On Saturday 9/6/14, I lost my best friend of 15 years, a beautiful black labrador named Kody. I stalked these forums as I progressed through my grieving process, and I am thankful to everyone who is willing to open their hearts and share stories of their pets and the lives that were shared.
As a token of trying to give back, perhaps others can learn and/or take peace in the eulogy that I wrote this morning for my friend. Up until this point, I have really not been able to put any coherent thoughts into words, but I felt it important to journal and write about my amazing friend, and to attempt to immortalize the time that we shared together and the love that we had for one another. I've had 8 different dogs in my life, but this one was special... I haven't mourned the loss of anything more than I have the companionship of this amazing creature.
You were a licker. Your tongue was lightning fast. Any attempt to kiss you resulted in a probing wet tongue entering your mouth. Your energy was endless, and your ability to read any signs of movement from me was uncanny. If I moved an inch in preparation for going on a trip or just going to the bathroom, you would jump up, with that intent look on your face that says "where are we going... let's hit it!" You were smart, and intense. You would look into my eyes with such confidence and attention, not wanting to miss any element of our interaction. You learned to read me well, and we developed a language of our own to aid with our understanding of how we lived, loved, and played together. You loved to play ball, and could catch a speeding line drive from yards away. Over and over again you would chase the ball, catch it in some spectacular fashion, and return it to my feet only to take off running again even before I threw it. You loved to climb rocks, and rejoiced in leaping from tall places. Maybe you always wanted to fly? I could never keep you quiet for more than a few seconds - always ready to go, if we were to stop on a hike or a trail run, you had to either find a stick and fully consume it, or you had to whine and cry attempting to burn off energy until you convinced me to start moving again.
You trusted me. And I trusted you. You would let me inspect your mouth, your paws, your belly, or any other part of you without resistance or fear. To quote another poem - "your trust in me made me trustworthy"... and I can't tell you how much this warmed my heart. We both honored this agreement, and even when you would snarl at my newborn daughter, I helped you find your space but never considered that you would ever snap or bite. It just didn't seem to be part of who you were.
You were insistent - and funny. When I would sleep in, and you wanted to play or eat your breakfast, you would come into my room and rest your head on the edge of the bed. At times I would awake - startled to find your nose 2 inches from my face, staring at me. When you knew that I was awake, you would step it up a notch - and start to whine and push your nose under the covers, flipping them off with a toss of your head - attempting to coerce me out of bed. You loved resting your head on my lap. Especially when driving in the truck.
The calm times that we shared during your mid life were some of my fondest. Each evening, after our walk, we would sit together on the steps - in Colorado, California, and Montana - you next to me, leaning in, feeling the warmth and weight of your furry body against mine. We would just sit. Me with my arm around you, my fingers gently rubbing your chest. We would sit and stare at the twilight scene. Be it the sun setting behind the rocks, or the light fading over the ocean, or just a dirt alley that led up to the mountains in Montana. I would talk to you in these times together, tell you how much I love you and how much you meant to me. I'd kiss you on the ear, and you would always return the gesture with a wet lick on my cheek. It was in these times that I really felt like we knew each other, and we were cherishing, honoring, and appreciating our time together.
I traveled a lot, and I know this made you sad. I could see it. In hindsight, I feel bad about this. You probably know now that anytime that I did travel, you were on my mind, and I wished that you were there. This is especially true as you got older, and less able to be active. Even now, I see a trail, a stream, or a clear mountain lake, and I wish you were there - to jump in - to help remind me of how amazing life is and how many beautiful things are right there in front of us.
The intensity of your eye contact never changed - even when you spent most of your time sleeping. Your eyes became the way that we communicated when your ears began to fail and your vision to degrade. You would tell me what you needed - let me know when you were sad. You would watch me as I walked across the room - and stare at me with a fondness that told me how much you loved me. You would pause at stairways, and remind me that you could not get up them without my help. I know it troubled you to have me lift you up completely at times, but you did so with trust and love - knowing that we were here for each other and that we both understood.
Your tail didn't wag much in those last years, and maybe this was just because you were tired - but your occasional bursts of puppy energy told me that life was still fun for you, and that your sedentary days were still sprinkled with moments of joy. Each night, my ritual became to check in with you.. to talk with you. To kiss your head, and smell your fur. I would tell you every night that I love you. I would thank you for your love and for your dedication. Sometimes you would lick my hand, but other times you would just look at me with those eyes, and reflect back to me all of the things I had said to you, and offer me a "good night - see you tomorrow"...
The last days were tough. You fell a lot. You took a tumble off the steps and cut your nose. I saw the sadness in your eyes. It hurt my heart. I did my best to anticipate your needs, and to care for your ailments. I would listen for the sounds of struggle when you would slide off your bed onto the hardwood floor and be unable to get back up again. I would sometimes find you shaking a bit because you were cold and I would lift you back onto your bed, and put a blanket on you to help keep you warm. Our days became less involved. You would sleep most of the time. Since I work out of the house, I had the chance to check in on you throughout the day, but you were not able to be at my feet since my office was downstairs. I became used to seeing you, in the same spot, always checking to see the reassuring rise and fall of your breathing, and occasionally, the raise of your head if you could hear the door open or if you could feel the vibrations of my walking on the floor. Again, we would lock eyes - checking in with each other, and in a subtle way, conveying our love to one another.
When you decided it was time to go, there was nothing that I could do. It hurt me to see you unable to stand on your own.. unable to keep your bearings. Your only comfort was lying down. You had no interest in eating or drinking, even if water was administered to you by syringe into the side of your mouth. I could sense that you had given up. I know how much you love to bask in the sunshine, so I pulled your bed onto the deck so that you could be warmed by the morning sun. When it got to be too hot, I pulled you back inside. The grass was so green, and you love to have your nose in the cool grass, so I scooped you up - all 80 lbs of you - and carried you outside. This was the last time that you departed our home. I sat with you - alone in my lap... with your head resting against my chest. I felt you breathing, and I could feel your heartbeat. I stroked your head - I smelled your fur - which always smelled so wonderful when warmed by the sun. I let my tears fall on your head as I tried to describe to you how much you mean to me and how thankful I was that you had been a part of my life. I squeezed you - fearful of the thought of letting you go. My 4 year old daughter came over and joined me in this embrace - likely conflicted about the desire to console her grief stricken dad or to say her goodbyes to a dog that had been with her since her birth. After our alone time together, I moved you over to the shade to sit with our whole family in the grass under a tall tree. We all laid with you on the grass. I made sure that you were warm by keeping you covered with a blanket. My daughter collected feathers, pine cones, and leaves, and made a memorial collection on your back.
Our last hour was spent alone with me lying next to you - my head touching yours, and my hand caressing your soft ears. I explained to you what was happening, and told you that you didn't need to be scared. That soon you would be running and playing and free of the burdens of old age and a fragile body. I heard the vet drive in the driveway, and I got up awkwardly, reluctantly, and went inside to get my wife. We gathered outside around your peaceful sleeping self, and the vet began to administer the drugs that would take away your pain. I placed your head on my lap, and stroked your ears. Tears fell from both our eyes, struggling to understand the morality and wisdom of what we were endeavoring into... knowing what the outcome would be was scary for me... and it was difficult for me to reconcile that I had spent my whole life with this dog protecting him from harm and keeping him safe, yet here I was assisting with the administration of a process that would end his life. We watched you relax, and I watched your breathing slow. I could see the familiar pulsing of your heart through your frail and aging skin, and as I watched it pulse for the last time, I quietly whispered in your ear - run buddy - go run... you're free.