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Where I reflect on life and death and living

by John on June 16th, 2014

As a general rule, I take every Friday the 13th off as a personal day. When I first started these “holidays,” the hope was to sit in bed, drink myself silly during the day, and watch a marathon of the titallitating adventures of Jason Vorhees and/or Jason’s Mom and their implementation of creative (though controversial) methods of population control.

But, let’s face it – a day (a work day, no less) just lounging about is not in the cards for me. First off, there’s always stuff to be done, cuddles to be cuddled, lawns that need mowing, kids bellies to feed, emails to be answered, gardens to be tended, trails to be blazed, and still miles to go before I sleep (all due apologies, Mr. Frost — it’s your fault that you penned one of my favorite sayings). Second, I’m just not very good at staying still. Last Friday was Friday the 13th, and I took the day off . . . but I had no hopes of staying in bed all day. My daughter was turning four the next day, and there was stuff to do!

We are in the transition between “family party” and “friend party.” My kids love their extended family . . . but, well, four year olds aren’t really content to sit down & spend a few hours catching up on all of the stories that have happened since they got together. Kids, well, they want to play . . . so we bought a shitton of water guns. And bubbles. We bought snack foods and watermelon and enough Capri Sun juice boxes to over-sugar an army of toddlers. Duffy made the cutest watermelon cupcakes.

But the festivity planning had to take a detour in the middle of the afternoon.

About a week ago, our eldest dog, Hobbes, exhibited a marked change in behavior. He was groggy and constantly shivering. Walks held no appeal for him. Getting him to eat anything was a chore (truth be told, though, he had never been a “ooh, food, let’s eat!” dog). If we, the family, were outside, he’d lie down in the sun; if we were inside, he either made himself at home on one of the kids’ oversized stuffed animals or on the bed. If I got the leashes out for a walk, he’d just look at me, as if to say “no thank you, not today.” Were this a gradual change, it’d be easy to chalk it up to “a dog getting older.” But, one day, he was just fine. The next, he was like this – as if he walked through a doorway to “old.”

In the middle of the afternoon, we went to the vet.

She told us what we were afraid to hear.

There was a tumor in his stomach. He was losing a shocking amount of weight. He was suffering. He had been a very good dog.

Since The Choice, we’ve had a lot of talk, with the kids, about death. About Heaven. About ghosts. About finality.

To say there have been tears would be an understatement.

We speak, a lot, about feelings in our family. I believe I’ve heard “I miss Hobbes” at least a hundred times since this weekend. To each one, I’ve responded “as do I.” Because I do. Even those things that I didn’t enjoy . . . as soon as I’d lie down in bed, as I radiate heat in my sleep, Hobbes would seek to lie down directly between my legs, to try to absorb as much of my body heat as possible. It’s not so much that his being there was uncomfortable, but it meant that I couldn’t move without first dislodging him; Hobbes was not a big dog, but he did a great cinderblock impersonation. But last night, as I lay myself down, there were tears as I realized that I’ve never have to fight him in order to reposition myself again.

The big thing about the kids, now, is convincing them that the vet isn’t where you go to “make animals dead.” That it’s, almost always, where you go to make sure that animals are happy and healthy. I try to shift the focus of missing Hobbes onto remembering Hobbes — how much he loved cuddles. How he loved walks. How he kissed the kids, even when they, maybe, didn’t want his kisses. How he howled when he wanted attention (for a terrier, he was surprisingly silent . . . except when you left him, when he’d howl — The La does a wonderful imitation of it). I try to shift the attention onto our healthy pets. The problem is that I need to make those shifts in my own thoughts, too.

So Friday was a rough day. Friday night was an even rougher night.

But life happens.

Saturday, we woke, finished our preparations, and set up to celebrate four years of The La. Kids ran around, shooting one another with water guns. Climbing on monkey bars. Swinging on swings. Cupcakes and potato chips and watermelon were eaten. Laughter was shared.

We haven’t moved beyond “the nap phase” just yet in our house. Heck, if you asked me “would I like a nap,” my answer would be “yes, please,” most any time. But a day with a birthday party certainly was a day without any napping. As the party wound down, both of the kids started to exhibit The Tireds – something known all too well to any parent of a kid beyond two . . . the child that needs to sleep, but steadfastly will not.

And with everything that happened the day before, for the first time, despite the increasingly unpredictable behavior and the fact that it wasn’t so late that a nap would have made bedtime impossible, I rooted for my kids to fight those naps. To keep playing. To embrace life. Sleep will happen — but there are only limited times that you can shoot the big kids with a water gun, or get daddy to help you climb across the monkey bars.

And here I am, thinking of emails that need to be answered and lawns that need to be mowed . . . and thinking that, just maybe, I should concentrate a bit more on day-long marathons of bad horror films . . . and ensuring that the cuddles that need to be cuddled are doled out.

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about Hobbes. It’s been a tough spring for dogs, somehow. Our family lost two Goldens, one my Mom’s and other our own. I thank my stars that Felix is old enough now to begin to understand that part of loving our dogs is not letting them suffer when the time comes, and that the vet is part of helping them go, but more importantly as you say, keeping them happy and healthy.

    As it is, our remaining dog is being lavished with double the love and my parents are looking at puppies—who have awfully big paws to fill.

    Life does go on, but our furry family members stay with us in the happy memories.

    • I’m so sorry for your losses, Cam. This is the second time I’ve had to say goodbye to a member of the family where I was in on “the choice.” It blows – even when part of you knows that you made the right decision.

  2. Oh my dear friend. I’m so very sorry about Hobbes. What a sad ordeal to go through alone, much less with young kiddos who are just as attached as you are to that member of the family. It’s a hard thing and something I dread when it comes time in our family to talk about it, but like you, all you can do is focus on the good things and doggy heaven.

    I’m glad the birthday was awesome. I think it was the perfect homage to Hobbes that life went on. I’m sure everyone enjoyed it and he watched down from doggy heaven.

    • Yeah — for a little while, I was actually afraid that “memories of Hobbes” would have overshadowed the birthday — but you throw kids together with good weather & water guns, and, well, everything works itself out.

  3. Oh I’m so sorry to hear about your dog! But I love the perspective you bring here. Every so often I let sleep times go for my oldest in favor of living awake a bit more. Last night we traded in extra sleep for catching fireflies and it was worth every minute.

    • You know, I take fireflies for granted — I need to spend more time collecting them with the kids.

  4. Our dog Caesar had been old for for a while. We knew we were getting close. Then on the 4th of July he couldn’t walk anymore. He took a big turn. The next day we took him to the vet. My kid and I couldn’t go in. I felt bad letting my husband do it. But I just didn’t want to watch him die. So weird since I have watched lots of patients die.

    Its hard. But I’d like to think we have a good life adopting him from the humane society.

    Sorry for your loss.

    • Thank you. I’ve now lost two dogs in my life, and I’ve been fortunate enough that, while an initial decline was slow, the big turn, for both, was sudden & drastic . . . for both, the suffering was minimal.

      But I hate that I knew what was coming before Duffy did.

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