Wednesday, May 26, 2010

That's the way it's supposed to be

Chaser, Wonder Mutt of West Edwards Street.

It's the waiting that kills you.

Chaser, Wonder Mutt of West Edwards Street, was born with a small heart murmur. For the past seven-and-a-half years, I have watched. I have listened. I have waited for any small sign. A cough. A hitch in her breath that might show the murmur has gotten worse.

I spend each check-up holding my breath while the veterinarian holds a stethoscope to Chaser’s fuzzy chest and listens. Then with the vet’s cheerful nod that all is OK, I sigh in relief and think, “Today’s not the day.”

I joked with friends that our Chaser would live to be - oh - about 20 years old. Flying through a field, chasing a rabbit, when her ticker would decide, “Today’s the day.” And she’d be gone. I’d be OK with that. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

When my dad died it was unexpected. Quick. Brutal. Breath-taking to the point of reaching down, grabbing your heart and punching it out through your stomach.

The fatal heart attack took him before I could say all those things you’re supposed to say. Goodbyes. Apologies. Thank you’s. It is, after all, what deathbeds are for.

In the time since, I’ve realized it may have been easier for me that way. I never saw my dad in a hospital, suffering, screaming from frustration or pain or injustice while his body and mind failed him for months, years, on end.

It is easier, you see, because I’m a coward.

Watching - waiting for someone you love to die - is agony.

It began with a lump on my golden girl’s leg. I waited all this time for her heart to give out, and something else waited in the wings, lurking behind her seemingly great health and loopy grin.

As I stood next to the vet, looking at the X-rays on the screen, I felt my heart get punched through my stomach. Again.

The large bump on the leg. The fuzzy spots scattered across her lungs.

The vet was careful not to use the C word. She didn’t have to. Concerned about an aggressive bone change, she said instead. Sending the pictures off for consultation, she added. We’ll know more in a couple of weeks, she assured.

A couple of weeks.

So, I go home. Tell my husband the news. Watch him struggle as he comprehends my words, then listen as his voice cracks when he says, “I wasn’t prepared for this yet.”

So we wait. And wonder. What if the radiologist confirms our suspicions? What if it has spread?

I’m a take-charge kind of girl. Fixing things. Making things better. It’s what I do.

And for the first time in my life...I can’t do anything but wait.

That night, neither my husband nor I slept. I tossed and turned. Silently screamed in rage. Then finally tossed the covers aside in disgust and walked downstairs.

I flopped down on the couch and got lost in grief. As the tears flowed warm down my face, I looked around and realized she’s everywhere in our house. The water bowl in the hallway. Her blanket on the couch, her hair on the rug. She’s even in the family portrait hanging above the fireplace. And tennis balls. Tennis balls were everywhere.

Christ. I’ll never be able to look at another one again.

The grief began to overwhelm me, and I closed my eyes to the sight. Then - out of nowhere - I felt a warm poke at my side. I opened my eyes to see my girl push her golden head onto my lap. Pure love wrapped in fuzzy fur.

Over the next few days, I wait. And I watch. I watch my husband. Watching her. I know what he’s thinking because I’m thinking the same thing. Is this the beginning of the end? How much time do we have? How long before we have to give her back to the wondrous God who gave her to us in the first place?

She lies in the grass as the sun breaks free from the clouds. She lifts her head toward the heavens and closes her chocolate brown eyes in bliss. She has no idea how sick she might be. My husband shakes his head in disbelief then walks over to her and sits down. She immediately jumps up and starts licking his face with gusto.

Pure love wrapped in fuzzy fur.


  1. Christina BaldwinMay 26, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    I am just sitting here bawling. What a beautiful piece Kel. I am so sorry you and Jon have to deal with this. I have some experience with the frustration of an illness and not knowing what to do or frankly, not being able to do anything. It's the worst feeling in the world! I hate that you have to go through this! I have no words or advice, I just am sending love and saying prayers for God to give you peace and patience. Chaser is most definately pure love wrapped in fur!!!

  2. The waiting is always the killer. I hate the C word, a word that could not even be muttered years ago. It makes life so much tougher as it threatens so much of our joy. My heart is with you.

  3. I have been thinking about this piece all day. Makes me get a great big lump in my throat. Reminds me of my beloved Rocky. He was a lab. We had to put him down lots of years ago. I still miss him.

    This is a wonderful piece, Kelly.


  4. Thanks for all the supportive words, my friends. I also received a wonderful phone call from Sharon Browning who shared such heartfelt encouragement.