There’s the head.
And the heart.
The head says, “You did the right thing.”
The heart says, “But I miss him.”
This morning, I brushed my teeth as usual. There’s not a whole lot different about brushing your teeth each morning. You let the water run, squeeze out some toothpaste on the brush, and brush. But when I turned my head to open the door to the medicine cabinet to put the toothpaste tube back, he was not standing in the doorway. Waiting to start a new day with me. The long ears of the Cocker Spaniel framing his face, moving a bit when he tilted his head.
He was buff and white and 15. And had aged, but not a lot. Until this year, the last two or three months.
When I moved into the master bedroom closet, a large closet where my walker was waiting — as I’m 94 and will be 95 in March — I’d learned to be careful that I did not bump him, moving to allow him to see the movement with his good eye.
He’d developed a problem with his right eye a couple of years ago, and I put eye drops in both eyes to help the right one and stave off any problem with the left. I’d just picked up a new packet last week as I was running low and didn’t want to run out.
As I would dress and looked down at him I often said — also at night in going to bed: “You don’t have to do this. You have one suit for all occasions.” If he didn’t fully understand, he usually kept me company each morning, and many nights, as I changed.
Then steering the walker, we head for the hall and the living room, where I turn on the TV. I’m a news person and tune in a favorite morning show. He usually turns left, to the kitchen, anticipating me.
For years, feeding Winston was a simple matter. A half cup of dry dog food scooped out of the big bag I keep in an old trash compactor. Perfect for the dog food, a drawer you can pull out and push in. I would pick up the water bowl and run fresh water. Scoop out the dog food and put that bowl — a matching set I bought years ago that has the word DOG embedded in the ceramic surface — and reach for my breakfast drink in the fridge.
But … this morning, his food bowl was up on the counter. Empty. Waiting. As he’d not eaten last Sunday despite two tries — the Gourmand, we dubbed him these last months — as I’d try different things to entice him. Ground beef cooked into patties, broken up and mixed with the dry dog food, and enhanced with beef broth or bouillon. Or poached chicken, ditto and mixed with chicken broth or bouillon. I hit a lucky streak with a canned dog food I’d gotten at the vet’s suggestion a while ago.
“Winston’s eating!” became a frequent refrain in emails to friends.
But it was not always so. And not this past weekend.
During an earlier down time, the vet had said, “Let me know if he doesn’t eat anything for two or three days.” Last Friday, he ate nothing. Nor Saturday. And Sunday morning, he just walked over, looked down at his bowl, and walked away.
Although it was Sunday, the veterinary hospital I have used for some 30 years is open, and I called. Would this wait until Monday … or did they want to see him today? Today would be better.
Because of my age and limitations, I no longer drive, and am dependent on friends for trips to the doctor, so I had to find someone who could take Winston in. And finally did. Incidentally, they have curbside pick-up these days. You park in the lot, call, and someone comes out to get your dog.
I tried to think it would be all right. And when he came over to sit down in front of me, I did our daily routine. I’d pet him, chuck him under the chin, as I said: “This is Sunday. We like Sundays. Yes, we do.”
His decline had prompted me to say occasionally, “We’ll have another Thanksgiving together. And Christmas.” At some point that morning, I said, “We had Thanksgiving.” The holiday just ending. “Now it’s Christmas.”
As the time for pick up neared, I took out his leash, attached it, and sat with him. A quiet time. Together. And a few minutes later, he was trotting out to my friend’s car for his trip to the vet.
The vet called later to say they thought it was the gastrointestinal tract. Possibly an ulcer. Or a tumor. They would give him liquids. But he would need more later, and she asked if I could do that. Something about a syringe.
I did not think I could do what needed to be done. So it was agreed I’d board him there for three days while they did what was needed.
That evening, especially when I sat in the living room watching TV and he wasn’t lying in one of his favorite spots, a few yards from me, I thought: This is what it would be like without him.
No word Monday, which I took to be good news. And was.
Then Tuesday about noon the vet called. He was not doing well that morning.
They still felt it was his digestive tract but didn’t know what it was. Which meant they couldn’t fix it.
She said I could pick him up and I’d have a day or two with him. Perhaps, three. Or I could come in (not said but implied) and say my goodbyes.
I tried to tell her how hard it was for me to do what needed to be done. Or to get in.
And so began the conversation that revolves around what is not being said.
It was unfortunate that my vet of 30 years, who had treated Winston since I got him, had just retired. And however good this vet was, she did not know me or my relationship with Winston, doing everything I possibly could at every point of his life. So I worried that she might have thought I couldn’t take time to come out and get him or at least say goodbye.
I had said goodbye. In that hour or so we waited for my friend to pick him up Sunday afternoon.
My head says, “You did the right thing.”
But my heart still sees him everywhere.
Now, at my desk and writing this on my computer, I see him last week: lying not 10 feet from me, his back to the bookcase. And when I finished and reached for the walker, he pulled himself up and followed me, out of the study, down the hall, and took a favorite place in the living room as I took a favorite chair to watch TV.
The void is what breaks your heart.
It’s all well and good that you did what was best for him, the right thing, the only thing — other than that you might have delayed the inevitable a bit by bringing him home for a day or two or three — but his not being here tears at my heart.
Calls and emails from friends have helped.
One email of condolences was particularly helpful. “You were such a good caregiver to him. He lived a good, long, full life. We hope that brings you some comfort.”
And we did make Thanksgiving this year.
Just not Christmas.
Featured image: Winston (photo courtesy Val Lauder)
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