuddling with her and petting her, trying to offer some final gestures that she was indeed very loved. It was heartbreaking to witness her deteriorate so fast. It didn’t seem that long ago when she was a year old and doing lightning fast laps around the cage, chasing Lizzie, stopping on a dime to prevent a collision.
And this weekend as I’ve shared with friends about losing Martha, there’s been a certain longing to hide and seek isolation, much like Martha did in this picture by hiding underneath the hammock. But through text messages, Facebook comments and other means, my friends have shown up like Nutmeg, demonstrating the importance of presence even if you don’t really know what to say. (I wrote about this concept here.)
I had Lizzie for about 4 years and Martha for nearly 8. We experienced a lot of growth together. Just a month or so after getting those two girls did I learn for the first time about my sensory issues as a kid. So as I learned about what that meant, I came to relate to their skittishness or reactions to sound. It was very much a gift to be sensitive enough to recognize similarities. And to be able to appreciate these quirks rather than feeling the need to “train” them to be different.
I’ve heard from many friends who have joined in my sorrow of saying goodbye to Martha, commenting on the unconditional love that animals offer. But with Martha, Lizzie and Nutmeg, these little girls were more than just givers of love and affection. I learned so much about myself through them. There was something in their behavior that just resonated with me.
I’ve written about some of these quirks before. It was a way that I could explain some sensory issues by relating it to behavior I saw in these girls.
Beware of flying guinea pigs!
I’ll miss Martha’s early acrobatic skills. This girl loved to run and a few times she gathered up enough speed to clear the side of the cage. Jumping over the 14 inch wall! It was incredible. I didn’t see anything, but I heard a thump. When I went to check, I found her on the floor. She could have hit the side of a dresser, but she managed to land in a soft spot on the carpet, free of obstacles. Just a little dazed upon the landing but otherwise fine.
She showcased her high jumping abilities a few times after I cleaned the cage and hadn’t managed to put a towel back over the side. The second time I remember it happened in slow motion. I caught sight of her as she barely cleared the cage, much like a pole vaulter. I tried to move my body in an effort to catch her but my movements weren’t quite as swift.
The final time she escaped, she landed in the trash can after I had just cleaned the cage. I guess that wasn’t the kind of freedom she was after, because she never tried again.
Oh Martha, you sweet girl, you’ll be missed.