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 10 years ago almost to the date. February of 2010, we painted our master bedroom a taupe brown neutral color that I loved. Interestingly enough, it was the same paint color that was in my former in-laws Chicago condo. I had texted my former mother-in-law a few weeks prior to ask her the name of the color. I don’t remember the name now but we loved it in our room for many years.
I decided we needed to freshen up our bedroom walls this past fall, inspired by how easy it was to paint Ella’s room in August but it got put off by the holidays, bad weather, illness, and the like.
When I finally got around to it, it was the beginning of February. We’ve been experiencing a tame winter here, so painting was ideal because I could open windows to air out the room.
A few weeks before this, we noticed that Nibbles was starting to stink something horrible. Like a rotting fruit smell. I originally thought it might have been the timothy biscuits we gave him for Christmas and maybe he was having trouble digesting them. So we threw away the biscuits and just stuck to his normal grain food, occasional fruits, and veggies as well as 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.
While I was painting our room on day one, singing loudly to beloved songs via an 80s playlist I had created on Spotify, Nibbles was dying a couple of rooms away 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 indeed dying and it sticks with me every time I look at our new-to-us bedroom.
I mean, it was a hamster for God’s sake! Not a dog or a cat who is with you all of the time, snuggling against your legs, following you around the house, sharing snacks with you.
When I began painting our room, I noticed how much lighter this paint was. Like significantly lighter. To the point that I began realizing that this was a much larger undertaking than I had originally planned. The two gallons of paint we had weren’t going to cut it and the thought of this being a several day project rather than a one day project, got me stressed.
It was taking forever and I started to debate my painting skills. Why was this room so much harder? Why is it taking so much longer? I felt like I had been painting for weeks rather than a day. I began this project on a Thursday and it was finished by Sunday night. Not horrible but for some reason, it felt longer.
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.
The night before this, Mike, Ellie and I were watching Back to the Future on television. She had never seen it before and we knew she would love it. (She did). While we were watching, Mike brought Nibbles downstairs with us to snuggle. We had the dog asleep on the couch next to us, Nibbles on my chest under a blanket (not like himself at all to “snuggle” or to not squirm as rodents do), and our parakeet, Joy, on Ella’s shoulder.
Watching Back to the Future.
It was honestly the best Saturday night ever.
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.
On Monday morning, I checked in on him as I always do every morning for the past year and a half. I have checked to make sure he is alive every morning since he came into our lives. I knew how short a lifespan of a hamster was and I was always a little on edge. Kind of waiting for that awful day, I guess.
I gently touched his back and he moved a bit. I filled his food dish, talked quietly to him, and left the room. 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.
So I got some Rustoleum Eden green spray paint and began to spray paint the nightstands that morning. Before co-op, dentist, friends, dinner, etc..
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.
A week before this, I had woken in the night unexpectedly and ran to Ella’s room. She snoring lightly and Nibbles buried underneath his paper bedding. He used to stay up all night running on his wheel. Sometimes his squeaky wheel would wake Mike and me up from down the hall. To see him running furiously on his wheel made me smile, even at 3 in the morning. I couldn’t get mad at our nocturnal friend, he was only doing what was natural to him. But the night I ran in unexpectedly, he was sound asleep. I even wondered aloud, when was the last time you were running on your wheel? Have you been eating? Oh God, Nibs, are you dying? And I started to cry softly as not to wake Ellie.
In hindsight, I must have felt like it was coming?
The next morning was a Tuesday, Mike’s day off. I had a neurologist appointment that I couldn’t miss because it had been rescheduled twice and it takes months to get in. I had to go. When I woke up that morning and went into Ella’s room, Nibbles was laying on top of his bedding, breathing slowly. He never did this, always burrowing himself in his bedding. So Mike and Ella decided to take him in that morning to sick call at the vet. Before they left, Mike said to me “maybe say goodbye just in case”.
I was shocked. Why? He isn’t dying! He’s just sick. They’ll fix him with medication.
But I petted his fur and told him I loved him and would see him when I got home from the neurologist.
He passed away in Ella’s arms 10 minutes later in the car on the way.
I am struggling with guilt. Did we kill him inadvertently? Did the paint fumes do him in? Did the change in his living environment make him lose hope? What about that new bedding? I know we can go over and over about it and most likely he was dying before all of those changes. But when you are responsible for another life big or small, the loss is felt hard. So while I am happy to have a lighter brighter room, I am also sad. That I will forever associate this change with the death of a beloved pet.
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.
The thing is, it looks silly to sob about a dead hamster; at least to the outside world. Inside our home for the past couple of weeks, we have been grieving. Quietly, together, and alone too. Nibbles came into our home the day after Anna went away to 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 maybe me too), getting her through some seriously hard times thereafter. He was so much more than just a hamster.
I recently found out that a blogging acquaintance’s 21-year-old son passed away and I felt overwhelmingly guilty that I was feeling profound sadness over a rodent when this woman had lost her son.
But here’s the thing, it is a loss. His soul took up residence in our home (and hearts) for 18 months. No matter how long that soul is in your life. No matter how small the soul was.