For My Rocket, With Love

There is a song from the hit musical Hamilton that is entitled, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”.

I am living, and I am here to tell the story of Rocket, a nine-year-old Maltese who gave us the biggest joy of our lives. Rocket died last Wednesday, the 21st of October at 9:29am. However, just like Alexander Hamilton, I’d like to believe that Rocket’s legacy will live on forever; well, at least, for the rest of the lives of those he touched—mine, my Mom’s and my Dad’s the most. I am incredibly lucky to have witnessed Rocket’s story and to have been part of it for nine years.

This is not a eulogy, but more of like (a) a tribute to this wonder dog and (b) a result of how I cope, which is and has always been, to write. It is my first time to experience this immeasurable amount of pain and grief brought by loss. But all the tears and hurt are worth those nine amazing years filled with love and joy. Someone said that the grief of loss is the price we pay for the gift of love. It has never rung truer than it does right now.

I have been told to not regret, but how could I help it? Ever since I moved to Singapore, I already had a plan to prepare myself for The Worst Day. I would immediately book a ticket to Manila at the earliest flight possible, dash to the airport with no questions asked, just to be with Rocket on his final days. Of course, given the current pandemic, it does not help that borders are closed and that Manila has become one of the most high-risk countries in the world.

The Worst Day has already happened. Rocket is gone. Looking back on what else I could have done to save him is utterly useless. I am coming to terms with the fact that, perhaps, I have done everything I could with the situation handed to me. Waves of helplessness and fits of anger are still felt, and grief continues to surprise with its irregular form and shape, catching me off-guard in unexpected moments, pulling me towards all directions at once.

But despite everything, I had nine years with my Rocket. Before my move in 2016, we were inseparable. He was an extension of me, truly. I am immensely grateful to my amazing mother for taking care of Rocket so, so well and for loving him so, so much. We cannot describe the heartbreak we are going through right now, and what I know to be true is that we will always miss him and think of him. It will not get any easier knowing he is not with us anymore, but we will take it one day at a time.

Growing up, we’ve always had dogs at home, but I never had one of my own until I was 21. Rocket came into our world on the 23rd of April 2011; he was two months old. I was so careful around him at first; he was so tiny, fragile, yet filled with an explosive energy that made him invincible. Not long enough, we eventually found our rhythms and routines (especially with my  Mom). There were so many of the little things like the movement of his nose, his tiny paws casting shadows where he stood, the smell of his fur, and more, that I will carry with me forever.

I never knew such a tiny, fluffy, bear-like creature could change so many peoples’ lives for the better and for good. He softened and healed my family, to say the least. We got closer because of him.

Rocket was a funny pooch; he had his share of mood swings, his protectiveness over his toy balls, his relationship with his “wife”—a pillow given to us by an old friend that he humps on after his bi-weekly baths, and his lazy days when no amount of coaxing or wooing would get him to cuddle. However, what Rocket always was, is love. He was joy embodied in a bouncy cloud of white fur. His mind was so sharp, and he always seemed to understand us; he is family.

I get it now, that magical soul connection between dogs and humans.

The beginning of the end started when I received an urgent call from my Mom on Monday, the 19th of October. Rocket was at the vet, weak and refusing to eat. The vet told me that they had to perform a urinalysis, so my Mom said she would call me back. Right then and there, I had a feeling—I knew that this would be it. And true enough, when she called back, the vet said Rocket’s kidneys had already completely failed him, and that it was best for my Mom to bring him home and make sure he was comfortable. “You’re lucky if you have three days,” the vet said. That evening, at home, we had another video call, and Rocket gave me a smile. I felt peace in that moment, even though it was the last smile he would give me.

On his final day, he started showing signs of the absolute end at 3:30am. My mom went to the toilet to relieve him, and then she gently placed him back beside her on the bed. The evening before, I already had half a mind to fly back to Manila; I did not want to let Rocket down. I wanted to be there for him because he is worth it.

But on his final day, I woke up at 7:00am with no update from my Mom. 8:00am, still nothing. I was losing my mind; it was driving me nuts. I did my Morning Pages to pour everything out, and just when I wrapped up, a message from my Mom appeared on my phone, telling me not to fly out anymore because the signs of the absolute end already showed themselves.

I immediately video-called, and there he was. My Rocket. His eyes rounder than they ever were in the past couple of days. My Mom and Aunt were saying he became alert all of a sudden when he heard my voice, his tiny nose searching for my scent; with perky ears, his blind eyes focused on the screen.

I was a mess, of course. I talked to him with words, and we spoke with silence as we listened to his favorite song twice, eyes locking with a wordless exchange filled with boundless love and gratitude. It was a long call, 27 minutes to be exact. I told him everything. I told him that I was just kidding when I said I wanted him to wait for me some more. I said it was okay for him to let go, because watching him suffer like that really ripped me apart. He did nothing wrong, he did not deserve this pain.

Rocket stood, and then fell back. A sign that he needed to go to the toilet. My Mom said she would just relieve him then call me back. I told Rocket that I love him forever, and that he is the best dog in the universe, because he truly is.

Less than five minutes after our 27-minute call, a message from my Mom appeared: “He’s gone.” And that was it. The vet said we would be lucky if we had three more days, and we did. We had nine years, seven months, and seventeen days. We are so, so incredibly lucky. 

During his final days, I always joked with Rocket and teased him for not waiting for me. And me being me, I did the most morbid thing and pre-wrote the caption for my post to honor his life, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it when the day came. I also made a to-do list for The Worst Day and sent it to my Mom, cousin, and best friend in case The Worst Day happened, and I was not there.

But, I was there, and it was only because Rocket waited for me. He held on until we had our last video call before he let go. My initial caption for my post started with a: “Silly baby! You didn’t wait for me!”, but that is a lie because Rocket did wait for me. And what a wave of grief and love and sorrow and gratitude I have felt.

It’s funny how I am judging myself right now for resorting to social media, but I am sinking in a dark, cold sea, so far away from home and fighting with every breath to find whatever flotsam I can to keep me afloat. I want to fill every corner, nook, and cranny of my world with whatever I have left of Rocket, especially with this distance, to keep him alive, even if all I have left are memories.

It’s been four days since Rocket passed, and this week has been extremely long and incredibly short at the same time. I am just glad to know he didn’t suffer for too long, and I rest my peace knowing that wherever he is right now, neither is he blind, nor does he have any hardships to bear any longer. Rocket is my angel now, and I know that he is with me wherever I go, for always and forever. Many times during my travels, I always hoped I could have Rocket with me, running in the wind, swimming in the sea, or enjoying a cool walk in the park. I know he is doing exactly that right at this very moment.

Rocket, thank you for allowing me to bring you into my crazy world, and for entrusting me with your life. I celebrate you every day. Our years together may have flown by too quickly, but our bond will remain forever. I have proudly seen you grow from the wild, rascal puppy that you were, to the reassuring, wise senior dog you’ve become. Thank you for being the best welcome home and for being the best cuddle buddy. You have always been so sharp, so intelligent, so loving. I will miss you beyond measure every single day, and I look forward to being with you again in the next lifetime, splashing in the sea, soaring through the clouds, and flying to the moon together.

I love you, Rocket.

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