It is amazing how quickly things change.
Just yesterday I was writing a ho-hum, tongue-in-cheek post about my mother's weekend visit and having an unprecedented four dogs vying for our love and attention this weekend. A few short hours later, one of those wonderful dogs is gone.
Our beloved Max passed away Friday evening unexpectedly. Of all of the dogs in our family, Max was the most physically strong. But his heart gave out last night doing what he loved the most - playing fetch with his favorite red ball. In retrospect, our evening had morphed into a very Norman Rockwell-esque scene with the children, the dogs, Will, my mother and me all convening outside in our backyard. The kids were marveling at how high Daddy could kick the inflatable balls and I was enjoying spending time with the dogs, particularly Max. He loved being outside; he adored the children; he embraced our little family and he was as happy as I can ever remember seeing him. And then, after fetching a final throw of the red ball, he lay down on the grass. He was calm, he didn't complain, but we knew something was wrong--Max didn't lay down when there was a willing ball-thrower.
After a few minutes of discussion, we decided to take him to the emergency vet clinic and I drove him there so Will could put the kids to bed. I scooped Max up and he gently rested his head on my shoulder just like a baby. My baby, Max. In our sweet, infant-like embrace we headed for the car and the clinic. Max remained calm and content in the backseat; but he labored through breathing and his little heart beat very fast.
Once we entered the clinic, time stood still. I explained his symptoms (with Max's head on my shoulder during the entire discussion) and they whisked him away to the back of the office to give him oxygen and an IV. I remember (I have to remember this) that when the technician took him from my arms, I gave him a kiss on his head and told him I loved him. Please someone tell me that he heard that part--that I loved him.
At some point, the vet came in to tell me Max was in congestive heart failure and his lungs were filling with fluid, but they didn't know how severe it was---could they take some x-rays? Yes, please, whatever it takes. I cried and called Will, trying my best to explain to him what was going on through the giant lump in my throat and tear-stained cheeks. When the vet returned with the x-ray results, she looked white and worried--Max's x-rays showed a heart murmur, but more urgently he had just stopped breathing and they were performing CPR. What? WHAT? Is he going to make it?
Moments later, I heard her say I'm so sorry Lucy; he's no longer with us.
Can I say goodbye?
They brought Max's still body into the room, wrapped snuggly in a lambs wool blanket. His little head still smelled like the sweet grass we had been playing on just an hour before. I kissed and kissed and kissed him. I never wanted to leave that room. I couldn't believe those soft ears, watery eyes and black little nose weren't coming home with us that night. I never wanted to leave him again. Please, don't make me leave his side. Again.
A very wise woman (my mother) reminded me that the grieving process is long--that I won't cry a lot now and be okay next week. But in some ways, this is comforting to me. I don't want to cry it all out tonight or this week. I want to know that I can be sad for a long time; maybe forever.
Max was ten years young and never showed a hint of slowing down - happy, gentle, playful, attentive, and eager to please. His sole goal in life was to convince you to sit on the couch so that he could sit next to you and be petted. He wanted so little, but gave us so much in return and I'm not sure if he knows just how much he meant to us. I like to think he had a good life with our little brood--the children loved their "Maxi-poo" (as they often affectionately referred to him) and Will and I fawned over him as much as young parents can.
Max passed away like he lived his life--sweetly, gently, calmly and with an eye on what would be easier for those around him. His death has given me an even greater appreciation for life--not just to run upstairs and hug Marshall and the children as tightly as possible (although I did this several times last night). But also that the memories I have of Max's time with our family are what will need to last us into the future. We will have no more todays with Max; only yesterdays. I didn't sleep last night thinking of Max's last day on earth; trying to piece together every time I looked at him, petted him, kissed him. And these memories are uniquely mine. Just like all memories are a uniquely human way that our wonderful Creator instilled in us to allow us all to continue to live our life with those that have passed away. Max reminded me of this today. That we are creating memories every second of every day, especially (and maybe most importantly) when we don't realize it.
We miss you, Max. We love you more than you may ever know. Thank you for loving us back, flaws and all.