It’s just a pill. One of countless pills Rhys took in his lifetime.
Have you ever administered oral medication to a dog with enormous jowls? They have so many places to hide pills. In our family, residents have a history of pocketing those pills in their mouths and depositing them between sofa cushions, into blankets, or on the floor in the corner of a room when I am not looking. It's a proud tradition.
I found this pill in July 2018. Rhys died in February 2018.
It was beneath the sofa he loved. His sofa that we got just for him, because our previous sofas had cushions that were a touch too high for him to climb onto safely as he aged. His sofa that we had to part with because it was too sad to have it in the house without him on it.
Beneath the sofa. How in the world did he do that?
On a day I was congratulating myself for letting go of the stuff that reminded me of him and resting instead in my memories and art, I found this pill on the floor. We had just moved the sofa to get it out of the house.
It was a vicious attack of Grief. I had no defense, and I didn't try. I let Grief come and sit on my chest, pull my hair, scratch my face, punch me in the gut, and club my legs out from beneath me. I sobbed. I wailed.
Grief eventually picked me up off the floor and directed me to look at Rhys' painting hanging just to the side of the sofa. Grief whispered that she always comes in love.
Grief and I are kinda tight. I love that she gets me. I love that she's honest.
I saw this pill and thought of all the caregiving. I thought of watching him age and seeing his physical capabilities diminish. I marveled as his capacity to love continued to grow. I thought of the physical pain he must have endured as the trappings of age settled in his body, and how graciously he adjusted to that.
Even if he didn't care for his medicine.
I thought of how far we had come together. I remembered the first day we met, and the day I returned to take him home. I remember the trip to the ocean beach. I remember how he would run down the stairs and leap into the truck when he saw me loading stuff that looked like things we might take on vacation. I remember how he ran like silk - strong and fluid.
I remember his grunts as he stretched and plunked his massive head into my lap. I remember the black speckles on his white chest and belly. I remember every little thing.
This pill reminded me that I am afraid to forget.
This is why I tell stories. This is why I make art.
The connection I have through this object, this pill, floods me with all of this to the point I break down because I cannot hold any more. When I can translate this into art, I can give myself permission to let go of the pills and the blankets and the chewed up toys. I can keep the photographs of those things. I can have these moments as rich tapestries of love, growth, and adventure on my walls, where all the stories come at me when I give myself the time to look and feel.
That's why I make art for you. I know you have the equal to this pill. I don't expect you to keep it or get rid of it. I hope you'll do what feels right when it feels right. In the interim, I'll help you make art that connects you to everything you access when you hold your pill.
Art can do that.
By the way, this pill is still in my cabinet. I'm not ready. And I'm okay with that.
Conan is our third Dane. He was born in 2004 and died in 2014. This photo is from 2009 (in the ancient times I wore 3" heels and pencil skirts everywhere).
I talk about him in the present tense often because he's still a part of our family and my life. Just because I don't see him lounging in his chair doesn't mean he isn't here.
I adopted Conan thinking that he would ease the trauma of Vaughn's death (Vaughn is our first Dane and my heart dog). Vaughn died in 2007, and I was attached to the idea that Conan could be just like him.
Bwah ha ha ha ha!
It never works out that way, does it?
Vaughn was small. Conan was massive. Vaughn was gentle and composed. Conan was intense and scattered. Vaughn was kind and attentive. Conan was kind and attentive.
Each animal in my family has a different place in my heart, in an entirely different way. Conan wasn't like Vaughn, not really. He was his own kind of excited hopping, squeaking, undignified brute. He did things Vaughn never would have considered.
Comparing them doesn't do me any favors because they are all just right as is.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.