With sincerest apologies to the estate of C.S. Lewis, I am taking quite a liberty using the title of one of his books for a blog post. But last night, I did observe grief - and it was loving, tender, and heartbreaking.
|Oni with Audrey, taken in 2013.|
We have been blessed for over 5 years to have guinea pigs as part of our family, primarily as pets for the kids, but they are great pets for adults, too. There have been times when Lorrie will say to one of the kids "get me a piggie", and that kid will run and get her one of the pigs that we have. Guinea pigs are very cuddly and affectionate, and are social within their own circle of other piggies. They can also be bullies or domineering towards other piggies. You have to keep male piggies (boars) separated from other males unless they are, well, uh, um....fixed. Piggies are curious, responsive, and purr when petted in a way they like. And the response of the kids to the piggies was wonderful: Troy and Oni were given their own Facebook pages, and the piggies assisted them with homework, became reading buddies, or just lap companions while watching TV.
Sadly, we lost Troy - one of those first ones we adopted - after 2 years, and even though I wasn't home, Lorrie documented the kid's reaction as Troy slowly slipped away. Then we lost a second piggie, Hank, who went very suddenly. Again, I was not home for that passing. But last night, we lost Troy's original companion, Oni. And this time, I was home.
In the last few weeks, Oni had been acting like she was nearing the end. We figured out last night that she was 5 years old, and Guinea Pigs have a life expectancy of 4-6 years. She'd been losing chunks of fur for during these last few weeks. But last night, Colin came out to tell me that Oni was acting strange, that she couldn't move well, that she was leaning off to one side. Soon, Audrey brought Oni out, and I could see that she was not doing well at all. We had lost Troy to strokes (Guinea Pigs get strokes and can get pneumonia), and it appeared that this was happening with Oni as well. Her once luxuriant and soft fur was gone, and she was struggling to breathe and to stay up. Audrey lovingly held Oni, tucked Oni under her chin, where Oni tried valiantly to give Audrey what we called "piggie kisses", but Oni couldn't. Then, Oni started to twitch, and Lorrie got a towel and wrapped Oni up in it as a mother wraps a newborn in a blanket. Audrey, who had been crying the whole time, did not wish to hold Oni any longer, and the sweet and loving piggie slowly slipped away, being held and petted by Lorrie.
As a father, it was tough for me to know how much to console Audrey. But I soon found that I didn't need to be the one who made that decision: Audrey made it for me. She hugged me, and later on cuddled with me as I watched a bit of Netflix. And even though the tears of grief were real for Audrey, she recovered quicker than I expected, and I believe she already has said we need to adopt a new companion for Latte, Oni's cagemate.
Now, granted, losing a pet is tough, and it cannot in any way compare to losing a spouse, close relative and certainly not a child. But to see how Audrey handled this situation made me realize that she's grown up now - she's 14 - and she's able to understand that life ends, as much as we wish it didn't. She loved Oni very much (she loves ALL animals) and has a empathy with them that makes me realize that Audrey has a good soul. Perhaps that is a result of loving these small creatures of God as much as she does, and understanding how fragile they truly are.