Monday, May 31, 2010
Goodbye Old Friend
I went home to Maine this last week. The plan was to go celebrate my besty's graduation from Medical School (I think that deserved capital letters) and to visit my Mother. This trip was nothing like I anticipated when I bought the ticket a month ago. In fact, it became a perfect example of why we should not "plan" or write stories in our heads about what will happen or what the future will be like. That's not to say I don't plan ahead or think about future goals. On the contrary! I am a planning FOOL! What I am talking about is the planning we do when we say "Oh, it will be like this or like that. So and so will behave this way or it will feel like X when I see him or her". That sort of planning is what I have learned to call mental television. It is generally NOT how things end up going and I don't know about you all but I very often end up disappointed that things did not go the way I thought they would or should. As it pertains to this trip back East, I didn't think I would spend the time I did at my Mom's. I also didn't think we would be putting down the very best dog who ever lived. Cede has been my dog since I was about 10. She was my family dog, then she was MY dog as I moved into my first apartment. She was my constant companion. I would throw her in the truck and take her everywhere with me. She was a babysitter with Milo, she was a boat yard dog up in Rockland, she was a study buddy and a snuggle pal on cold, windy nights when the wind shook my rickety third floor apartment way up on Munjoy Hill. I remember nights when I would wake up startled by something and look bleary eyed into the shadows on the sofa in the other room only to create some axe murderer in my mind, sitting on the sofa, waiting for me to fall back to sleep. I would feel my heart pounding (ridiculously) in my chest and I would look over to the dog, asleep on the pillow next to me. Seeing that she sensed no danger and had not awoken to the same imagined horror that I had calmed me. I would stroke her silly ears until I fell back asleep.
Cede was smart and gentle with everyone. She was trained to walk next to me off leash on our morning romps along the Eastern Prom. She lived to be told that she was a good girl. She was also beautiful. She was a "white"Lab. Not a yellow or a blond lab but white. From birth to death she was the whitest lab with a black nose and black eyeliner on. She was stunning even in her gimpy old age.
I left Cede with my Mother when I moved out here because she had become ill and we were all sure that she wasn't long for the world and afraid that she might become acutely ill or even die if she were trucked across the country in a pick-up with no air conditioning in the middle of the summer. That was three years ago next week. She was taken VERY good care of by my Mother and her partner. My Dad was still living in town for most of the last three years and he took her when Mom needed a break or had to travel. As she aged we all became more and more afraid that "at any time now" it might be time. Well, Cede knew better and just lived and lived as happy go lucky as ever. She even traveled to summer camp with my mom last summer where she won hearts and soothed the homesick campers who came to see my mom in the Nurse's cabin called the "Health Hut". Cede was just what the doctor ordered. She was such a sweet thing that even the camp director couldn't get upset when she wandered into the dining hall and became so excited about begging for food that she took a poop right in the middle of the dining room and then looked back at it like "who did THAT?! That's gross!" The campers got quite a kick out of her.
Dad moved west several months ago and it has been all Mom and C taking care of the old girl. She had begun having more and more trouble getting around up and down the stairs. She was coughing and breathing heavily when it got hot and was deaf as a post. After many long hard conversations Mom decided that it might be time to put her down before she crossed the line from old and gimpy to suffering. We could ALL agree that we didn't want to see her get to the point that made you cringe and wish you had done it sooner. She was almost 17 and didn't owe us a day. We owed her EVERYTHING. My Mom had a friend who was a vet and had offered to come to the house and do it with us. Mom scheduled the appointment and we set to spoiling Cede rotten for the next week. It was a horribly bittersweet week. I vacillated between feeling numb and feeling like I was killing her. She was a lab and would honestly, look at you with that sweet happy face NO MATTER WHAT! She was just too sweet. But I could also see that she couldn't get around very well anymore and the things she loved most like swimming and car rides were not easy or comfortable for her any longer.
On Thursday Mom and I got up and took Cede to the beach. She mustered up all of her energy and swam and rolled like a little snow angel in the sand and low tide seaweed. We took her home and gave her a bath and cooked her a steak. Top sirloin and some of my chips and hummus. Then it was time for a nap and a cuddle in the sunshine on the lawn chair. Nellie came over late in the afternoon as the sun was working its way down the back yard. We talked about Cede and she told mom and I about her old yellow lab. I was horridly sad but somehow very comforted by Nellie's presence. I felt like she had her heart with us and was actively participating in loving Cede as we all were. We laied on the deck with her as she drifted off to sleep. Dreaming I hope, of steak and swimming and all the wonderful trips we took together. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Holding her head in my hands and crying onto her black nose while my Mother cried into her neck. But it will also be one of my strongest best memories. We did Cede justice. We loved her so much we let her go before she had to suffer and hurt. We did it together and we were able to think clearly and with enough love to give her the best day ever.
I could never have imagined the richness of the pain and the love I felt all tangled together that day. I get all weepy thinking about it. My heart breaks open when I think of her. She was here to teach us. She taught my family and especially my mother and I what it means to really love a creature. I will forever think of Cede as the world's best dog but it might be more accurate to think of her as my first unconditionally best friend. She insisted on loving me her way and teaching me things with her life from start to finish. I owe her the world.
I was initially angry with my Mom for planning this while I was there. I felt like it was a selfish thing and I was resentful that I was "being put through this" on my vacation. What a Bitch! Me...not my Mother. Mom did me the honor of being there to experience this with her. It has strengthened our relationship. We had to hold each other up through this. I understand now what a heavy mantle she had been holding up being the only one of the original family cast left to make the calls about this old dog who was the most loyal and loving creature but was also ruining her carpets and struggling to remember to pee outside. It was not hers to bear alone and I am glad I could help share it with her. It is no longer my place to think of myself as the child who should be sheltered from these things. I am a member of my family community and a being who shared everything with that dog. It was my duty, my right and my honor to help give her that day and send her to the next life knowing how much she was loved.