Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Saddest Day

If you're my friend on Facebook you might already know the preceding week was a hard one for me.

One of our beloved hamsters, the same hamster that survived the flight from PDX to DCA, misjudged the width of that tiny slice of space on display when an interior door is open; the back edge of the door where hinge meets wall.

She tried to ram herself through that space and got stuck, head on one side, little body frantically wiggling on the other like a tragic Pooh Bear. Unlike the A.A. Milne version, the beginning of my story was heralded by shrieking children ascending from the basement in a panic.

We tried moving the door, ever-so-slightly, to see if we could make that small space slightly wider. I had the bright idea of dousing the hamster with water to see if that might make her slide out.

By the time I returned, ten seconds later, it was too late. A puddle of blood had formed beneath her mouth. Her eyes were vacant.

I covered the hamster with a cloth and ushered the kids upstairs to the living room. We all cried. They suggested mouth to mouth. They suggested a pet hospital. They told me stories of people who have been technically dead then come back to life.

Here's the thing I realized about my kids. They don't accept death easily. Here's the second thing I realized; they were going to need to see the body.

Except, gruesomely, little Nixy's body was still stuck in the door.

It's funny how quickly our instinctual aversion to dead things sets in. What was alive and cuddly ten minutes ago quickly goes to an it, something we don't want to touch.

I found a spatula in the kitchen, (the long-handled variety) and maneuvered the hamster out from between door and wall, trying not to notice how said maneuvering made her head twist at Linda Blair angles. I laid her on a towel and told the kids they could say their good byes.

We mourned.


"I just want to go back to that moment before she ran in that direction and scoop her up," said my daughter. "I want it to not have happened."

I wondered if that's the way everyone feels after a tragedy, even one as minor as the death of a hamster.

Whenever bad things happen in my life, I too find myself longing for that moment right before the cloud of badness burst open to reveal what was lurking around the corner. Even in movies or novels I have a hard time with destruction. I don't like things to get messy or go too deeply under the surface.

Which makes it odd that my books focus on all those dark, uncomfortable places. Or maybe not so odd. If writing is a cheap form of therapy it stands to reason some of us writers would use our words to push on the sore spots, testing to see if they're still there and what it means when you press down hard and they hurt.

What about you?

Is your writing therapeutic?

And don't worry, I'll have part two to the hamster diaries coming up in the next post.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry about your hamster! That's really tragic.
Death is part of life though. We hate it, but it happens.
I did write of death in my first book and it sucked to do it. Probably an accumulation of the people I've lost in my life.

Beylit said...

So sorry about Nixy. The death of any pet is always hard, especially on kids.

I sometimes write death and dark things and in a way it does feel therapeutic. It is still hard to do though, especially if it is about characters I feel close to. Still easier to deal with on paper than in reality.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

So very sorry about Nixy. :( What a terrible way to lose her - and have your children see it as well. Your daughter's words really resonate with me. Whenever I hear about a tragic accident, I think about how badly the people might want to go back to those moments before and prevent it from happening.

Then morbidly, I reflect on how those moments before seem just like ordinary moments. We have no idea they are going to be "last moments."

ilima said...

:( so sad. And yes, I think writing is tremendously therapeutic.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Johanna,

Sorry about Nixy... It is sad and I know I am certainly one of those people who would LOVE to turn back the hands of time.

If I had a time turner (featured in Harry Potter books) it would always be on overhead. SO many times I'd go back and safe people or correct wrongs, etc, But sadly we can't go back in time, so we must deal with our loses, learn, and grow from them. It is part of life.

Yes, I write about hardships in life as well. And it is a great way to relieve our anxieties.



L. Diane Wolfe said...

Oh, that is terrible! Poor Nixy.

Do I think writing it therapy for things like this? Absolutely.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

That's a terrible way to go! We all wonder how we're going to "go," but I bet Nixy never contemplated a door as an agent of doom.

So sorry to hear about your family's loss. It's so hard on everybody, especially kids. Hugs to all.

And of course writing is therapeutic! The best kind of therapy there is. I was talking to a friend just yesterday who is going through a particularly bad time and I suggested she write her feelings down in a journal – putting it down on paper is the equivalent of throwing pain into the universe.

Botanist said...

That is so sad. It's true, tragic things happen in a flash and we agonize over the "if only"s. It's also important to accept death and mourn properly. With the number of animals we have, loss is an inevitable part of our lives and we always make sure to say "goodbye" properly.

Marjorie DeLuca said...

Such a sad story! It reminded me of my childhood when my kitten died. A traumatic event!

Barbara Watson said...

Oh, my heart hurts for you and your kids. Pets become like people and the loss of them is no less painful than the loss of people in our lives.

Julie Flanders said...

It broke my heart to read of your daughter's wish to go back in time and stop her from running in the direction of the door. If only! So sorry you lost your little friend.

Johanna Garth said...

Thank you all so much for your kinds wishes and words!!

Joanne Noragon said...

It's tough on a child when a pet dies and they understand woulda, coulda, shoulda.

I enjoy writing it all down. Then I go back and effect the giant deletes where "nobody needs to know that1"

Shell Flower said...

Poor little Nixie. sad. It probably doesn't help to say, at least it didn't happen right when school started, but I can't help thinking it. It's hard, but at least it is kind of a mini-lesson about death. Yes, kids, it's real--you don't get another life like in a video game. So maybe when they have to deal with the death of a human, they at least will understand grief a little more. My hand is raised on the writing for therapy, too. I definitely do that.

Carol Kilgore said...

So sorry for your loss. Pets, even hamsters, become family very quickly. I don't know if my writing is therapeutic or not. Maybe it should be if it isn't.

Diana Wilder said...

I'm sorry to read about Nixy. A love is a love, and losing one hurts. That was sad.

I remember once a coworker was nearly in tears at work because his family's guinea pig had died. They'd had him for six years and he was an affectionate little darling. No one seemed able to understand that he had lost a PET that had gladdened his family.


I am looking forward to the next post. And smiles to your family.

Diana at About Myself By Myself

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

I'm so sorry! Your poor kids. What a way to go.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Oh gosh, I'm so sorry about your pet! Losing a pet is definitely heartbreaking, and I'm sorry for your kids too. It's difficult because they're not just animals; they become part of the family. My childhood pet (my dog) died years ago, and I still miss her.

BECKY said...

I'm so sorry about your little hamster. You wrote about it so beautifully, Johanna. I certainly believe that my writing is therapeutic...I write memoir. Completing my book took SO long, sometimes because of all the partially hidden emotions, but because of that, it was wonderful, too. (I'm working on the sequel now.)

Ella said...

I am sad and sorry about Nixy! I too have had this moment lately of wishing for the before-the dark cloud lingered too long. It was like a chain of bad moments. It is part of life, but it is never easy. Yes, writing helps...

A Beer for the Shower said...

What an awful way to go. It doesn't matter even if it's a hamster, a loss is still a loss. I had lizards growing up, and even though they just sat there flicking their tongues it was still really sad to lose one.