Saturday, January 12, 2013

And so Hard to Lose

Well friends, it's 4:00 in the morning, and I'm sitting here in a very quiet house, with heavy eyelids and an even heavier heart.  Yet I can't sleep a wink.  You see, the problem is we have too much room at the foot of our bed.  I can move my legs in any direction I want, and only bump into Mason-- not the warm 80 pound heater that usually snores softly near the footboard.

As you facebook readers are well aware, we said goodbye to our sweet beloved Maddy this afternoon and in the words of my husband, "while I knew this day would come, I had no idea it would be this hard."  My heart is aching, my head is throbbing, and the tears just keep coming.  All this over a dog?  Absolutely.

You who knew Maddy knew what a sweet dog she was.  Her legacy is definitely her incredibly huge heart and caring/ loving personality.  She loved her people-- that was clear in the kisses she showered us with from the time she was a puppy.  In fact, her incessant licking sometimes irritated us because we could hardly pet her without her licking our hands and if she was especially lucky, our faces.

We always joked that Maddy would have been a terrible watch dog, for anyone who came to the door was immediately greeted with a wagging tail, a good sniff-out, and some stolen kisses.  (Then she was told to lay down and quit bothering the poor human at the door).  We also joked that while they say dogs are loyal, we were pretty sure Maddy would have taken off with anyone who promised her a trip to the trail or anything covered in peanut butter.

She had a few favorite places on Earth.  At the top of the list would be our little nature trail, only about a half mile from our house.  In her younger years, we'd easily walk to the trail head, but as her hips bothered her more and more, we later opted for the short car ride.  While the car ride only took seconds, Maddy pranced around the back of the vehicle whining madly in anticipation of our destination.  When the hatch of the van was finally opened, she literally sprang from the vehicle and tore off down the trail-- only to suddenly stop and investigate a new smell.  Her other favorite place had to be Mason's family cottage in Northern Wisconsin.  Every time we made the 8 hour trek, she would perk up about 30 minutes prior to our arrival.  Her tail would begin to wag and she'd start sniffing the air-- making sure we had really just traveled to where she was hoping.  Once there, the smells must have overwhelmed her because she never could get enough exploring and was constantly begging to go back outside.

Our Maddy was such a gentle soul.  Of course, she had the energy of a pup for her first few years, but she never was hostile or aggressive and rarely barked.  Her defenses were always up when she was on a leash but we never once saw her nip or snap at another person or animal.  Like most dogs, she would often choose to spend her evenings lying on the floor while we watched tv, or as she grew older, she chose to hang out on our bed more and more often.  We loved cuddling, and before Charlie was born, we cuddled up on the couch all the time together.  After we bought new furniture, she wasn't allowed to sit up there and cuddle with us-- and I'll always feel like this traumatized her just a little.

And no matter where we were in Spahnville, Maddy was near.  She was our door greeter, our bakery tester, our insta-vacuum.  She was our bed heater, our exercise partner, and our silent conversationalist-- somehow communicating with us and tapping into our moods so easily.  She was a huge presence in this house.

And now, this house feels so incredibly empty.  When we came home this afternoon, the quiet was almost unbearable.  And even though I knew she was gone, something drove me to run downstairs and check the couch, her chair, her rug-- just in case.  I then headed up to our bedroom, glancing quickly under the kitchen table as I passed by, with the slightest of hopes that I'd find her lying on our bed and start thumping that labrador tail as soon as I entered.  Of course I knew that I would find the room exactly as we had left it, but that didn't stop me from hoping.

I feel a physical pang in my chest, thinking about the times I ran into our room to grab something, only to ignore her tail wags or hopeful eyes looking up at me.  Or the number of walks I didn't give her, or the times I procrastinated filling up her water bowl because I was too busy or too lazy to do it right then.  I ache when I recall the times I yelled at her in frustration for her over-eagerness prior to walks or her constant begging when I needed to get something made in the kitchen.

I'm trying so hard to remind myself that she had a good life, probably even a great life.  She was warm and well fed and never ever unwanted.  Her people loved her like one of their own-- until they had their own and realized that maybe she wasn't quite a human.  She was a part of the family, not just a Christmas morning gift or spur of the moment idea.  She walked with us, played with us, traveled, hiked, swam, ate, and slept with us.  And now my memories of her are all twisted up in this messy knot of pain and love and happiness and regret and satisfaction and torment and peace.

We knew it was time last night.  After having that little ray of sunshine on Tuesday, she regressed a little each day.  Her food bowl and water bowls sat untouched and her physical pain seemed to be harder and harder for her to deny.  She had taken to lying quietly in the snow when she was let out the back door, (when usually she repeatedly tapped on the door to be let back in).  We tried to pet her and nuzzle into her, but she would pull away-- the familiar "Lab Lean" (where she would slowly and gradually lean into you until she was basically sitting in your lap) was gone.  She panted heavily and never seemed to get comfortable.  When she refused to eat people food, we knew.  (What lab turns down yogurt or peanut butter or toast?) When she started refusing to take the pills Mason had picked up, we knew she was letting us "know".  Forcing our sweet girl to take medicine that didn't really help heal her, but was only keeping us from saying goodbye to her was not fair.

The two of us lie quietly in bed and made the decision to call the vet in the morning.  We both shed tears as we thought about saying goodbye to she little puppy that helped create this beautiful Spahnville family.  When our vet told Mason that panting is a sign of pain and distress, we knew (we know) that we had made the right decision.  But unfortunately, knowing you made a right decision does not filter down and shut the heart ache off.

I somehow made it though four hours of work before coming home to my pup, one last time.  When I went downstairs, she hopped off the couch and trotted toward me-- familiar lick and sniff-- before heading past me to be let outside.  All was good for a few seconds, and then the sickness hit her again while she was outside and I saw my sick puppy instead of my healthy girl.  I asked her if she wanted to take a trip to the trail-- just the two of us-- just like old times.  She cocked her head to the side, as if contemplating the question.  She didn't perk her ears up, didn't stand up, didn't really move, just waited for me to repeat the question a few more times.  When I started to put on my boots, she jolted into awareness of the offer and waited patiently at the door (again, not something our healthy girl would do).  We drove to the trail in silence-- no prancing, no whining.  Just both of us quietly looking out the window-- like this is a nice normal thing to do at 1:00 on a warm winter day.

As she hopped down from the van, I left my phone in my pocket and vowed not to take any photos.  I wanted to just watch her-- to be in the moment with the dog that truly had brought so much joy to my life.  I watched her smell, explore, roll.  I watched her splash.  I watched her walk in soggy mud-- drenching her soft coat in mud and sand and dirt.  For the first time ever, I didn't scold her about getting into something-- just let her enjoy this moment.  We walked further than we have in a long time, ignoring the possibility of irritating her hips-- after all, she would be 100% pain free in less than an hour.  And even though I felt happy to be giving her this long walk, I could see her struggling.  Her energy was lacking and her body was shaking.  Like any good lab, she powered through it, but it was clear that she was not the healthy girl that would have spent days out there if given the chance.

It was time.  Her body was slowly being eaten from the inside by the cancer.  It was likely that her stomach was covered in ulcers-- thus the lack of eating and trouble keeping food down.  It was probable that her kidneys and liver were going to stop functioning soon.  It was her time.

But it wasn't our time for her to go!  Damnit!  I want her here.  I want her to be lying on the floor as I type this.  I want her on my bed, on my couch, on our floor.  I want her to beg for food, to shed all over the place, to loudly pass by Charlie's room right as he falls asleep.  I just want her back.  I want to hug her, to kiss her, to nuzzle into that amazing coat she had.  I want to whisper to her that things will be all right, that we love her more than anyone could possibly love a dog.

And, I need to be thankful for the fact that I had the chance to do that.  When we said goodbye to her today, the vet gave us some time after giving her the anesthetic.  She was so peaceful, breathing slowly and steadily. No panting.  No drooling.  No shaking.  Just our sleepy girl, feeling no pain.  Mason and I cradled her head, whispered our goodbyes, assured her that we'll never ever forget her, told her that we loved her.  And told her that we loved her again.  And then, with tears running down our faces, we hugged each other as we let go of a huge piece of our family.

I'm told by some that this hole in my heart will heal.  I'm told by others that it will never completely heal, but will fade a bit with time.  I logically know that both of these are probably true.  I know that I'll have good days and difficult days to come.  I know that the good will eventually outweigh the difficult.  Thank you to so many of you who have reached out to us during this time.  It truly means the world to both of us.

(Pictures from our "Celebration of Life" party we had for Maddy on Tuesday)

In memory of you, sweet girl.
April 2003-January 2013

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