I wrote this post two days after our hamster died. I preface this post with that statement because I don’t want you all to worry about me. Sobbing about a dead hamster two weeks later. Not that there is anything wrong with that but I needed to write this out at that moment and I am just sharing it now.
Also, this trend of sad stories isn’t going to be the direction my blog is headed. I feel like you’re going to bail if I write one more sad or touching tale. I swear more funny shit is on the way.
We had last painted our bedroom about ten years ago. We painted it a taupe color that I loved. Interestingly, it was the same paint color that was in my ex in-laws’ condo. I had texted my former mother-in-law a few weeks before to ask her what the name of the color was. I can’t recall the name, but it was a favorite for many years.
I decided we needed to freshen up our bedroom walls this past fall, inspired by how easy it was to repaint Ella’s room in August, but it got put off by the holidays, bad weather, illness, and other factors. It was the beginning of February when I finally got around to it. We’ve had a mild winter here, so painting was ideal because I could open windows to air out the room.
We noticed Ella’s hamster Nibbles was starting to smell like rotting fruit a few weeks before this. I initially thought it was the timothy biscuits we got him for Christmas, and that he was having difficulty digesting them. So we threw away the biscuits and went back to his regular grain food, occasional fruits and veggies, and his beloved yogurt treats every night before bed.
But the smell kept on persisting to the point of having to keep Ella’s bedroom (where he lived) closed so that the smell of poop or pee or rotting fruit wouldn’t seep out into the rest of the house. This was highly unusual, by the way. In the entire time we’ve had Nibbles, he never smelled like this. We cleaned his cage religiously every Sunday (no pun intended), so to say he was the cleanest hamster around is an understatement.
A week later we went to the pet store and found paper bedding similar to what we had been using all along but this had scent control. We lined his cage with it and noticed the smell improved almost immediately. So we patted ourselves on the back for that discovery and moved on with life.
Like taping bedrooms in preparation for painting.
I mean, the color wasn’t horrible before but there were dings and dents all over, the color was getting dingy and we needed a change.
A week after putting the new bedding into Nibbles cage, we noticed a loud scratching noise one evening. Ella said he was struggling to get up into the tube that led to his “apartment”.
Since Nibbles first came into our lives, he had been living in a cage in Ellie’s room. At the top of the cage was a little compartment where he slept each night and we lovingly called it his apartment. He slept there every night without fail since his first night with us. So when he couldn’t get up the tube to his apartment, we assumed it was because he was too chubby to fit.
He made himself a bed each night at the base of the tube and it was just kind of sad. I mean, he had the best hamster life ever but as someone who loves her bed, it made me desperately sad for him.
So after a few nights of him having to camp out at the base of the tube, Mike and Ella went to the pet store and talked to one of the people there. The girl there told them that he was indeed too fat to fit and needed a larger environment. And we believed her because she had several hamsters at home, even one with special needs. God bless people like this, for real.
Anyway, she directed them towards a glass aquarium for Nibbles. That he didn’t need tubes anymore and that this aquarium is only $20, much cheaper than a traditional hamster cage.
Nibbles had been in his aquarium for about a week the day I started painting our room.
Our hamster was dying a few rooms away when I was painting our bedroom on day one, singing loudly to favorite songs from an 80s playlist I’d made on Spotify, and I’m having trouble forgetting that. Of course, I had no idea he was dying at the time but now I realize that he was, and it haunts me every time I walk into our “new” bedroom.
Of course, I had no idea he was dying at the time but now, I realize that he was indeed dying and it sticks with me every time I look at our new-to-us bedroom.
For God’s sake, it was a hamster! Not a dog or a cat who is always with you, snuggling against your legs, following you around the house, sharing snacks with you.
When I first started painting our room, I was struck by how much lighter this paint was. Like significantly lighter. To the point where I realized this was a much larger undertaking than I had anticipated. The two gallons of paint we had weren’t going to be enough, and the thought of this being a multi-day project rather than a one-day project made me nervous.
It was taking forever, and I started to question my painting abilities. Why was this room so difficult? Why is it taking so much longer than last time? I began on a Thursday and finished by Sunday night. It wasn’t terrible, but it felt longer for some reason.
Mike had to finish it on a Sunday morning (before church even!) because I just didn’t have it in me. I had lost my mojo.
Mike, Ella, and I had been watching Back to the Future the night before. While we were watching, Mike brought Nibbles downstairs to snuggle with us. We had the dog asleep next to us on the couch, Nibbles on my chest under a blanket, and Joy, our parakeet, on Ella’s shoulder. It was an awesome Saturday night.
It was also when I took this picture of him:
I felt like he was sick and that if he didn’t feel better by Tuesday (Mike’s day off), we would take him to the vet.
Monday was a busy day. Ella had a dentist appointment, then homeschool co-op where I would be co-teaching a class, then driving one of her classmates home 30 minutes away and back, and then having her best friend over in the evening for dinner.
So Tuesday we would go to the vet if he wasn’t feeling better.
I checked in on him on Monday morning, as I had done every morning for the past year and a half. Every morning since he entered our lives, I have checked to see if he is still alive. I was always on edge since I understood how short a hamster’s life span was. But I also knew how important Nibbles is to Ella, so I was bracing for her. Maybe attempting to soften the blow, to prevent heartbreak even though it is impossible.
A week ago, I awoke unexpectedly in the middle of the night and walked into Ella’s room. Nibbles was buried underneath his paper bedding while she snored softly in the bed next to him. He used to stay up all night running on his wheel. His squeaky wheel would occasionally wake me up from down the hall. I couldn’t be upset at our nocturnal friend, he was merely doing what came natural to him. But that night, he was sound asleep. I even said aloud, when was the last time you ran on your wheel? And I began to cry.
When I gently touched his back, he moved a little. I refilled his food dish, spoke quietly to him, and then left the room. I also ran to Home Depot that morning to get spray paint. Because it turns out our room is too white, so I planned on painting our nightstands. Sigh.
That morning I also ran to Home Depot to get spray paint. I was painting our nightstands because it turns out our room was too white.
On Monday night, after all of the happenings of that busy day and after Mike got home from his long workday, he brought Nibbles to me and said, “he isn’t doing well”. He was struggling with his breath and lethargic. He hadn’t eaten his food from that morning. The food he normally ate immediately after me filling the bowl.
I held him, cried, and told him to hang on until the next morning and felt intense guilt that in the busyness of that day, I hadn’t noticed that he hadn’t eaten or that he wasn’t really moving around.
Nibbles was laying on top of his bedding, breathing slowly, when I went into Ella’s room the next morning. Mike and Ella decided to take him to sick call at the vet that morning. Before they left, Mike whispered to me before they left, “maybe say goodbye to him just in case.”
I was shocked.
No! No goodbye! He isn’t dying! He’s just sick.
I stroked his fur and told him I loved him and that I would see him when they got home.
I received a text 10 minutes later. On the way to the vet, he died in Ella’s arms.
A couple of days after he died, I got a reminder from Amazon that the yogurt bites he loved were on sale.
It broke my fucking heart.
I am struggling with guilt. Did we kill him inadvertently? Did the paint fumes do him in? What about that new bedding? Realistically, I know he was dying before all of those changes. But when you are responsible for another life, no matter how big or small, the loss is felt deeply. So while I’m glad to have a lighter, brighter bedroom, I’m also sad. That I will forever associate this change with the death of a beloved pet.
The thing is, crying over a dead hamster appears ridiculous to the rest of the world. We’ve been grieving inside our house for the past few weeks. Quietly, together, and also alone. Nibbles moved into our house the day after Anna left for college. Was he a replacement for her? Lord no. But for Ellie, it was a definite coping mechanism. Nibbles was truly a support animal for her (and possibly for me as well), helping us get through some very difficult times after that. He was so much more than just a hamster.
I recently learned that a blogging acquaintance’s 21-year-old son had died, and I felt enormously horrible for experiencing such anguish over a rodent when this woman had lost her son.
For 18 months, our Nibbles soul took up residence in our home and hearts. It makes no difference how long that soul is in your life. It makes no difference how much space the soul takes up. There is no shame in loss.