Profoundly Difficult

“When dogs go to Heaven,
they don’t need wings
because God knows that
dogs love running best.”
~from Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

I pray those words are true, because today we sent Bailey to Heaven.

The pain in my chest cuts clear through to my spine tonight.  I didn’t know how hard this would be.

Last weekend Bailey walked out to the fire pit, and although she hasn’t been able to chomp at the embers (crazy dog) for a few years now, she was clearly content to lay at our feet and enjoy our company.  She was alert and seemingly pain free.  Even happy, we hoped.

By Tuesday her back legs were collapsing under her feet when she walked.

I wrote to Lori, one of my best friends, who is an amazing person and veterinarian in Colorado.  I trust her implicitly.  “How do you know when it’s time?” I asked.

She responded within minutes.  “When there are more bad days than good days and it cuts you to the core to watch her move and breathe, then it is time.”  Clark and I sat on the couch, both in tears and agonizing over what to do.  Her body was failing, but in her eyes we could still see the old Bailey.

But on Wednesday she could no longer stand.  Bless her heart, she would hold her bladder until we carried her outside and laid her in the dirt.  That night we knew.  Lori’s words:  it cut us to the core to watch her move.  It was time.

Thank you, Lori.

Clark really wanted to find someone who would come to our home, but we didn’t have any luck with that.  This morning I called the vet and scheduled the appointment for 5 PM.  It was a long, sad day of dread and waiting.

Clark came home early, and we brushed and pet her for as long as we could.  Since she could no longer walk, we used her pet bed as a stretcher and carried her to the car.  It was one of the hardest moments, because she trusted us.  We loaded her up, knowing where we were taking her, and she went willingly.  In my heart I don’t think she knew what was to come.   In my heart I’m not sure if she would have wanted it.

We gave Sam and Maggie the choice, but they both opted not to be present.  Our dear friend Nancy met us at the clinic and waited while the kids said their final goodbyes outside. She comforted the kids and took them away, which gave Clark and I the privacy to carry Bailey in alone.

Thank you, Nancy.

The clinic was amazing.  They let us in a private, side door and explained the procedure.  We had to step out for a few minutes while they put the catheter in her leg, but then we were welcomed back into the room and they gave us privacy for as long as we needed.

We sat on the floor with Bailey, cradling her and rubbing her ears in that way she has always loved.  We came to this decision together, but in these final moments we were both grieving too much to comfort each other.  We were both too focused on Bailey.

When the vet returned she took a few moments to speak to us.  Bailey had lymphoma, she explained. It was the right choice, she assured.  It would be peaceful, she promised.  This woman had never met us, but I will always be grateful for her empathy and compassion.

Thank you, Dr. Klepzig.

From there it happened so quickly.  I have dreaded this moment for years and wasn’t sure I would have the strength to be present, but  in the end there was really no choice.  Bailey’s head was in our laps, our arms around her body, and within minutes she was gone.  It was peaceful, as promised.

All too soon it was time to close her eyes and carry her out.  She was still on her bed, and we refused any offers of help.  We needed to see her through to the very end.

Back home, the kids were curious.  They wanted to pet her.  She was still warm, soft, and looked asleep.  We kept petting her too.  It’s been hard to balance our grief with their learning process, as this is their first experience with death.

Clark dug her grave.  I helped, but he did it.  He just wouldn’t quit digging.  Deeper and deeper he went, since the labor of his shovel postponed his final goodbye.  Clark and Bailey always had a special bond.  She idolized him.  He adored her.  The loss of Bailey was tearing me up, but it was killing him.  And watching him grieve was killing me.

Finally, he quit digging.

We all picked something special to bury with her.  Maggie placed a Milkbone at her nose.  Sam wrote her a letter.  Clark gave her a fetching bumper that he trained her with on the trails and lakes around Anchorage.  I picked one of Clark’s t-shirts.  She loved him so much that I wanted her covered in his smell.  That, and I needed something to shelter her from the dirt.

It was windy tonight as our family stood, flanked by the privacy of alders, and lowered her into the ground.  I can live with the memory of her in the vet’s office, gone but peacefully curled on her pet bed.  I’m not sure I will be able to shake the image of her in that dirt hole.

We all said a few words, cried a few (million) tears, and then covered her up.  We will buy a special, flowering plant or bush in the next few days to plant over her, and I’d like to find some sort of special marker.

We can see her grave from our front window, and for a while it will be a fresh wound.  I know she’s gone, but I hate thinking of her smothered under that mound of soil.  We need to get something planted on top soon, so we can see some beauty and remember the nearly 15 years of good memories we had with that dog.

Thank you, Bailey.

You are absolutely irreplaceable.  We love you, we miss you, and we will never, ever forget you.

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