Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hellos and Goodbyes

It’s not easy watching your big, strong dog grow weaker and weaker.


This dog once chewed through a huge wire kennel….multiple times. He has effortlessly destroyed stereo speakers, a couch, apartment doors, a fence, and even a sliding glass door, a move that nearly got him killed long before his time. He spent a decade pulling me around on his walks, dictating where we’d go, leaving me no choice but to trudge along behind his 80 pound frame.


These days, as the cancer ravages his old, tired body, it’s a different story. He still has his moments of strength, but he saves them for climbing onto the couch or walking around the block. He uses an ice chest as a stepping stool to climb into the car, and he now takes only the elevator, never the stairs. His tumors grow larger by the day and the spring is quickly fading from his steps. His big, bright, beautiful brown eyes are growing dim.


It’s hard...in fact, it’s devastating. He is my baby. And I have to sit here powerless, knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this disease from claiming him, terrified he’s going to have a bleeding episode while Mr. W is at work or that the end will be painful for him. We’re doing all we can. We make his food now, which he’s more than happy to eat. We keep his pillows puffy and clean, we rub his belly and we give him a pain pill when he seems to need one. We tell him we love him and we’re sorry he’s sick. Sometimes we just cry.


Every day I sit at my desk and I work, listening to his grunts and snores, dreading the day I won’t hear them anymore. And then, just as I start to wonder how I will possibly be able to be alone in this apartment and face the sound of silence, I feel tiny little kicks….kicks that grow stronger by the day, kicks that I am so ecstatic to feel.


I believe everything happens when it’s meant to, even if the timing seems off. People have expressed their sympathy to me for going through the slow, sad loss of my dog while I’m pregnant… and I admit, it’s not easy to keep it together with all these hormones coursing through me. But If I have to lose him, I’d rather it be now, before I have an infant in the picture, so that I can give him the love and attention he deserves.


Last Thursday, we learned our sweet baby is a girl. It’s something we’ve felt in our hearts all along, but it was still a beautiful surprise. Let’s just say learning we’re going to have a daughter is a long time coming, much longer than that fateful night five months ago when we made her. We’ve both been getting signs for years, so strong that Mr. W admitted to me a month ago that if this wasn’t a girl, he was going to question everything he believed in as well as his own sanity. I agreed.


I was a wreck before the ultrasound. We’re only doing this parenthood thing once, so no matter what we heard, our lives would be changed forever. And in addition to the big reveal, there were so many things to worry about...I’d heard stories of babies with spina bifida, cysts on the brain, and tons of things that could put me on bed rest or (the horror!) “pelvic rest” (celibacy).


But when the elevator stopped on our way to the 11th floor and we heard “My Girl” playing in the lobby, I was all smiles and I was able to relax.


I can’t describe the way I felt when the ultrasound tech zoomed in on those little bits and announced, “It’s a girl.” I got an overwhelming sense of peace, and I started to cry, something I never do in front of strangers. Mr. W remained calm, squeezing my hand and saying “I told you so.” The rest of the appointment was euphoric as they counted ten toes, ten fingers that already know how to point and give a thumbs up (seriously), every little body part in tact and a healthy beating heart.


The very next day we took Dexter in for X-rays and ultrasounds of his own. The news was not good. The cancer has spread to his lungs, and there’s nothing more they can do for him. Hemangiosarcoma will take him from us soon. I was upset, but I wasn’t surprised. We’d both been bracing ourselves for bad news all week.


I thought the bad news would put a damper on the euphoria we felt on Thursday. But it didn’t. I finally felt at peace with it all, knowing where we stood. Mr. W and I bought Dexter a hamburger for dinner that night (organic and hormone free, even). Next weekend we’ll give him one last birthday with his traditional cupcake. And when it’s time, we’ll let him go. One day we’ll tell our daughter stories about our ridiculous dog, who will always be our only baby boy.

Life is bittersweet, but it’s beautiful. And I’m already more grateful to my daughter than she will ever know. Since I can’t drown my feelings in bottles of wine or fly off to Vegas to escape the pain, I’m forced to process my emotions with a sober mind and face my fears without a crutch. It’s hard. But it’s making me stronger. I’m supposed to be the one making her stronger right now, but what she doesn’t know is that she’s already doing the same for me.


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