Lean On Me
The vet said “The first shot I’m going to give Dexter is a combination of valium and ketamine. It will sedate him pretty quickly without any pain.”
“Does everyone ask if they can have some too?” I said.
I looked at my 11 year old dog, Dexter, standing strong but weary atop a blanket and wee wee pad that the vet had brought with her. I kissed his nose, told him I loved him, put my hand on my boyfriend Shannon’s knee, and said “OK, we’re ready when you are.”
Dexter had been diagnosed with stage three hemangiosarcoma, a very aggressive cancer, three months prior. He had been given two weeks to three months to live. He pulled strength from places I never knew he had. Every day he got up to fight it again; inspiring me to battle it with him and convincing me that we could win even though I knew we had no shot.
But there’s a moment- a moment that you don’t expect at all- when you get tired of praying for strength and longevity and you start to pray for more disease. You beg the ride to stop because every day that you fight that battle, the love you share grows a little deeper. I hated myself for wishing more illness onto my little guy near the end, but I was so scared. How would I know what to do? I don’t know anything.
Yesterday morning, he could barely make it down to the end of the block. Shannon carried him to a patch of grass that we often sit in on our morning walks. I easily scooped Dex up and spun him around so that he was lying on my chest and could feel the sun beat down on his belly. Shannon came around behind me, holding both Dex and me up. I had never felt Dexter so heavy. No, heavy is the wrong word. He was relaxed. Every muscle in his body had softened. I put my arms around him and felt him lean into me in a way he never had before. He trusted my strength. He was ready and I, in spite of all my fears, suddenly knew exactly what to do.
His last moments were so beautiful. Shannon and I stroked his head and told him what a good boy he was. The summer sun had just dipped below the horizon and a cool breeze swept through the lilies next to us. Sam, Shannon’s husky-shephard mix stood sentinel next to the huddle we had formed. He puffed his chest out, turned his back to us, and huffed at a few feral cats and dog-walking onlookers. We had our private space. The final injection was made and Dex coasted off– looking as peaceful as a puppy after a long day of play.
I can’t say enough how much I’ve learned these past three months. The magic of putting all my faith into this funny little being resulted in more ways than just the expansion of my heart. Work showed up out of nowhere giving us the extra money we needed. Friends were always available for support and a good laugh. Shannon and I battled through our exhaustion and fears, building bridges for each other when it looked like we were doomed to nothing but deep ravines and impasses.
And food. Well, I feel like I’ve gained 20 pounds in the past three months. There’s been a lot of turning to food for comfort (though honestly, if I wasn’t turning to food because of my dog dying, I would have found another excuse). After we said goodbye to Dexter for the final time, I realized I had eaten nothing all day. We knew cooking was out of the question so we ordered a pizza. For the record, I ordered a sausage, mushroom, onion pizza with a side of anchovies. What was delivered was a pepperoni, olive, and onion pizza with a side of anchovies. I know, I know, they sound exactly the same. Sigh. I was too tired to battle any further. I ate my piece in three bites. Literally, I was too tired and disappointed to chew. What I thought would be an easy ride with my childhood comfort food, turned into a sea of discomfort.
So no recipe this week. I’ll be back on track soon, I promise.
In the meantime, hug your loved ones – especially the ones with four legs. They’re only here for a bit but change our lives forever.