I can’t relate to what’s happening in the world right now. I can’t understand people on Labor Day vacations. I can’t compute first day of school photos. I can’t abide opportunities to purchase long lasting lipstick or phenomenal acne treatments. I don’t care about your bad day or your good day.
Nothing matters but right here, right now.
I don’t know what day it is or when everything with Hurricane Harvey started.
I know I felt a sense of relief when it hit Corpus Christi. Sure, I felt bad, but it wasn’t here… so, honestly, there was relief. We’ve had our fair share of hurricanes, tropical storms and loss. But, what came for us… the incessant storms, the flash flooding, the mass destruction was far worse than anything I could have anticipated.
Everything around us is wiped away – entire homes, entire neighborhoods, entire communities. Cars lie haphazardly in ditches, abandoned – I hope – when the roads became impassable. Families are displaced everywhere. The whole region is mourning.
This is truly the most awful thing I’ve ever witnessed.
Our family is okay. By some fluke of luck, we are fine. But, so, so many others are not. My heart aches for them.
Y’all bear with me as I try to write this with my mind missing. It was blown away by Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.
Let me begin by saying that I don’t watch TheDaily Show due to my severe distaste for the news… even funny news. Because literally… it’s all so depressing. So, I came to this book completely ignorant of who Trevor Noah was and what he did for a living. I read it simply because apartheid is something I feel like I know about but don’t really get. I felt like I should understand it better… Plus, it was billed as being funny and who can resist the dichotomy of a funny story about apartheid?
From page one, I was hooked.
It didn’t bother me that the stories weren’t linear. Even the language didn’t bother me because I don’t think you can tell this story any other way. It would fall flat.
If my brain could’ve provided a running commentary of this book as I was reading it, then it would’ve gone a little something like:
Literally, I hope you’re joking because I can’t believe I’m laughing at this.
Seriously, stop laughing… You should not be laughing at this.
Wow, I think I’m crying now.
When did I start crying?
**You get the gist.**
What really blew my mind is that Trevor Noah is my age. While I was living my cushy life in America… watching Ninja Turtles, swishing around school in my pastel wind suit, drinking Surge behind my parents’ back, THIS was happening across the globe in South Africa. It’s unbelievable. How could I not have known this?
Most importantly, what is happening right now that I don’t know about?
The thought is terrifying.
I’m not sure if this was my favorite book of the year, but I’m billing it as the most quotable. It’s too bad I had a library copy because, otherwise, I would have highlighted the whole thing.
Life without Ellie has been a series of painful reminders.
It’s the little things that get you…
Ellie liked to lie on the cold tile in our entryway. I’d have to force my eyes not to look in that direction because I’d still… oddly enough… expect to see her there. Even in my peripheral vision, I’d think I’d see her, front paws splayed out straight, her white chin resting between them, eyes half-closed. I’d have to forcibly tell myself not to look — that it wasn’t real.
I didn’t open the blinds to the back yard for weeks. Same reason. There are these little smudges on the windowpane where she’d bump her nose against the glass to let us know she wanted back in. I haven’t had the heart to wipe them off. Ellie was there once. I wish she still was.
And, then there are the water bottles. My kids are incredibly wasteful with water bottles. They will open brand new ones, take a few sips and then forget about them. It’s a point of contention in our home. But, when I found them, forgotten in corners, toppled over by their beds, scattered around the kitchen table, I’d pour them in Ellie’s bowl. Then, it felt like less of a waste… Plus, Ellie always appreciated bottled water, unlike some people in our house. For the longest, I didn’t know what to do with the water bottles.
When Kyle took Ellie to be put down, I kept watching our driveway, halfway expecting him to bring her straight back. Maybe he’d come up with a good solution in that short drive to the vet. Maybe the vet would come up with a new idea that was destined to work and he’d come bounding in with renewed hope and our no-worse-for-the-wear pup. So, I kept all her stuff just as she left it… her water and food dishes as they were, her medicine in the cabinet, her food in the bin, her leash hanging on the peg. Even after Kyle came home without her, I still couldn’t bring myself to move anything… just in case. I’m not sure what that “case” was, but it felt right even if it didn’t make sense.
Eventually someone took up the bowls. I think it was Kyle. I saw them in the garage. But, everything else is just as it was. Whenever I’d open the cabinet that was hers in the laundry room, I’d see her things and think I should throw them out. But, it’s easier to just shut the cabinet, so I’d do that instead.
We had a rhythm with Ellie. It was such a seamless part of our lives that we hardly even noticed it. We let her out at certain times, in at certain times, filled her bowls at certain times, bathed her at certain times. But, now I go to the door, touch the knob and then realize my brain’s gotten it all wrong again.
Ellie was never much of a guard dog. No one would find our half-blind, lethargic dog a threat. But, she made me feel safe. After Ellie died, I felt so insecure in our home. It didn’t feel the same. There was one less set of eyes – even old, dimmed eyes – on this house and these little people. I depended on her.
We told the kids that we’d look for another puppy after our vacation (more on that later), but I fully expected it would take months, maybe even a year, to find just the right dog. I didn’t really know what I wanted. Well, that’s not true… I wanted Ellie back. But, as far as what was realistic, I didn’t know.
Part of me felt like no dog would compare to Ellie, so why put one in that position — to always be forced to live up to some unattainable goal. Another part of me thought another dog would diminish Ellie’s memory in the kids’ minds. Part of me felt like it would be a betrayal to Ellie – to love another dog. And, then there’s the cost of a new dog, a cost that I felt guilty not spending on Ellie, to maybe buy her more time, make her more comfortable.
But, in my heart, I knew we’d get another dog… someday.
That day came sooner than expected.
Kyle called me from work and basically said, let’s go get a puppy.
There was a litter we’d considered, but… frankly… there were several litters we’d considered and then decided we weren’t quite compelled enough to move forward.
But, for whatever reason, we went back to that last litter and thought, well… if they still have that one puppy we liked, we’ll see.
As it turned out, that puppy was still available, but someone was coming to look at her and her sister right then.
So, then we said, well, we’ll see if she’s still there after that person leaves.
And, then she was.
Kyle looked at me imploringly and I said, let’s just go look.
We surprised the kids — told them we were going to buy some more discs for Kyle disc golf habit. (This is a real addiction for him — so no big shock there.) On the drive over, I kept thinking how unprepared we were… The house wasn’t puppy proofed yet. The kids haven’t healed yet. I hadn’t healed yet. But, what was the harm in looking?
We didn’t tell the kids anything until we pulled into the breeder’s driveway. They immediately burst into tears. I’m pretty sure they were happy/sad tears, since I had a few leaking from my eyes, as well.
I was far more impressed with the breeder than I expected. I was far more impressed with their environment than I expected. And, the puppies had the very best mom. She was sweet, gentle, calm, confident, quiet and highly intelligent, so much like our Ellie. The breeder showed us all her tricks and we were impressed. But, then we saw the puppies… Gosh, it’s impossible to not love a troupe of puppies barreling, tripping, yipping across the yard to you.
I immediately spotted our girl, notable because her white markings where all her siblings were solid brown. She licked our faces and stared in our eyes with her crystal green ones. I told myself to be logical. So, I checked her all over to make sure she was healthy, flipped her on her back to make sure she was submissive enough to trust me, watched her interact with the kids and her litter mates.
After a little discussion, we left with our puppy. Our new little lady.
The kids named her Emmeline and call her Emme. It’s close to Ellie and that’s fine by me.
In many ways, this puppy has reminded me of Ellie. And, each time she does, it stings a little bit. I’m glad we didn’t get another golden for that reason alone. We already had enough reminders.
But, in dozens of other ways, she’s her own little creature. That’s fine by me, too.
I still have sad spells, crying spells, aching spells. But, this puppy has been such a distraction. I wasn’t aware of how badly we all needed that. We haven’t had a puppy in 13 years and I forgot how challenging they are, but it’s a challenge we’re all up for — if only to get to that place where we were with Ellie — complete trust, complete love, complete devotion, complete family.
Forgive me for that title, but I love alliteration. It’s a weakness.
Also, **Spoiler Alert**, I’m discussing Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, with a little bit of Girl on the Train sprinkled in for good measure. If you want to read either of those books and haven’t, do NOT proceed.
So, I’ve noticed that people either love or hate Paula Hawkins. Personally, I’m in the like/love category. Believe me, I felt pretty sheepish when I read and enjoyed Girl on the Train and then endured review after review after review of people calling it the worst book of the year… or ever…
Um, clearly it wasn’t the absolute worst since it sold so many copies and was made into a movie… But, ahem, I digress…
Now, I suspect Into the Water will be just as divisive. And, here’s why… Paula Hawkins doesn’t have any heroes in her books. You certainly have protagonists and antagonists, but they’re a bit icky.
Case in point: In Girl on the Train (Warning: More Spoilers), your main gal is Rachel Watson. You sympathize with her. You want her to be okay. But… hey… she’s also a raging alcoholic, part-time stalker, almost kidnapper, very emotionally disturbed, sleeps with the victim’s grieving (and also super weird and gross) spouse… And, you’re just thinking Pull it TOGETHER, Rachel! Good grief! Enough is enough!
You’ll find much of the same in Into the Water.
Case in point: Main gal Lena. She’s lost her best friend and mother. She’s absolutely broken. You just feel for her! But, oh hey… she flirts with her teachers for the joy of making them uncomfortable… does drugs and drinks… she is SUPER rude to just about everyone… Oh, yeah… and she might be a murderer.
She’s hard to love.
But, that’s the thing. That’s why I really like Paula Hawkins. Because, in real life, people are sometimes hard to love. And, they can make the worst possible decisions. And, they are gross and unlovable and complex. And, you can respect them and hate them all at once.
Yes, it’s nice to read books with clear cut lines of allegiance. I do love an underdog story. Who doesn’t love a hero who perseveres despite terrible odds? Those books are amazing! And, real life heroes DO exist. I know that they do!
Real life heroes can also fall, make mistakes and let the world down. Because real life heroes are real life humans.
Like… Remember Lance Armstrong, who was this amazing athlete who accomplished so much after battling cancer? We all LOVED Lance Armstrong! He was great! We all wore his Live Strong yellow wristbands! He was on magazine covers and could basically conquer the world.
But, writers like Paula Hawkins aren’t afraid to remind you that ol’ Lance turned out to be a cheater, among other things…
Does that negate everything he did that was great? Does that take away his prestige or accomplishments?
But, is he an evil mastermind?
I doubt it.
That’s why I love Paula Hawkins. In her books, she isn’t afraid to tell the truth about the Lance Armstrong’s of the world. She has no trouble reminding you of the grittier side of humanity – the disappointments and the idiocy and the messy mistakes.
If you need a hero, these aren’t your books.
But, if you need a reminder that life isn’t so black and white, maybe they are.
The thing I love about books is that they’re kinda like a built-in conversation. You read a book, then you discuss a book and, pretty soon, you’ve addressed a difficult topic that you were never quite brave enough to confront head on.
When Ellie started getting sick, I researched and read my way through dozens of children’s books that I hoped would help my kids (and me) cope with the grief of losing our sweet girl. This week, we’ve leaned heavy on the best of those books. I thought I’d share for anyone who might be going through something similar.
Here’s our favorites:
1. The Heaven of Animals by Nancy Tillman
Some books are made for the kids that read them and some books are made for the adults who read them to kids. It’s a rare skill, but I think Nancy Tillman accomplishes both. The unbelievably rich and ethereal illustrations always keep my kids’ attention. And, oh… the words… they get me every time. What I like about this book is that it reassures readers that the bonds of love we share with our pets never go away. It focuses on the happiness and peace of the pet that’s passed AND it addresses losing different types of pets – not just dogs. We bought this one and I wrote a special message inside the cover about Ellie. It will stay in our home as a keepsake and something the kids can refer to whenever they feel down.
Favorite line: But the love that you have for your animal friends is always the same — that love never ends. It makes itself known in all kinds of ways. It floats all around them, or settles and stays. And when angels whisper in animal ears, it is your voice that each animal hears.
2. The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
Todd Parr is the Mr. Rogers of our generation. He manages to take complex ideas and simplify them into something children not only understand, but enjoy. The illustrations in this book are colorful, poignant and simple, making it perfect for younger readers with shorter attention spans. It takes you through the stages of loss and the associated feelings. I love that he reassures you that those feelings – whatever they may be – arenormal. I also love that it’s not specific to pet grief. It’s purposefully vague and could easily be used for any kind of loss.
Click here for a link to a really sweet video by the author about the book, with a little sneak peek of its contents.
3. Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann
This is technically a Halloween book, but I think it’s perfect for any kids that love Tim Burton (we have some of those in our house!) or ones that could use an offbeat fictional story to discuss how they’re feeling. It begins with a promise made between a boy and his dog under a full moon. Later, when the boy is harassed by some skeletons on Halloween night, his deceased dog comes back to rescue him. Does that sound gruesome? Because it’s really not… The point is, your pet will always be with you even if they’re not here right now. Of all the books we’ve read, Holland enjoyed this one the most.
Favorite line: Afterwards, Gus and Ella sat together in the moonlight. Gus asked, ‘Will I see you again?’ ‘A promise made under a full moon cannot be broken,’ said Ella. With that she disappeared into the night.
4. Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas
This is a sweet book about a girl and her aging dog. She begins to notice that her dog is struggling with things that were once easy for her to do. When the dog eventually passes, she thinks she’ll never want another pet. But, eventually, she finds room in her heart to love another dog. I like that this book addresses the complicated things that happen before a pet dies and normalizes the aging process. At times, my kids didn’t understand why we couldn’t fix Ellie. They assumed that you could just take her to the doctor and she’d get better, like when they’re sick. More than any other book, this story helped them understand that there are problems that can’t be remedied by the vet.
Favorite line: ‘You’re not Lulu,’ I whisper to him. ‘Still, I’ll love you, too.’ But I think he already knows that.
5. I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm
This one was a toughie. The dog’s name was Elfie (um, might as well be Ellie) and she looked like a Golden Retriever. (cue: tears!) The book focuses on a little boy who is losing the pet he was raised with. It explains how, even though you grow up together, dogs grow up faster than humans. It also reiterates the importance of always telling those you love how you feel about them.
Favorite line: The years passed quickly, and while I was growing taller and taller, Elfie was growing rounder and rounder. The older Elfie got, the more she slept, and the less she liked to walk. I was getting worried!
6. Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
This beautiful, colorful book describes what happens to your dog when it goes to heaven. That’s one of those hard questions we got from the kids. But what will Ellie do in heaven? This book gave them plenty of happy scenarios. Dogs run through fields. They swim in lakes. They play with angel children. They eat dog biscuits and sleep on clouds. My favorite part of the book is that the dogs remember their families on earth and still check on them. That thought gives my children (and me) plenty of comfort.
Favorite line: Dogs in Dog Heaven have almost always belonged to somebody on Earth and, of course, the dogs remember this. Heaven is full of memories. So sometimes an angel will walk a dog back to Earth for a little visit and quietly, invisibly, the dog will sniff about his old backyard, will investigate the cat next door, will follow the child to school, will sit on the front porch and wait for the mail. When he is satisfied that all is well, the dog will return to Heaven with the angel. It is where dogs belong, near God who made them.
7. When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers
Oh, Mr. Rogers. He just gets it, doesn’t he?! He explains everything so sweetly – the special role pets fill in our lives, what a vet is and what they can and can’t do, what it feels like to lose a pet, how to handle the emotions we feel and what it’s like to grieve. The book is filled with photographs and, while they’re definitely outdated (see: 1988), they still apply today. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, you tender, tender man.
Favorite line: No matter how sad or angry you feel when your pet dies, one thing you can be sure of is that you won’t always feel that way. When sad things do happen, the best place to be is near someone you love… someone who can understand how you are feeling.
8. Sally Goes to Heaven by: Stephen Huneck
My kids love the Sally books. Sally’s been everywhere – the beach, the vet, the farm. Sally’s even been in a hot air balloon! Sally’s led a good life, and I love that the author of this book allowed Sally to also go to heaven. (Thank you, Stephen Huneck, for sacrificing your character so we could all learn how to deal with loss.) When Sally goes to heaven, she’s happy, but she also cares about her family left behind, and even goes to the trouble of helping her family find another pet to love. This idea sparked a nice conversation about what Ellie would want us to feel and do. Right now it’s hard to imagine, but we know Ellie would want us to love a new dog someday. (And, if you’ve never read a Huneck book, you have to see his folk art woodblock illustrations. They’re SO amazing and totally frame-able!)
Sadly, Stephen Huneck lost his battle with depression in 2010. Before he died, he created The Dog Chapel on top of Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Click here for a little clip about that special place (which I hope to visit someday):
If you’ve read any of these books or know of any more we should check out, please let me know! We’re still reading, learning, coping with life without our Ellie Belly.
**Note: This blog was weeks in the making… I’d write a little bit and then it got too hard and I’d stop. This is why the time frame is a bit off and I dip between past and present tense. I was going to edit it, but… again… too hard. So, I left it in its raw format. Oh, and fair warning, it’s long. **
Ellie came to our family 13 years ago, when I was newly married and sick with grief and never, ever, ever, ever wanted another dog.
At that point in my life, putting my 14-year-old lab down was the worst thing I’d ever been through. Even now, after years of challenges – losing a home, surgeries, medical scares, sitting with my children in hospitals – putting Spanky down still ranks up there with one of the most awful experiences of my life.
While I was still in the thick of mourning, Kyle came home late from work. I was annoyed. Even on a great day, I’d be annoyed. But, this day especially… I wasn’t sleeping, my heart was broken and I just wanted to crawl under the covers. I couldn’t believe he could be so insensitive as to be late. But, when he got out of the car, with a goofy grin and this little golden fuzzball tucked up under his arm, a portion of my heart smiled again.
I never picked Ellie out. Never saw her litter or met her parents. Never researched her breed or questioned her breeder. But, when Kyle handed me that little puppy, he handed me a best friend. Since that moment, Ellie has been loved every day – every minute – of her life.
From the beginning, Ellie seemed to understand that her job was to absorb the grief I’d been carrying. She was kind and gentle and earnest. Even as a playful puppy, she had a peaceful demeanor. It’s amazing how much dogs can communicate without words. She helped me get through that dark time and countless dark times after that… just by being there.
Ellie’s lifelong mission has been to make us happy. She just always wanted to do what we needed her to do. As soon as she figured out what that was, she did it every time. Without fail.
Throughout her life, she has only ever had two vices, which I’ve allowed because, when you have a dog that good, you allow them some foibles.
She digs. Ellie digs for the pure love of digging. She doesn’t bury anything. She doesn’t dig up anything. She just loves throwing dirt around. If you know Goldens… you know they smile. And, Ellie smiles her biggest and brightest when elbow-deep in fresh dirt. Even better is when she’s exhausted herself digging and can then wallow and nap in her efforts. (She requires lots of bathing and my floors require lots of mopping.)
She loves dirty laundry… especially socks. (The stinkier the better.) As a puppy, she would steal them, hoard them, hide them and then roll in them when she thought we weren’t looking. When that got old, she’d “show” you her prize. She’d prance in front of you with her sock, her tail wagging her whole body. Then she’d come rub it on you, drag it across your legs, jump up beside you and hold it in your face. But, oh… if you tried to grab it, she’d dash off with it. We lost soooo many socks that first year.
Quick story: One day, when she was still quite young, we had company over. After greeting everyone (see: bathing them in kisses), she ran off to our room. I kinda figured she’d come back with a sock since she always had one or two hidden under the bed for special occasions. But, she had bigger ideas than that.
A minute later, Ellie came running back in the room… proud as a peach… with my lingerie.
What ensued was several horrifying minutes (for us) and pure joy for our puppy. I kept better tabs on my lingerie from then on.
Here’s a fun fact about Ellie: She is completely housebroken and has been since her first week of life with us. She’s just so good about it. But, whenever I bring a baby home from the hospital, she poops on the floor. Just once. Every time. We don’t know why.
Is it excitement? Is it confusion? Is it a peaceful protest?
The world may never know.
My favorite thing is to make Kyle clean up those “welcome home” presents because Kyle has a powerful gag reflex and I have a sick sense of humor. (Oh, and I’ve just had a baby so… trump card!)
Despite her unusual habit, Ellie adores each one of our babies from the moment they come home. I’d often find her sleeping by the crib of whoever was the newest in our family. And… my goodness… she loves baby toes. Ellie would sometimes sit at the base of our baby swing, her head swaying with its rhythm, just doing her darndest to lick those little toes as they swung by.
Oh, and high chairs. I can’t forget that Ellie loves a baby in a high chair. For obvious reasons.
When Gabi was just a few weeks old and Ellie was just over a year, we had to evacuate for a hurricane. Since she was a baby puppy, Ellie has always gotten very car sick. Within the first 30 minutes of any car ride, Ellie loses her lunch… even if she didn’t have any lunch or any dinner. It always amazed me how much she could still throw up even with Dramamine! She’s mostly outgrown it, but it was really awful in her younger years.
Anyway, we were evacuating in Kyle’s little Dodge Stratus. I was in the back seat with our newborn so I could watch her and feed her, if need be. Ellie sat in the front seat and… I don’t know… probably fifteen minutes into our trip, she vomited in the cup holder. Our four-hour drive to high ground ended up being 14 hours because of evacuation traffic. During that time, Ellie threw up countless times into that cup holder. Each time, Kyle would sweat and dry heave and complain under his breath. I’ve never laughed so much in my life.
We lost our home in that hurricane and spent a year technically homeless – bouncing around to different family members’ homes with our newborn. We lost a lot in that storm. Everyone did. While we were trying to pick up the pieces, Ellie stayed with my sister in Arizona. We drove her halfway and yes… she was sick during most of it. I ached for her during that short time we were separated.
As soon as we got a home, we brought Ellie back. We just picked up where we left off. Gabi was starting to walk by that point and she would hold Ellie’s tail as she’d take those first shaky steps around the house.
Over time, all of our babies have taken those early unsure, wobbly steps gripping some piece of Ellie. It’s been a rite of passage. Looking back, I think she must have wanted it that way. She sure positioned herself to be at the right place, at the right time.
Life with Ellie has been amazing. We never have to worry if she’ll do the right thing, if she’ll behave in public, if she’ll walk nicely on a leash, if she’ll warmly welcome our guests – whether person or creature. When she was around two, she received her AKC Canine Good Citizen certification and she’s been an ambassador with several different groups to teach about pet care and safety, as well as do therapy work with children.
I’ve seen little kids who are deeply fearful of dogs warm up with Ellie. You can’t not love her.
I was always happy to share Ellie, but, she’s primarily been our therapy dog. That puppy has put in overtime in our home, keeping us all afloat at our lowest moments.
Ellie has loved my babies as much – or, if I’m being honest, sometimes better – than me. Never barks. Never bites. Never loses patience. (Whereas, I lose my patience all the time.) She loves to play with them, though she doesn’t fetch anymore or have much interest in toys. She allows them to dress her up. Smother her in blankets. Use her as a pillow when they’re watching movies. She welcomes them to dig with her, loves it when they play in the mud. (Gosh, she loves it when they’re naughty. I swear, she encourages them!) She still licks their toes and looks for dropped crumbs of whatever they’re eating. If they put a leash on her, she’ll trot along wherever they take her and, when her joints aren’t too creaky, she’ll do her tricks over and over and over, even though they never give her treats. She does it just for the sheer joy of hearing them giggle and clap.
It’s always been a policy that Ellie didn’t sleep in our bed. That’s the same policy we have with our kids. But, in both situations, rules have been broken.
Ellie sleeps with me whenever Kyle goes out of town. I need someone to fill his space in the bed. I need someone next to me who would also do whatever it takes to protect my babies. I’ve always known that — at the end of the day and as sweet as she is — Ellie would happily give her life to protect any one of us.
Happily. Like she does everything.
I’ve seen her in action only once when the kids were playing in my parents yard. Ellie and I were casually watching them when my uncle (who’s tall with a big beard) kinda popped up out of nowhere. It was the only time I’ve seen her growl or snap at anyone. She stopped the minute I said her name reassuringly, but I’m convinced she would’ve defended those babies to the utter end if I needed her to. I never forgot that and it made me feel safe.
I could go on forever about this puppy. And, I probably will for a long time. But, here comes the hard part…
Ellie is sick. And she’s not getting better.
We found a bump on her back earlier in the year. It wasn’t very big or remarkable. Just a bump. As an old dog, Ellie is full of bumps and weird smells and white fur. She’s earned the right to be a funny-smelling, bumpy old lady. Plus, the vet said bumps here and there aren’t a big deal in an older dog.
But, over time we noticed that Ellie’s also been doing some other weird things. Barking and crying a lot – especially for a dog that has spent her life never doing much of either. She would be ravenous for water, even when she had a fresh bowl sitting right by her. She’d throw up occasionally – no rhyme or reason why. Her stools weren’t normal. Her diet’s been off and she’s been eating odd things that aren’t food. She’s been extremely lethargic, like even more so than usual. I would have to force her to get up and come inside because once she laid down somewhere, she never wanted to move.
Again, we talked to the vet and there were a lot of possibilities as to why… dogs throw up sometimes, she may have eaten something that’s upsetting her stomach, she could be anxious, her vision is getting bad, her hearing is getting bad… She’s just getting confused more often… Everything was always summed up with: she’s getting older.
Until, finally, this Easter, we found that the small bump on her back wasn’t a bump anymore. It was a mass – a large, grapefruit-sized, weepy, puss-filled mass. Almost overnight it’d gone from nothing to definitely something.
We took her right in to the vet. They frowned and scratched their heads. They did a biopsy. Did some more frowning. And, eventually said – inconclusive. They couldn’t tell if it was cancer or not.
Inconclusive is a terrible word, you know. Not quite relief. Not quite dread. Just worry.
When you have an older dog, you have to be proactive, but conservative. So, we did the less invasive route of treating it like a skin infection. She was on handfuls of medications. And, after some time passed, it had gotten much, much better! We thought we were home free…
… Until, it came back weeks later.
So, we treated it again.
It got better, then came back again.
So, we tried again.
But, each time it came back, it was worse than before and she’d exhibit new symptoms.
She also started growing new bumps. Two on her head, one by her eye. With less fur on her head, we could see them more clearly… and they were getting bigger every day.
Our final options were to either do surgery or put her down. The catch is there’s no guarantee that she’ll wake up from the surgery. In fact, the odds aren’t great that she will. (Her whole life, Ellie’s had trouble with anesthesia and pain medication.)
And, then there’s the question of what surgery would do. Would it buy us a year? A few months? And, what would that time look like? Could she still play? Could she still dig? Would she still enjoy being around the kids? Would the other symptoms go away? Would we eventually need to operate on the new bumps?
It’s been a slippery slope of miserable considerations. Either choice has felt unbearable.
Privately, Kyle and I have debated what to do… prayed about what to do… cried about what to do… stayed up late talking about what to do… We’ve changed our minds a dozen times. Made decisions, then made other decisions.
There are no easy choices.
I finally stopped praying that Ellie would get better and started praying that I would know when we should stop trying to fix her.
When you start changing your prayers… That’s when you kinda know. Even if you don’t want to know.
The confirmation I was looking for came sooner than expected.
Last Sunday, we let Ellie out before we left for church. She wasn’t acting right… there’s no real way to describe it… She just seemed off… like she was there but not there at the same time. And, then she got sick… all over the yard. And, then she laid down and wouldn’t get up.
I hate that the kids saw it because it terrified them. We rustled them into the car while Kyle went back to try to get Ellie moving again and see what was going on. In the car, Gabi kept crying, “Are we putting her down? Are you guys thinking of putting her down? Please, tell me we’re not putting her down…”
I couldn’t answer her. I could only cry.
And, so they cried. And, we all cried all the way to church. We could only stay for a little bit before we had to come back. No one could stop crying.
After weeks of not knowing, Kyle and I finally knew what we should do. It was an awful, awful realization. But, we can’t watch her suffer. We can’t put her through anymore pain.
We had an honest conversation with the kids. It was as heartbreaking as I thought it might be. They understand, but it doesn’t make it easier.
These babies haven’t lived a day of their lives without that puppy. They haven’t spent a day wondering where she was. They haven’t had a morning when she wasn’t thrilled to see them. They haven’t spent a night without her watching over our house. They haven’t spent a minute outside in the backyard without her dancing at their feet, begging them to let her go, too.
They are broken over this. We are all broken over this.
This is our family member. This was our “firstborn in the wilderness,” as we often joke. This is my baby. This is our baby.
Ellie is a selfless creature. But, now, loving her is requiring us to be selfless. And, I hate it. Because, I want so badly to put this off. I want so badly to fix it. I want so badly to throw every dollar I have at this problem and pray it’s enough to make it go away. But, I love her. So much. And, loving her means that I know it’s time to say goodbye.
Yesterday, my dad came over to visit with the kids. He knows this is hard for all of us. He’s been through it himself…
During the visit, Holland asked my dad if he had a dad.
My dad said, “Yes, I do! He lives in heaven.”
And, Holland said, “He does? Does he like dogs?”
You see, since Sunday, Holland’s been looking for someone who will take care of Ellie in heaven.
My dad assured him that his daddy does love dogs – very much – and, he’d be happy to take care of Ellie for us. I’m holding out hope that he will.
Those are the things that kill you. That shatter you into a million pieces. Feeling that grief yourself, but then watching your kids hurt…
It’s. The. Worst.
I’ve worried that sharing this with the world will turn off others off from owning a dog. So, I just want to end this by saying that, no matter how bad it hurts, the joy Ellie’s given us over the years has far, far exceeded this pain.