I had dreaded this time coming and now it was here. I wanted to hold on to you but knew I could not. “I’m sorry,” said the vet at your two-week appointment following surgery, “the tumor is already growing back. I was hoping that she would have more time. I’m sorry.” So we took you home to live our last chapter together.
None of us get to live forever and at 14 you had already lived two years longer than the average lifespan for a Labrador Retriever. Your world had already slowly been growing smaller – the last time you could jump up on the bed, getting lost in the woods when you were becoming deaf, the last long hike, the last walks in deep snow, then needing your caboose picked up and put in the car to go to work each day. As the gray spread on your muzzle and paws you were clearly growing stiffer and had pain in your rear knees. You never complained. And always you were fully present with your gentle, loving spirit.
With each adjustment, we adjusted too. At first we’d pick up your back-end so you could nap on the bed on top of the “doggy blanket” placed there to protect the down comforter you so loved to snuggle into. Then it was a thicker dog bed with extra layers. We walked woods roads instead of mountains so you could come. We made sure to walk in sight of you when in the woods so you wouldn’t get lost. Then we shortened our daily walking route and then slowed down the pace. I remembered slowly walking the same route with your boy when he was a curious toddler and the patience required to walk so slowly felt familiar.
We expect the extra care and messiness with the beginning of life but rarely do we talk about the ending. The pace is similar but rather than a young life beginning and gaining momentum with each new milestone, it is an old life slowing down and letting go.
The hardest thing was the watching. How is she today? Moving well, not moving? Eating well, not eating? In pain? How much pain? Is she mostly comfortable? Is she enjoying herself? Sleeping though the night? In between the watching we just lived and loved you. Short walks, various concoctions of soft food for you to eat (mashed date with coconut oil was your favorite!), you coming to work every day, a trip north to visit your Grammy and Grampa, ear rubs, hanging out, you sleeping on your bed next to ours as you had done for the past 14 years.
We wanted you to live and to share our love with you as long as we could but not past the point where your suffering became too great. We did not want to make a decision about when your life should end. We prayed for the doggy angels to come at just the right moment while you were sleeping. We promised to take good care of you for as long as you wanted to be here but also let you know that it would be okay when you decided to go.
We thought the day had come when you walked away from a full bowl of food. Something you never did since you ate every meal as if you hadn’t eaten in days. “We can’t let her starve to death!”, I said. Then we laughed with relief when we realized it was because the pain medicine I had crushed into your food tasted terrible! You happily ate your non-contaminated food. “A stay of execution”, M joked. A moment of morbid comic relief that helps when living under pressure.
But the eating became harder. The tumor in your mouth was growing. You had moments that were clearly distressing and it our hearts broke to see you suffer. But then the moments would be over and you’d come for a walk or happily go to work or lean in for an ear rub. You would relax and breathe a contented sigh when we laid down on the floor to hang out with you.
Then you seemed to rebound a bit. Though we noticed your face starting to swell you were eating with more enthusiasm and we wondered if some of the drainage was perhaps from a slow-growing infection from the surgery and we put you back on the antibiotics. It seemed to help. A bit of cautious hopefulness bubbled up. Do we dare to hope? We didn’t know what to expect from the cancer or really understand what we were seeing so we made an appointment for a Tuesday to check in with the vet. On Monday you started the day with enthusiasm and ate down your breakfast almost like the old Rose and were at the door ready to go to work. It’s going to be a good day!
But then, just like that, it wasn’t. You were having greater moments of distress. I urged M to share the cream from the middle of the donut he was eating with you. “It could be her last treat”, I say. “You keep talking like that,” said our employee. Then a frantic call to the vet and a late afternoon visit. You trotted right in. A sign of hope? Then the conversation, the checking, more conversation. “No, no radiation,” we say. Then it is settled. As the vet and technician left the room to prepare you had another bout of clear distress. I gently wrapped my arms around your chest with my check brushing against your neck. “No worries sweet girl. It is almost over. No more suffering.” And then it was done. The tears poured down as you left your body and we said good-bye stroking your soft fur one last time.
Other posts about Rose:
Sad good-byes to the best dog in the world (more pictures of Rose)
Dog Time (poem)
Woods walk before the storm (Her last woods walk this past December.)