He will drop his suitcase in his new, smaller bedroom. We have done our best to create a welcoming space for him after he granted permission for his younger brother to move into the slightly larger corner bedroom. It’s a full circle move, since his own beginnings were in this room when he was still in a crib.
Before he even gets to the new room, however, he will be forced to feel an ending that the rest of us have been processing for the past two weeks. Spirit, our soul-dog, won’t be waiting for him at the door for the first time in 13 1/2 years.
On moving day back in August, my son took extra time to say goodbye to Spirit, pressing his forehead against the dog’s and whispering things I couldn’t hear. We all knew Spirit’s days were numbered (as they are for all of us). But I, for one, never believed that would be the last time they saw each other. I am still confident about that, if you take the confines of our planet and earthly bodies out of the equation.
But liver and kidney failure is hard to argue with in an old dog. It was the same week that Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer, took advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act to end her own life with medication. Her death was on her own terms after completing her bucket list of travel adventures with her husband. She and her family were at peace at the end.
The same was true with Spirit. All four of us had our companion’s comfort at the forefront. Invasive procedures were off the table. Prolonging things for as long as possible made no sense. I was grateful that my boys were selfless in that regard. Their capacity for acceptance was tested, and they passed.
Giving Spirit a quiet, pain-free departure, with his family (even my 16-year-old) caressing him and feeding him treats was the greatest gift we could give him. It only took ten seconds once the medication was administered.
It was a good end to a good life, and I’m thankful for that. It’s the kind of end I want for myself one day (we may need to move to Oregon).
But the gap in the household is palpable, and my eldest will feel it the instant he walks through the door. Spirit’s exuberance made it hard to enter the house, especially if you were carrying a suitcase. He’d throw his 90-pound-body against you in a dog hug, covering your pants in an instant with white dog hair. His wagging tail thumped against walls, legs, suitcases. It was like being greeted by the drum section of a marching band.
Spirit was a permanent fixture at my feet every morning while I wrote in the quiet hours before the rest of the house stirred. He was my gardening buddy, my running buddy (in the early years of my running, as least, until he had a seizure on the trail one day), and my breast cancer recovery buddy, lying next to my bed while I recuperated after each surgery. My boys spent countless hours on the floor with him, their heads resting on his chest or his on theirs. His connection to each and every one of us, including his grandparents, was deep and unflappable.
That dog earned his keep, even when that keep amounted to many thousands of dollars over the course of his life to pay for seizure treatment that started when he was just two. And let’s not forget the operation to pluck the chocolate covered plastic egg from his intestines when we lived in Germany. There was never any question that he was worth it.
In every book about near death experiences I’ve read–and I happen to have read several of them in recent years–animals are all over the place on the other side. Everyone (humans and animals alike) have healthy, pain free bodies. Spirit’s end with us in this realm is just the beginning for him in a better place. He can run and jump and search for large shopping bags filled with German chocolate.
I still open the laundry room door when I get up each morning, not really expecting him to be lying on his bed there, but to rekindle the bond that I will always carry in my heart. I imagine him here with me, lying at my feet as I write this post, and it comforts me. It is not really the end. It never will be. We’re all just here for the blink of an eye before the next new beginning. I still feel as closely connected to him in spirit as I did before.
His departure did impact another ending, however. I finished the final chapter of my book just days before Spirit died. The last line had my old dog lying on the driveway while I worked in the garden. Rewriting that scene sucked, plain and simple.
We will move forward. Another dog is in our future at some point, when the time is right. I will transition from book writing to book marketing (and hopefully resuming a more regular blog schedule).
We’ll feel Spirit’s absence deeply this week, but our happiness at having our son home will ease the pain.
Holiday cooking will be the hardest part. I never realized how much food falls on the floor until he was gone.
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