We always knew Bailey was going to die. Then, when his cancer kept coming back, we knew he was dying. We focused on trying to keep him comfortable (ie. eating, walking on his own, happy) for as long as possible. He kept hanging on. He played in our snow, slipped on the ice. He had Valentine’s cookies, and chewed stray Valentine’s cards left on the floor by the kids.
He changed a little bit towards the end. His mouth was really dry so he would get foamy. The steroids made him hungry all the time so he became an aggressive beggar. The combination of the two led to drooling, which I find to be very, very gross. I was maybe not as patient about it – “NO, BAILEY!” – but I’d like to think he understood. He was a gentleman like that.
The last few days I knew it was happening – he was struggling to get down the stairs, still able to but hesitant. Still eating, but not as voraciously. And generally sleeping alot. Doug had to go out of town, then got stuck out of town because of the snow. Then he returned for a day and left again to move my father down to live near us. By the time Doug returned, Bailey had fallen asleep on the floor of our bedroom, near but not on his bed. Because he seemed so weak, we moved him onto his bed. Doug slept on the floor with him that night.
In the morning, we were able to get an appointment with a local vet. On the drive over, Doug said something about how it was going to be after Bailey was gone and I told him I thought we really just needed to stay in the moment, for Bailey’s sake, and he agreed. As the vets carried him in and laid him down on the floor of what was clearly the euthanasia room, Bailey spied his green tennis ball toy in our hands and wagged his tail for us for what would be the last time. We talked to him and stroked his golden fur, telling him he was a good boy, as he was given the medications. It was so very peaceful.
The vet placed the stethoscope on his abdomen, listening for any stirrings that would indicate the need for more medication. Then, she shook her head and said softly,
We have his ashes in a box under our bed, and his paw print in plaster. We have lots of pictures and videos of him. We have his favorite toys put up in the cupboard, along with his collar. We remind the kids that we have our memories of him.
But he is gone.
I try to work that through my brain sometimes at night, or when I’m driving alone. He was HERE. And now he is not. There is no Bailey anywhere on this Earth. Like I’ve shut my eyes on something I only imagined, he’s gone.
I’ve dreaded writing this post ever since it happened, not only because it makes me cry (yup, crying as I type this and probably crying when I re-read it) but because I don’t want to be trite or unoriginal. Everyone who knew we adopted a dog with cancer knew this was how it would end. I didn’t want to be such a predictable blogger.
A dog is not a person, of course, and to compare the loss would be offensive. But the act of grieving, that is universal. We all know loss. Big and small. The ache I feel at his absence from this world is visceral. I try not to think about him too much, because the pain is so shockingly real that I’d rather pretend he is in the other room than lay out the facts for me to examine all over again. I hate to feel this…this…thing. I completely understand how we came up with the concept of negative numbers. The presence of absence.
Our vet remarked on one of our early visits, pre-cancer diagnosis, that Bailey was “a treasure.” I thought that was kinda funny at the time. But now, looking back, I see what was there all along. This gift, this fleeting puff of joy in a ginger-colored package, he was a treasure.
I’d do it all over again.