Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Across the Bridge

She rode between my knees in the vehicle, and didn't even go to the window to look out. Standing on her back legs would have been too painful for her, I thought to myself. And it was one of her favorite things to do when she went for a ride.

Hubby slowed and stopped, pulling over by the side of the road. I unhooked my seat-belt and opened the door, and got out. She didn't hear me; normally she'd be out before I was. 

She got out of the van, half-excited, half in discomfort (adrenaline can mask pain) and I tightened the leash and closed the van door. I waved goodbye to my husband; he had another errand to run and would pick me up after.

After. I tried not to think about after. All that mattered was now. 

Slowly, leisurely, even amid spits of rain, we sauntered up the long lane, lined on both sides with shade trees, grass, and all kinds of mixed wild flowers.

Raspberry canes had begun to bud already. I looked at them as we passed slowly by; their prickles were glistening in the morning's rain shower. The faint scent of raspberry blossoms not yet opened greeted me as I would stop when she stopped to explore a scent trail. After all, her sense of smell was almost the last one she had left completely intact. 

I thought of earlier times. Times when I'd have to call her back as a young dog from the neighboring field because she'd followed a scent trail out there and didn't quite know where we were or have the sense to follow her own trail back. Times when we'd scratch her just above the base of her tail and when we were done, she'd chase that tail and catch it ... and keep going round and round. We'd call her "bagel dog" because that was the shape her body made. Times when we'd be sweeping the floor and find one of those orange hockey balls she loved (and chewed on) so much. We'd throw the ball and she'd go racing after it, trotting back with it to us, and we'd have to take it out of her mouth because she wouldn't drop it unless we grabbed it first. Just two throws and the ball would be covered in dog saliva ... so we called the game "slime ball." She loved that game. As time went on and she was less able to run, she even learned to throw the ball for herself, watch it roll down the hallway and then trot after it.

A spit of rain managed to get past my glasses. It awakened me from my trip down memory lane and brought me back to the moment, on this our final walk. She was sniffing at some grass, and she nosed under some branches to get to the next patch of grass.

Among the foliage at the base in between the birches and beeches, I spotted first one, then a few, then several bunch-berry plants, the kind I used to call "trillium" ... until I knew what real trillium looked like. No, these had four smaller white petals in the center of a cluster of six much broader, green leaves. By the side of the lane, to my surprise, I saw a few late wild strawberry blossoms. Most of the flowers had dropped off most of the plants, but there were a few late bloomers amid the developing green fruit. A couple of them had flowered early, and had almost fully grown and ripened. I stopped to pick them, and tossed them gently into the greenery farther back, to start even more wild strawberry plants; I wasn't hungry. 

She was enjoying the moment. Her tail wagged a little as she smelled each new smell.

As we got closer to our destination, she hesitated more. Perhaps it was the smell of spilled oil in the parking lot that deterred her. I got her past the rainbow-streaks in that area and let her explore the front lawn of the clinic. She squatted a couple of times. It wasn't raining hard enough for her to feel like shaking off the water. 

Amid the budding "devil's paintbrush" at the top of the lane (dandelion-like flowers with multiple blooms on the same stem) I spied one lone buttercup, fully opened, symbol to me of promise and rest. They don't usually come out until July. 

Finally, after one final squat, I led Shari to the door of the clinic. 

The staff were very kind. They gave us as much time as we needed, and in their mercy gave me the paperwork to fill out beforehand rather than afterward. 

Afterward, I would be in no shape to sign papers and pay the bill. 

"Who's all in today?" I made conversation with the new girl behind the desk. "Doctor A____," she said, and Anne-Marie." 

That was such a relief for me. Anne-Marie had been there as a receptionist the first time we needed the vet's services back in the year 2000 for Shari's bladder stone surgery. Through the course of time she became the vet's assistant, and a competent and compassionate one. Though I knew this was hard for her too, I was glad she was there - a familiar face at the end.  

It made this just a tiny bit easier to bear. 

A few minutes later, Anne-Marie came out and we chatted. I told her how this had just crept up on us slowly and how the dog wasn't even asking to go out anymore; she was just doing her business wherever she wanted to inside the house. That, together with the growing discomfort in her joints, the digestive upsets, the deafness, the cataracts, the fatty tumors that pressed in on her heart and made her cough at the least excitement or exertion, the seizure she had two months ago, and the "doddering" she did when standing still (her head would "bobble" slightly), we could tell that her quality of life was starting to get really poor and that it would only get worse. 

"Yes," she agreed with me. "When they don't even bother asking to go out anymore, it's time." Her eyes filled with tears. So did mine. 

She asked me if I wanted Shari's collar and leash; I did. She switched out the collar and leash with one of theirs, handed me our set, took Shari in her arms - there was little if any struggle (unusual for her) - and carried her into the back. After having been present at Cody's final trip, I knew there was no way I could handle that experience again. I was so grateful that Anne-Marie was there.

Five minutes later, it was done. I know that the last thing she knew at the end was the touch of a compassionate hand. That meant a lot to me. 

A few minutes later, hubby was back from his errand, and he took the box containing her remains back to the van. We passed the return trip mostly in silence, only talking about anything but what had just taken place. 

I remember reading a book once by John Eldredge on the day-to-day relationship with God - it was the chronicle of just one year in his life. In the book, he described the relationship between himself and his dog, a golden retriever who loved to play ball - except he would never want to let go of the ball when he brought it back. The time came for him to say goodbye to his furry friend, and family and friends gathered with him at his home while the vet administered the final dose. At the moment of the dog's passing, even though the dog made no sound, two in the circle of friends heard a dog's bark. And then one of the friends got a strange, perplexed look on his face, turned to Mr. Eldredge and said, "I just got some words - I think they're supposed to be for you, John." 

"What are they?" John asked. 

"I'm not sure what this means, but I hear the words, 'He won't let go of the ball.' " 

That's one more reason why I know she went across Rainbow Bridge - and that as I write this, even now she is playing slime-ball.

Shari inviting me for a game of slime-ball
  And she won't let go, either.

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