…insert spooky piano music and meow here
I did not plan for this to go up on Halloween, as it is neither spooky or funny, but this is how things work out. I’ve been meaning to write about this for years.
The Final Goodbye
Let me preface this by saying that I do not at all believe in the supernatural, from the existence of ghosts to God. I don’t believe in any of it. Dead is dead.
That being said, I do understand I could be wrong and would be interested in any concrete scientific evidence to the contrary. So far, none exists.
What I do believe in, backed up by mountains of scientific evidence and personal experience, is that the human mind deals with strong emotions in endless ways.
The emotion I’m going to talk about is grief and how my mind deals with it.
And I’m specifically talking about grief after losing a non-human companion.
In 2005, our first dog, Roscoe, died. He was old for a basset, nearly 16, and had health issues that only got worse in his last couple of years. His death was not unexpected, but still hit us very hard.
It was 18 months before we felt ready for another dog, at which point we adopted Daisy Ann (November 2006). A month later, we adopted Winker Sue (December, 2006). They filled a huge hole in our hearts.
In that 18 months before we adopted Daisy & Winker, I thought about Roscoe often, but I never had a dream about him or really felt that final moment where you really let go. I just sort of rolled along. After we got The Girls, I thought about Roscoe somewhat less often. I was dealing with two rowdy dogs and life and such.
But in February of 2007, just before I was due to go to Dundracon, I was sitting in the living room late at night when it happened. I was very tired and had just looked at The Girls sleeping in front of the TV when I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
It was Roscoe. The front door was open a foot or so and he gave me a doggy smile and a little woof. Then I heard him say, “You’ll be okay now, boss. I’m outta here.”
Then he walked out the door, which shut behind him.
I jumped in my chair, no doubt coming fully awake. Everything was totally normal. The Girls were still sleeping, the tv was still on the Food Network and the house was otherwise quiet. At that point, I felt tears running down my face and said “Goodbye, Roscoe”.
From that point on I felt a weight lifted from me. I still thought of the old boy, but I wasn’t sad. Even the anniversary of his death, which is always terrible, be the deceased human or NHT, I was not as sad as I expected to be.
Fast forward a bit less than two years and we lost Daisy Ann to cancer. She was just over 6 years old and Grace, Winker and I missed her. I had been taking nightly long walks, sometimes up to 5 miles, with Daisy and I called her My Old Walking Partner. After she died on January 2nd, 2009, I stopped taking nightly walks. My heart was not in it and Winker was not inclined toward long walks.
But after about 3 months, I decided to start taking walks again. For a couple of weeks, I avoided the streets that Daisy and I walked, but one night I set off on our favorite walk, just to see how I’d handle it.
I got about 4 blocks from home, at the intersection where we usually paused to decide which route to take, when I got the very distinct feeling that a dog was beside me. I looked down and just for a fraction of a second, saw a black & white blur turn down one street. I did not hear a voice, but I got the overwhelming feeling that I was supposed to keep walking while Daisy went off on another route.
I walked for well over an hour non-stop, crying for the first few minutes. After that night, I felt okay about taking walks in that area.
Winker was born with a pretty bad heart murmur and when we adopted her at age 2+, the vets from UC Davis told us she would never live the average 10-12 years that bassets usually do. We accepted that and loved her very much. She was our little one eyed sweetie.
In 2011, she nearly died from congestive heart failure, but with medication and love, she pulled through. However, the vet told me that her time was limited, with maybe one more year. As it turned out, she died just a few days over a year later, going downhill rapidly over about 3 days.
When Winker died in February of 2012, we had had Lucy for almost 3 years and Sasha for 2 months. That and knowing that Winker was on borrowed time tended to lessen the hurt. Having been through what I now called “The Final Goodbye” twice, I waited for Winker to do hers.
And I waited. And waited some more.
It was 6 months later, in August, that it happened. It was a Saturday morning and I was sleeping in. Grace was out on some errand and Sasha & Lucy were asleep in the living room. Then I felt a dog lick my hand (which was hanging off the edge of the bed) and I heard Winker’s distinctive whine. I was waking up when I heard her happy bark. Of course, she was not there, but I still cried a bit.
Lucy was a mental mess when we got her. I have written about that before, so I won’t go into it here, but by the time she died from lymphoma, in August of 2013, she was much better. She had issues with most other dogs, but she loved Grace and I like crazy.
We had about 4 months to come to terms with her impending death, but of course, it is never easy. The fact that we adopted Daisy Mae just a few days after Lucy died did a huge amount toward healing us.
About two weeks after she died, I saw a dog that looked very much like Lucy at the dog park. For a variety of reasons, I had taken Sasha and Daisy there early in the morning and for even more reasons, I was about 3 days into some seriously shitty sleeping at night. I was pretty tired and a bit punchy and I still missed Lucy.
Turns out, that was the perfect formula for that dog to sort of morph into Lucy, but a happy and unafraid Lucy. She was running and barking having a great time. It lasted maybe 30 seconds and then I blinked and that dog was not Lucy, but I felt pretty happy. Sad, too, and still punchy, but happy. I took The Girls home and had a 5 hour nap.
It took just a bit less than 10 months, but early in the morning on September, 8th, 2019, Silky said her final goodbye. It was around 4:45 in the morning and, like all weekday mornings, Grace was up and tending to Sasha & Luke. As often happens, the dim sound of her talking to them in the living room woke me part way up. I was in that sort of hazy state of not quite sleep when I felt my hand on Silky’s head. Silky’s fur was longer, thicker and softer than any of our other bassets, and the fur I felt was hers. I rubbed her ear for a moment, then heard her say, “I’m sorry about Daisy, Daddy. I love you.”
Then I woke up, crying and missing my girls terribly. After a few minutes, I fell asleep again. When I woke up at 9:00 am. I felt a bit sad, but also glad to know I had dealt with Silky, at least partially. In 5 days, it will be the first anniversary of her death, and I think maybe it will go somewhat easier than previous first anniversaries.
I’m not sure I’ll get a final goodbye from her before the one year mark. Unlike any of the other dog’s, I feel a lot guilt over her death. It is almost certainly unwarranted, but it’s there. I feel pretty certain that her goodbye will help with me getting over the guilt, but it’s going to be a battle of two sides of my brain until then.
UPDATE FROM JUNE 4, 2020
This morning, right around 8:15, Daisy said her final goodbye. Unlike the other half awake/half asleep goodbyes from the others, this was a full on dream. I guess that’s what it took to deal with my much more complex feelings about her death.
In the dream, I was at the big dog park we go to. It looked a bit different, but was mostly the same. I was sitting in the shade on a bench when a young woman sat down next to me. I don’t know how I knew she was young, because I did not look at her. Throughout the dream, I was just staring straight ahead, watching dogs run and sniff.
Then she spoke to me.
Her: You seem sad.
Me: I’m missing our dog who died last year. I feel guilty that we did not have her euthanised sooner. We kept hoping she’d get better. We went days too long.
Her: I see. You must have loved her very much.
Me: Yes, we did.
Her: And she loved you?
Me: Oh yes.
Her: So you erred on the side of love?
Her: Everyone makes mistakes. Do you think if she were here she would forgive you?
Me: Yes, she would.
Her: Well then, maybe it’s time to not feel guilty any more.
Me: Yes, I think it is.
At this point in the dream, a big red sedan pulls up next to the fence on a road that isn’t there in real life.
Her: I’ve got to go now. You take care of yourself and stop feeling guilty. You are a good human.
And then, as she got up and walked away, I finally looked at her. She was a redhead and dressed very stylishly in red. I knew who she was, but couldn’t speak.
When she got to the car and was about to get in, she turned back and said, “Goodbye, Daddy. I love you.” Then the car drove off.
And then I woke up, crying. I cried for a good 10 minutes. I’m crying now.
Goodbye, Daisy. I love you.
Luke (updated 6/4/20)
Luke died about 2 weeks ago, on November 2nd, 2019. His health had declined rapidly due to Cushing’s Syndrome, and he had recently lost the use of his hind legs, so our vet did the right thing by him. Losing three dogs in just shy of a year has done a number on Grace & I, so I have no idea how long it might be before our boy says his final goodbye.
Unlike Daisy Mae, I feel we did right by Luke as soon as we could. I am thinking that now that my brain has dealt with Daisy, Luke won’t be long in saying goodbye.