I will never forget the day my grandfather killed my dog. Yes, it was an accident, and yes, accidents do happen, but that does not change the fact that I will never again hear the jingling of her collar as she runs to greet me after school or feel her snuggled up against my leg as I drift off to sleep. While I know my grandfather deserves my forgiveness and never meant for this to happen, it’s difficult to choose forgiveness as I remember the heartbreaking moment when I’d realized we lost Maggie forever.
Let me set the scene. It’s December 30, 2018. My family and I are travelling down to Florida to ring in the new year and, per usual, we have left my nine year old Cavalier, Maggie, with my grandfather. We have done this countless times since she was a puppy and expected this time to be no different. Maggie sleeps most of the day and doesn’t even need to be walked. She’s content just sitting on your lap for hours on end. When my family went to pick out an eight week old puppy to call our own, I fell in love with her because while all the other puppies ran wildly around the kennel, she trotted over to me and snuggled up in my lap. But as we were boarding the plane, my dad got a call from my grandpa and my heart sank. Maggie had gotten into a stash of dark chocolate that he had left on the fireplace the night before while he was out to dinner, and eight hours later she was being rushed to the vet’s office.
What followed were two sleepless nights in my Florida hotel until I decided to fly home early without my family at 3:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day. I arrived in the I.C.U. scared and alone. What I found was a lifeless Maggie, cage-ridden and struggling to breath. The doctors informed me that she could not walk or eat and was not mentally present. Here I was, holding the limp body of the dog that I had begged my parents for, my best friend of nine years, who I had just seen less than three days ago in prime health.
Three days later, after my family was told Maggie would make a full recovery, we were called back into the I.C.U. at 4:00 a.m. Maggie was on oxygen and had taken a turn for the worst. I was exhausted and confused and angry. I felt robbed of the future years with my dog and the memories we had yet to make. I couldn’t shake the thought that this situation was completely avoidable. Though I rarely hold a grudge, it felt as though my relationship with my grandpa would never be the same. The act of forgiveness felt impossible even though I knew this whole situation was an accident. Five hours later, my family was rushed to Maggie’s side as her heart stopped beating. The I.C.U. flooded with frantic nurses as my mom begged them to do CPR. But the chocolate she had eaten was too much for her small 13 pound body. I gave Maggie one last kiss and said goodbye.
If my grandpa had brought Maggie to the hospital when she ate the chocolate, she would be sitting next to me on her special blanket as I write this. Despite the fact that he knows dogs are strictly forbidden from eating chocolate, he waited eight hours and the toxins were able to work their way into her system irreversibly. Now, sitting next to me on my bed is her collar and favorite stuffed animal.
A large hole in my heart, an empty dog bed, and $14,000 later, I’m not sure if I can ever look at my grandpa in the same way. I am his first grandchild–his Kaela Jean, his superstar–and he is my grandpa, who gives the best hugs and tells me my bad poetry is beautiful. He’s attended my sports games, graduations, and talent shows. He’s never failed to be my biggest fan. Yet he is also the person who left out the dish of dark chocolate on the fireplace that killed my dog and a part of me.
Morally, I want to forgive him. It’s what’s right, and it’s how my parents raised me. It was an accident and he did not mean for this to happen; therefore, forgiveness is due. But the thought of that makes me sick to my stomach. Each time I try to begin to forgive him, I am reminded that Maggie is truly gone and never coming back. My heart breaks all over again and I am forced to begin healing all over again. The feeling of heartbreak shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. I’m left with the haunting question: where do we draw the line for forgiveness? I don’t know if I can forgive my grandpa for this, but I can acknowledge his apologies. Forgiveness feels like I am pardoning or excusing his actions, and while I may be able to do that someday in the future, I am not able to now.
We are bombarded with the cliche “forgive and forget.” We see it in motivational books on how to live a better life, intertwined in the plotlines of children shows, in popular music, and in our respective religious practices. We see it almost everyday in the media, when a murder victim’s family forgives the murderer in hopes that they will find peace or when the wife forgives her husband for having an affair so that their marriage won’t suffer. Forgiveness is preached in our society, but I am beginning to see that it is much easier said than done. I know in my heart that I will eventually forgive my grandpa, even if it takes years and a few of those motivational books for my heart to begin to heal.
Kaela Aalto is a three-year Upper from North Reading, Mass. and an Associate Copy Editor for The Phillipian. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.