Marcy asked that I share with you my experiences during and reflections on recently losing my bunny Hamlin.
On Losing a Bunny - For Hamlin
On July 10, 2008, I lost Hamlin, my first true bunny love. I will grieve all of my rabbits when their time in my care comes to an end, as with all of our pets, each holds a special place in our hearts. But I always knew that Hamlin would be the hardest to let go. I worried about him the most. He was the most reserved of the four - he would run and play only if no bunnies or people were around. He did not seem to have any needs except the basics and to be near his love, Nutella. All of my rabbits have nicknames, but Hamlin was the only one I called “the bunny of my heart.” But none of this describes why he was so special. He was special because he was Hamlin, my “angel with fur.”
I laid in bed in the dark and said to my boyfriend Alex, “How could one four pound ball of fur have such a great impact on my life?” And in the devastation of his passing, I have been able to hold onto the knowledge that as much pain as I am in now, Hamlin brought at least ten times as much joy into my life. It causes me to stop and consider just why it is that some of us on this earth feel such deep love and compassion for animals. I speculate that it is because those few of us who allow animals to have such a profound effect on our lives are the ones who are able to recognize the true wisdom of animals. We can’t possibly understand it, although at times we get glimpses of it that are as fleeting as a whisker brushing against a cheek or the memory of a paw resting gently on our thigh.
I will live forever with the guilt that I was not with Hamlin when he died. On Wednesday night, Alex noticed that Hamlin was not eating the piece of apple Alex had offered. Hamlin was persnickety at times, so I did not think too much of it. After dinner, I brought Hamlin to the couch and turned him on his back so that I could feel his tummy. It seemed hard and lumpy. I asked Alex to bring in Lennon Pierre so that I could feel his stomach and compare. There was something wrong with Hamlin. We put him on the floor and offered two other types of treats. Hamlin hopped from behind the chair to the middle of the room. He sat as though he was protecting himself. Alex offered to take Hamlin to the vet in the morning, but I told him that we needed to go now. At the emergency room, the vet on duty told us that Hamlin did have bloat and that as rabbits are rabbits, she gave him a very guarded prognosis. They allowed me to go into the back room to say bye
for the night. I pet Hamlin, huddled in the back of his cage, and told him that I loved him and that I would see him tomorrow. But I wouldn’t see him again.
Thursday is my early day at work and Alex agreed to pick Hamlin up. I slept surprisingly well that night thinking that we had caught his illness in time. Hadn’t Alex called me that day and said that Hamlin was doing very un-Hamlin like mini-binkies in the living room, showing off for the rabbit we were bunny sitting? Interestingly, it was Alex whose dreams were filled with Hamlin that night. Around 6:30 the next morning, as I was leaving for work, I called the vet. She said that they had removed a large amount of hair and dried food from Hamlin’s stomach and treated him for dehydration. His blood work looked normal, and she believed he was feeling better as he was putting up a fight when they did the last decompression on his stomach. They were about to do one more.
Alex called me at 7:30, just as I was about to go into a meeting. The emergency vet suggested that Alex take Hamlin to VCA because he would need surgery for his blockage. I cried at my desk and tried to collect myself. When my meeting was finished, I called Alex. I wanted to speak with him as I had decided that I did not want Hamlin to have surgery. I knew that the survival rate for abdominal surgeries on rabbits was abysmally low, and I could not stand to think of Hamlin dying cut open on a table, unconscious and all alone. Though I would have done anything to save him, this did not seem like an option.
Alex did not answer his phone. I called again. Then I called VCA. Alex was checking out and they put him on the phone. He told me that the vet said Hamlin did not have a blockage, and they would continue to treat hm as they had at the emergency clinic. However, there was a possibility that when VCA closed at nine that evening, I would have to bring him back to the emergency clinic. I felt calmer - we had a course of action and the prognosis was good. A short time later, the vet called me to tell me that Hamlin had had an unexplained episode - he had lost color and gone limp and required oxygen to revive. The vet wanted to know if I approved resuscitation or if they should just let him go. I couldn’t answer her - I was choked up and could not speak. Eventually, I was able to tell her that of course I wanted him to be resuscitated. I thought he had collapsed because he had spent so much time being treated and that his little body was exhausted and stressed. I knew that I could not subject Hamlin to another night alone and scared at the emergency vet.
While not known for being indecisive, I often waffle when trying to make the right decision. Or choosing the right color wrapping paper and matching bow. Or choosing spaghetti sauce at the supermarket. It is part of my private rather than public persona and I would have thought that the decisions concerning Hamlin’s health would have been agonizing ones. But they weren’t. I simply knew the right course of action. I wondered if I was being guided by Hamlin’s wisdom. I have often thought that we in the West value longevity over quality of life, and as a Westerner I would have thought I would have defaulted naturally to doing everything to give Hamlin a shot at living another day. I knew that surgery would not save him. And I knew that if VCA could not give him a clean bill of health, he would be better off coming home, getting to eat and escaping the stress. It is hard not to believe that I was in communication with Hamlin during this time. However, if it was only my inner wisdom influencing my decisions, then it wasn’t that wisdom guided by love and a true desire to do what was best for Hamlin, and hadn’t I learned that from him?
To be safe, I called Marcy and shared my thoughts with her. Although I was looking for validation for the choices I might have had to make in the near future, as I spoke with her, I realized that I did not need validation. Marcy assured me that what I felt in my gut, was right, and she urged me to try to connect with Hamlin. She suggested I find a quiet place in my office and picture myself in white light. She told me to picture myself going to Hamlin and touching him with love, not a fearful love, but a true and whole love. I found an empty office and closed my eyes. I imagined myself riding the Bart train to Oakland and walking into the back room of VCA. When I saw Hamlin, imagination left and something else took over. I felt my physical self break into a huge smile. Just looking at him brought me indescribable joy. Then we were on a blanket in meadow. Nutella arrived and she frolicked and then snuggled with Hamlin and I on the blanket.
Though only a very short time passed for me in the office, it felt as though Hamlin, Nutella and I had spent hours in the meadow. I told Hamlin that it was time to go back. Nutella left and I put Hamlin in a basket and took him back to VCA. As I was putting Hamlin back into his cage, I took a green shawl from around my shoulders - a shawl I didn’t remember wearing in the meadow, although it was a color representative of warm grass- and I wrapped Hamlin in it. As I tucked the shawl around Hamlin, it changed from green to a thermal transparent, similar to a heat mirage. I left the quiet office feeling more clam than I had when I entered. Shortly thereafter, I received another call from the vet - she told me that Hamlin had had another episode and his heart rate was low. She told me that I should come now. As it turned out, I was spared any decisions.
Alone, in my living room, I have cried and rocked and sobbed, “I just want him back, I just want him back, I just want him back.” But more often I have pleaded for one more day or one more hour. And while my need for just a little time is so overwhelming, I know that it would serve no purpose. We could not love each other more in one day or one hour. I would not miss him any less were that time granted. I was in two minds as I rushed to see Hamlin at VCA. There was the half that thought my being there would somehow cure him, and if that I could take him home he would be alright. And there was the half that pleaded with him to wait so that I could say goodbye. But I could not have saved him, and he could not wait. I was hurt that he had not waited - I had focused on him my entire Bart ride and sent him love and companionship and comfort and I thought that he knew I was coming. I have to wonder if Hamlin had not in fact given me
a beautiful gift. I could not stand the thought of his being alone and scared. I was guilt stricken and saddened when I arrived at VCA, and after being escorted into an exam room, the doctor told me that she had bad news. I wonder, now, if there could have been any solace in being able to say goodbye while Hamlin was still alive, to stand by, helpless while the flame of his life dwindled to a thin wisp of smoke. Could the thought that I had comforted him through his last moments have actually comforted me through the pain of not being able to save him myself. Instead, I am left knowing that I placed him in the most capable and caring of hands, and that Dr. Arntz and Dr. Sorem did everything possible to save him. And there is, in the quagmire of self doubt surrounding the loss of a pet, true solace in that.
I did get to see Hamlin one last time. When the vet asked if I would like to see him, I didn’t hesitate to say yes, but there was fear in the back of my mind. She brought him in wrapped in a grey blanket and laid him gently on the table and left the room. I unwrapped him and pet his back and side, as though discovering for the first time how soft his fur was. I watched my fingers run through the brilliant white and shiny midnight black fur. He was so beautiful. I touched his little tail and found the tiny spots. I spent most of my time with him stroking his short dwarf-like ears. I kissed the scar on his nose that showed pink through the short white fur. I looked into his eyes, and though they were no longer Hamlin’s eyes, they were the same deep brown I has fallen in love with many years ago. And I cried.
Although we are constantly reminded of the fragility of life, I could not fathom how he could be dead, that something I had held and spoke to and kissed was no longer alive. How could his heart have stopped? How could he have breathed his last breath? We who love rabbits and share that love with others know only too well how delicate their health can be. I educate people on rabbit care and urge them to take their pets to the vet at the fist sign of any illness. I know dedicated rabbit parents who have lost rabbits in similar ways, and I have felt their pain, but this is something that happens to other people and rabbits. I never believed that this could happen to my own bunny. I had known that Hamlin was an older rabbit, and had survived terrible times before he arrived at SaveABunny and eventually at my home. Perhaps it was this survival that fueled my arrogance. I had imagined what it would feel like to lose Hamlin, and had in some ways tried to
prepare myself for his eventual passing. But if I am to be truthful, I did not really think that he would ever die.
I don’t know if I believe in heaven. I don’t know if I believe in spirits or in shamanic journeys or the rainbow bridge. But I do know that I will see Hamlin again. As the rawness of my pain begins to smooth, I will begin to see Hamlin in Nutella, Sean and Lennon Pierre. I will see Hamlin in the bunnies that are yet to enter my life. And if I am so blessed, I will see Hamlin in my children. I will see Hamlin in everything that I consider sacred and good and all that I would fight to protect. Perhaps that is the essence of the afterlife; perhaps if you have been truly loved, that is how you live forever.
What has brought me comfort in the past week are the depictions of Hamlin reflected back to me by my circle of friends and family. Joy called Hamlin “a distinguished old gentleman bunny.” Heather wrote that if she was feeling a hollowness at hearing of Hamlin’s death, she couldn’t imagine how I must feel. She went on to say that Hamlin had been “a cool little guy.” My mother’s words were the most touching. Over the phone she said that she knew how much I loved my bunnies and the reason she knew was that even though she had never met them, she could talk about each of their personalities, likes and dislikes after listening to me speak of them for so many years. Everyone assured me that Hamlin had been lucky to have been loved by me. They reminded me of memories that I will be able to cherish for a lifetime. But even the best memories, like the lush Napa grapes freshly picked and crushed to wine, are currently unpalatable. They
will, overtime, mellow, the acridity tempered by the buttery sweetness of love and the lush velvetiness of laughter, with notes of forgiveness. But always, there will be the just barely discernable bite of longing.
I know that the next days and weeks and months will yield tears at unexpected times. I have thought about what I might tell anyone who might ask me why I am crying. I don’t want to tell anyone that I am crying because my rabbit recently passed away. Most people do not understand what loving a rabbit really means, and I can’t stand the unintentional slight from an expression that asks, “That’s all?” I can’t dishonor all that Hamlin was and all that he still is by the dismissal of strangers. But if someone does happen to ask me what is wrong when the uncontrollable sense of loss washes over me once again, I will tell them the truth. I will tell them that I am mourning the death of a very close friend.