Not too old to die, but SO hard to beat…
My BFF had to put her sweet dog Duke down this week. It was something they were aware wasn’t likely too far off, but anyone who has been there knows that no matter how “prepared” you technically are- you are never ready and there is never a best time… Not really.
I have knelt across from those huge eyes, pained and ready, three times. I have held the tears behind a dam of self-control until that sweet soul took their last breath. I have heard it said that crying is cathartic and there have been so many times in my life when, amidst sobs and a salted downpour upon my cheeks, I have felt this to be true- when I’ve had to say goodbye this way however, it has felt gut wrenchingly far from catharsis.
We were living in upstate New York when my husband decided to make my dreams come true, and get a puppy. We responded to a newspaper ad (because I’m dating not only this post, but us) for a yellow lab. We drove out into the rolling hilled farm land and turned down a long dirt driveway. (In case anyone is unclear about a timeline, we did use mapquest to get there… Which we had to print, on paper. We felt super high tech and advanced. Also, we did have cell phones. They were PHONES. You used them to talk.) My husband was a self proclaimed cat lover and so the willingness for a dog was a huge sacrifice that did not go unnoticed. The very second that pudgy ball of yellow fur came rolling down the hill, so anxious to greet us, he internally shredded his Cat Lover club card and switched over to the canine party. His heart was stolen but that little ball of sleepy love!
We named her Makaila, and honestly I have no idea why. There were no name contenders, on that long drive, but the second we held her it just came out- Makaila. Makaila was that puppy from the little golden book- she slept all of the time. She slept everywhere. We have dozens and dozens of photos (on film) of her asleep in the oddest places. Makaila came to us a little tummy sick, which turned out to be a theme of sensitive stomach problems, as she grew. Also, when I say she “grew”, I mean she weighed 82 pounds the day she turned 1, and was a whopping 120 pounds the day we put her down. For nine beautiful years that beautiful girl taught us so much about love and loyalty. She made us laugh harder than anything had. She walked us down the aisle of becoming parents and fell head over heels in love with absolutely any human being who breathed within a 25 foot radius of where she stood. (also, if you were say, 27 feet away, she’d love you too. 50 ft… 100 miles. She didn’t care. Makaila’s earthly mission was to love all of the people.)
She was just under a year old when we learned that not only did Makaila have no yellow lab in her, (we were so confused about her fur, her looks, her sensitive digestive system. It just made no sense) but our vet was certain she was a Golden Retriever. One hundred percent of everything indicated this breed. Well, almost everything- she was gigantic. (one could speculate horse for a father? Cow? Buffalo? I digress…) Through a series of other, vet led, revelations we came to assume she’d been the product of a puppy mill.
We always made the best choices we could for her. Because she was our first “baby”, we were very thorough and intentional about her grooming, bathing, diet, etc. Even as our family grew and changed, when ever I daydreamed about things like grey hair, retirement and luxurious family vacations, Makaila was there beside us.
In June of 2011 we threw Makaila a big birthday bash. (Yep, we are those people!) We made a wide array of pupcakes, decorated the back yard, made and bought a bunch of kids and canine outdoor games. It was to be a time! The day before the bash, Chw and I ran to the pet store to pick up a few supplies for the dog-goodie bags. While there we ran into a Blue Buffalo dog food distributer. We’d been hearing a lot about this brand and so, (me being who I am) I decided to chat with the guy for awhile. It was a great and informative conversation up until the point when he asked 2 seemingly innocent questions:
1.) What breed is your dog? (Golden Retriever. We left out that she was likely the bastard child of a rogue, 2 ton farm animal)
2.) How big is she? (The odd tone and hesitation in his second question made me wonder if perhaps he already knew this about her bio-dad)
It was with the delivery of our second answer that his face fell for a brief moment before he shook it slightly and regained composure. I wouldn’t let it go though, (remember- me being me and all) and he finally said that he was really surprised she was turning 9. He couldn’t believe she’d made it to 8. Spraying us with far too many details about Golden Retriever trivia, he sort of devastated our party moods.
The next day, at her soiree, Makaila had the time of her life. She devoured her (sensitive stomach friendly) “smash” cake. She played and played and played. She was so happy and so tired, her only real complaint being that we’d invited other dogs when no one had wanted them there, it was a party for humans- no dogs allowed. Despite all of her fun and her doggy smiles and youthful energy, all we could think about was the ticking time of her life. While friends smiled at her silly cake consuming antics, my eyes filled with tears. This could be the last time I see her devour a cake. (it was the first) When she opened a present, I cried- she probably wouldn’t even make it to Christmas…
In August Makaila seemed like she couldn’t pee. It was fast. We took her in and our vet proceeded to run tests and confirm that she had cancer. There was a tumor blocking her bladder. Surgery would prolong her life by a few months, but she didn’t recommend it. (I will use this little parenthesis corner of the web to also point out that the vet almost scoffed when she confirmed our sweet girl had cancer, then stating “It’s not a shock since she’s a Golden. Golden Retrievers ARE cancer factories.” Wait- what?!?!?)
We took her home, eerily reflecting back on the two months spanning her birthday and this day. We gave her one last gift, a week filled with DQ ice cream cones, (Gross) Moist and Meaty dog food, car rides and all of the things she loved so much. There was no question- she said goodbye to this world a very happy girl who knew beyond a doubt she was so loved! Her ashes were scattered at a Christmas tree farm, where families frequent every holiday season, to play, choose a tree and make holiday memories. There are no words to explain how much she would have LOVED this…
I became a mom with Makaila by my side. I wrote my first novel with her laying at my feet. I endured the tragic loss of my grandmother with her there, head lovingly in my lap. The chapter of Makaila housed so many precious life bits.
And that seems to be how it is… We’ve lived a Paisley Chapter, A Knightley Chapter and currently exist within the Chapters of Elenor and Emma. With my broken sense of time keeping, these are the ways I remember my adulthood moments- my canine chapter. In one quick second I can feel overwhelmed with so much love for that chapter’s sweet soul and then remember the deep, deep cut of their loss. (Shoeboxes hold our heart, you should read about them)
Living two thousand miles away from my BFF (and “home”) it naturally feels like way too much time passes, between visits. Like way too many things change while I’m away… It is slowly beginning to sink in though, that this Duke Chapter is complete. The page has been turned and with it, all of the years of loving him become something shelved within the past. With one last peaceful sleep, the world shifts and everything changes. One day, for my bestie and her family, things will feel ok- but things will never be right again. Not the way they were anyway…
My next visit to their home will not have his sweet little feet welcoming my arrival, his adorable little AC/DC shirt always melting my heart a bit. From my position, over here and totally out of the picture, I still find myself so broken for her loss, for their loss. I am sure that Paisley and Knightley were more than happy to welcome Duke over that rainbow bridge. Knightley and Duke had never met, but dogs are pack dwellers and those two are absolutely in the same pack. it’s been a few days and they are absolutely bro’s now! (This makes me super happy and then so sad for all of us left here without them.) (I am also sure Makaila did not show up as a part of the welcoming committee. Our sweet girl is very is confident in herself and likely stays content in the neighborhood of human heaven, with her people.)
It is all so sad, and so hard to face. We love them so deeply and then they leave us after hardly any time, and we remain behind shattered and so alone without them…
Dukey, you were such a sweet boy. See you later, alligator <3
“Broke another promise and I broke another heart. But I ain’t too young to realize that I ain’t too old to try. Try to get back to the start and it’s another red light nightmare. Another red light street. And I ain’t too old to hurry. Cause I ain’t too old to die, but I sure am hard to beat.”
~ Ride On by AC/DC