Thursday, September 4, 2014

me and my shadow

i said goodbye to my shadow saturday - my ol' dog blue (who was actually black.)

i met blue days after she was born, and brought her home with me when she was just six weeks old. she was the cutest thing that has ever halfway ruined my life. (even cuter than my human babies because, let's be honest, looking back, they kind of resembled balding aliens. never fear. they are much cuter now.) and like my human children, i often wanted to throw her in the river for fish food. but she was so damn sweet and cute that i decided to keep her. despite the fact that she cried miserably all night every night until i caved and let her sleep in my bed, a tradition that continued until the day she died. despite the fact that she ate her way through magazines, mail, term papers and approximately $2,046 of lingerie in the first year of her life. despite that six month stint of stomach allergies that resulted in anal explosions of epic proportions and countless hairy butt baths. despite the fact that discovery of a petrified corn cob, chicken bone, or used tissue would cause her to become possessed by the devil, and when under this spell, she would greedily consume the fingertips of anyone who tried to pry the treasure from her vice-like grip. despite the "protest poops" on the kitchen floor that started after the kids were born, and served to remind us who was really boss. i loved that crazy-ass dog in spite of, or perhaps in part because of, all of this.

blue was my O.G. baby for 13 years. she's been around longer than my husband. i knew her nearly half my life. she was by my side through college and law school. she was there through boyfriends and breakups and makeups. she was there for marriage and two new babies in a baby carriage. she was there through sickness and health. she was a complete and total Tasmanian spaz until her last days, but whenever i was sick or sad or lost or lonely, she sat silently by my side, "a heartbeat at my feet." (edith wharton). every time i've ever fainted, i would come to under the gaze of her big brown crazy/lazy eyes and worried whiskery grey eyebrows. she was my furry black shadow. 

when the kids were born, her shadow duties shifted to them, too. she always had to be wherever they were. she learned when they were very little to generally stay out of tail-grasping reach, but as soon as they learned to be as "gentle" with her as babies and toddlers know how to be, she gamely stood by their sides. we had to keep our door latched in the mornings because as soon as she woke up she was raring to click-click-click into jack's room to say good morning, and if he wasn't awake yet, she was quick to remedy that situation. once when jack had a sleepover at his cousin's house, the poor girl paced the halls nearly all night in despair, frantically checking his room at regular intervals. and blue was always happy to sidle up next to colby to be the recipient of her clumsy, Lenny-like love.

she and DM built a begrudging relationship over the years, as well. he always used to say "she's your dog, not mine." but he loved her, and she loved him, too. she almost always came to bed with me, but when DM was traveling, she would sleep by the front door, waiting for him to come home.

she'd slowed down a little bit lately, but not much. she still spun in circles and barked her face off whenever anyone came, or went, or walked out to the mailbox and back. she continued her vocal one-dog-fight against leaf-blowers, gardeners, and pool boys until her final hours. she had stopped eating her dog food the past week or so, which is how we knew something was wrong, but she still happily cleaned up the aftermath of the mealtime toddler typhoons, and was otherwise in good spirits. then, on thursday, she was lying on the floor and she just peed. she didn't even seem to know that it happened. my heart sank.

i took her to the vet friday, and he said she basically had cancer of the everything. her trachea was also nearly collapsed, which is very common with Pomeranians. he said no responsible surgeon would put her under anesthesia, nor did it make any sense to try to remove any of the masses, given their size, number, and metastasis. chemotherapy was one option, but the risks probably outweighed the benefits. he said if it were his dog, he'd just let her live out the rest of her days. having seen the aftermath of others holding on to their furry family members too long, i tended to agree. he said eventually she'd start exhibiting more symptoms, and at that point i'd have to make some tough decisions. in the meantime, she didn't seem to be in any pain. he said feed her whatever she wants and keep her happy and comfortable.

on the way home from the vet. she looks pretty happy and comfortable :)
i was pretty bummed, of course, mostly because i thought i would have to make the decision to put her down, something i've dreaded doing since the moment she became my responsibility. but i thought we had a while, and i was looking forward to savoring the end of her life with her.

blue had an appointment at the groomer the next morning. when i picked her up with her spiffy new 'do, i also bought her a stuffed elephant. see, her first, favorite toy was this stuffed squeaky elephant. but about 5 years ago it got lost while she was at doggy daycare. she never loved anything else like she loved that elephant. we've tried a dozen elephants since. we even made one at the build-a-bear [elephant] store, to no avail. still, every time i see an elephant i buy it for her. who knows. maybe this would be "the one."

when we got back, she did a little sunbathing, and then a little shade-sitting. i made blue a huge batch of chicken and brown rice and peas - all of her favorites. she seemed to be smiling, saying, "hell yeah. F that dog kibble crap!" then i started making a bunch of cupcakes for the party we were having the next day. blue had come inside by then and was sitting under the kitchen table, sniffing at the baked sugar in the air. a minute or two after that i glanced up and noticed she was lying down and somehow... i just knew... she was gone. i was afraid to pick her up though, afraid that would make it real. finally, i did. and it was (real). sob.

DM was surfing at the time. i called him once or twice .. or thirteen times... but i guess he forgot to take his cell phone into the ocean, lest it end up at the bottom of the ocean like his car key and wedding ring did last week. colby was napping. jack had just woken up, but was engrossed in his post-nap ritual of fruit snacks and iPad. thank god for small favors. i called my sister and she came right over.

i held my girl as the heat left her body. for a second, i thought i saw her heart beating, but it turns out it was just my heartbeat against her body in my arms.

my sister arrived, and said her goodbyes to blue. colby woke up, and so i curled blue into my chest and brought her out to the kids. i told them i had to take blue back to the vet because she was very sick. they kissed her goodbye. i put her in the car and started driving to the vet, barely able to see through my tears. thankfully DM called just then and met me there. the vet was great and let me take my time saying goodbye. they felt awful that we'd just been in the day before, and so offered to cover the cost of cremation, with all the bells and whistles.

incidentally, while all this was happening, our best family friends were on their way to our house from out of town, ETA 10 minutes. DM texted to give them a heads up, saying "blue passed away. we're at the vet right now but we'll be home soon. don't worry, everyone's okay. well... except for blue." far be it from DM to miss an opportunity to be hilarious.

we told the kids, and, i'm really sorry, i don't mean to offend anyone, but i'm pretty sure the concept of heaven was invented when God had to tell little boy Jesus that his dog just died.

i don't think colby really gets it. i mean, she's not even two-and-a-half, so i didn't expect her to. jack maybe understands a little more. the both say they "willy willy willy willy miss" their "best buddy blue" every hour on the hour. and saturday night they both fought over the puppy dog bath towel because they missed blue so much. ohmygahd. dagger to the heart.

i'm so sad. i willy willy willy miss her, too. the house feels so empty somehow. i don't know how a twelve pound ball of fur left such a big empty hole. but the worst part is when i forget that she's gone, like when i walk in the door after work, when i head off to bed, expecting my shadow to be right behind me, and in the morning, when i lie there waiting for my wet-nose wake-up call. when someone knocks at the door, or when the kids spill something on the floor and we wait for our little hoover in vain. last night, out of the corner of my eye, i swore i saw her hiding behind a pillow on my bed and i gasped! but it was an just errant balled-up black bra. this happens countless times a day, and i'm sure that's not going to stop anytime soon.

all in all though, i'm so thankful that it went down the way that it did. she went peacefully, and with a fancy new haircut to wear to the flip side. she didn't seem to be in pain, and i didn't have to make any excruciating decisions.

we also had house guests, and a big party planned for the next day. at first i was thinking, oh dear, this is not good timing at all. but it actually proved to be a blessing, to be surrounded by so many of my favorite people, and all their little minis, spewing so much laughter and light and gently-used capri sun. it kept me from curling up in a ball in my bed and feeling sorry for myself all weekend. plus, they came bearing flowers and tacos and tequila, which is just what the doctor ordered.

my kids are also indispensable to the healing process. one of their preschool teachers pulled me aside yesterday to say sorry, and to remark on their "tact," (or lack thereof). she said that jack was explaining that "his best doggie buddy blue passed away and went to heaven in da sky" and then colby injerjected, "she's dead." ha. their subtle reminders really help soften the blow: "blue is not here because she's dead." "mommy, wemembow when blue died?" "did blue get flattened out when she got dead?" "blue is dead. like your mommy and daddy! now day are all in heavens!" ;)

oh, and apparently, dogs can still be blamed for farts, even from the grave. sorry, old girl. but i know you don't mind takin' one for the team. ;)

last night DM and i were lying in bed talking about blue and he apologized for not being there when it happened. DM is a daydreamer, about good things and bad, and he has thought many times about what he would do if he came home and found blue dead. he said he never wanted me to have to see her like that. so it is fortuitous that i am the one who found her, or else i might not have had the opportunity to say goodbye. to hold her as her soul made its exit, to carry her to the other side.

goodbye to the heartbeat at my feet, the fur ball on my pillow, my shadow, my fuzzy best friend.

my best old girl lookin' fancy for the dog park party in the promised land

"Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life, that keeps us feeling terrified and alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments. I need to do my damnedest to be there for that. 
Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I've ever known. When she dies. So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, 
and reveling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel." 

- from Fiona Apple's letter to her fans upon cancelling her tour to be with her dog in her last days


I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

from My Shadow - Robert Louis Stevenson


"dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole." - roger a. caras

"a dog is one of the few things in life that is as it seems." - mark j. asher

"be the person your dog thinks you are."


  1. I'm so sorry. Dog grief is a very sharp kind of grief (I had to put my lab down a year ago, very similar situation). Luckily, it isn't complex grief, which is probably why it hurts so damn much to start. It's very easy to access, just like affection for dogs is.

    When it gets better, you're left with nothing but gratitude and good memories. Dogs keep giving, even after they're gone. I hope you and your family are well.

    1. Thank you! (And so sorry about your pup, too :( ) That is so insightful - complex vs. simple grief (and affection). I never thought about it in that way but it's SO true!

    2. It is a really interesting way to think about it! Full disclosure: I learned about it from a Joan Didion book (The Year of Magical Thinking, if you ever want to read about grief in its rawest and most unrepentant form. She gives you no outs, you just get hit with it full force). It's apparently a psychological "Complicated Grief" and you'll see what I mean.

      It made me thankful that my grief for my dad was simple (and it really was, after reading about true complicated grief), and a bit more prepared if I ever have to experience the complicated kind. A very small bit, because that shit is serious business.

    3. And here I thought you were some sort of psych genius ;) Just kidding. It's still very perceptive, and now I am intrigued. Thanks!

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss...I like what Michael (the first comment) had to say--I never really thought about it that way. The love you feel is so simple, strong, and pure...and so is the loss. Makes absolute sense. May your heart heal toward the "gratitude and good memories" side soon. I am continually amazed at how each animal I've ever had the privilege of caring for has such a distinct personality. When the memories come, they are like colorful old family members that you know you were blessed to have had in your life.

    1. Thank you, Lisa! I had never thought of it that way either but he's right on point!