I have a new tradition, spurred on by a writing friend, of choosing a ‘word of the year’ to prompt and inspire me into January 1st. I have chosen words like “faith” and “healing,” “patience” and “intention.” On December 31st, all fired up from a good procedure result, I decided on “brave.” Thinking to myself; I will brave the world and get to that bucket list. And; I will be brave on all the projects that have idled while I endured the ups and downs of 2017 and 2018. Little did I know that three days into 2019 I would be tested as to whether I could be brave enough to get out of bed.
January 3rd I said goodbye to my best friend on four legs pup Olive. She stopped eating at New Years and slept through the days. On January 3rd an x-ray at 1:30 in the afternoon revealed she was full of tumor. She declined in a matter of hours, her heart rate and breathing so accelerated that I did not think she could make it through the afternoon. At 7 pm I held her, her muzzle tucked under my chin, while she was euthanized at home.
Olive was beloved by me, my family, my friends. She did her dog job with all her heart and soul; she spent endless hours learning tricks with my children, endured ferry, car and plane trips, explored new places with ears up, walked all my steps and errands, lay patiently at my feet in stores while I did whatever I had to do, reminded me daily — with a gentle paw swipe — when I had been at the computer long enough. She enchanted small children and lived for Seattle dog-friendly coffee shops with biscuit jars. She was a fixture at social knitting on both coasts. She chased everything and caught nothing. She went everywhere happy.
And then, when I was in the darkest of all places, she only left my side when forced. One part of her body was always touching mine, no matter the temperature. When anxiety from illness and body trauma, fear and mortality kept me awake for the better part of two years, in those dark night hours she pressed closer and snuffed at me while I practically stroked the fur from her body. Only in the last few months, when I began to feel better and after a good procedure result in December, did she lighten up and sleep at my feet.
She knew. She knew I was better. After a joyful family Christmas she saw me writing. She saw me moving. I know she heard it in my voice. Only then did she let go. Her job was done.
I saw her failing in little ways over the past few months, but thought we could manage with her medications, diet, exercise. This is a dog lover’s blind spot: I could not envision a life without the rhythm of her needs and mine so intertwined so we saw more vets, tried new routines. Part therapy dog, heart of a black lab, the look of a little human, that square bundle of Scottish Terrier was worth it and I believed I could extend her life.
The contradiction still strangles me as I write: We love them heart and soul until we have to end their lives to make them safe. Sitting on my living room floor, ready to help us do the unthinkable, her vet said, “this is our gift to them.”
The last four days have sucked. I did stay in bed and cry and sleep for two of them. I clutched the baby puff she slept on, smelling that earthy doggy-ness and just wept my eyes swollen. I don’t know how I found the deepest of brave to let her go last week — on purpose, by my own hand. It was my final act of love. And it crushed me.
But she was a gift to me, eleven years ago, that little beanie-baby of a puppy we chose with the green ribbon tied around her neck. Thank you, Olive Cricket, for waiting. I wish we had had a lifetime more. The silence is deafening without the tick of your nails, the thump of your body ejecting off the couch. I will think of you on the beach, the wind blowing your beard askew, a crab in your mouth, running, running, running.
Edge dog. Marblehead, 2015.