Darling Tilly left my side, and this magical earth, on Saturday, January 29, 2022.
When you are with your dog for 15 whole years, and you make the most of your time on this planet together, your hearts are connected – their beats are continuously responding to each other. No one tells you that when your truest friend dies, there will be a dog-shaped hole in your soul. Or that your heart will ache endlessly because it’s waiting for your pal’s heart to respond to your beats. Like a radio signal sending a frequency out into the big black void expecting a response, but reaching no one and nothing and going on forever, waiting.
No one tells you that, despite your conscious mind still auto-handling the details of daily life, your heart and soul will be searching for your dog, scanning the kitchen, the hallway, the couch, the pillow, for the responding signal.
I surprised myself by crying for ONLY two weeks straight after Tilly’s passing. At the end of two weeks, I had processed her physical death exactly 16 million times – the movie of her last hour playing in my mind 24/7, stuck on repeat. I’m going to recount the movie in detail to finally get it out of my energy field, even though who am I kidding, it is stuck there forever. I will die with the details tattooed on the inside of my skull.
Tilly woke up coughing early Saturday morning at 2:30 a.m., it was a cough I had never heard before from her. So I gave her a heart pill, from the bottle of new pills I picked up that day because her vet said she was in congestive heart failure and the CHF was manageable with medication. For two hours, we waited for the heart pill to kick in (I was hoping it would stop the cough because that’s what the vet said). When nothing changed, we went to the ER. They listened to her chest and gave us hydrocodone – a decongestion and pain med. The ER doc said they could hear no evidence of heart murmur, that her heart sounds were normal. Toward the end of our ER visit, I took her to the car so she could rest in the back seat because she was a little bit dizzy, starting to list to one side while standing in the office. I walked back in to pay the ER bill. Then I drove her home thinking everything was going to be OK if we could just get the hydrocodone down. She had pooped everywhere in the back seat and was obviously upset about that. I wasn’t fazed since she had popped in my truck a couple months back. I just figured it was old age and incontinence.
Her cat and dog house mates met us at the door and touched noses with Tilly, I assumed in greeting. (I realized later that the moment of touching noses were goodbyes as we came into the house.) I got her to the bathroom and cleaned up the poop on her legs from the car ride. She laid down so I could wipe her off and clean her up. Then she didn’t get up again. She didn’t even try to get up again. It hit me like a throat punch. When a dog doesn’t attempt to get up, you’re at the end. I got a blanket and put it around her, lifted her up and took her back out to the car. Her chest was vibrating and her breathing was labored. I sped back to the ER. When I picked her up out of the car to carry her into the ER, she laid her head on my shoulder. I wasn’t prepared for that to be her last act. I responded with, “I love you, too, my dear friend. You are my best dog, Tilly. Best dog in the universe.”
No one told me I would feel so bloody guilty about not euthanizing her during the first ER visit. But not even the doctor was thinking her cough was cancer that had finally metastasized to her lungs. And she was a master at hiding her maladies, at blowing off mortal wounds, and she was completely fine for months despite having cancer. She was a warrior. The bravest dog, filled with unshakable faith that no harm would ever come of her, or if it did, she would be untouched, unmarred. She simply honored every bit of life, good and bad, with joy and faith.
No one told me that for two weeks I would be consumed with remorse and guilt that I didn’t act sooner, or do better by her, or carry her myself all the way to the goddamn Rainbow Bridge. The fact is, no one can tell you how it ends. No one can tell you: “That’s what it looks like. Look for these signs.” In fact, EVERYONE tells you: “You will just know.” I did not immediately know.
No one tells you what it’s going to be like, or how to prepare for the death of your dog. Even though her last moments are on repeat in my energy field, I felt so very fortunate to have been there with her. My greatest hope was to be asleep with her right beside me and have her slip off in her sleep. As her muzzle grew whiter and whiter with the days, I knew her day was getting close. I could see her face was getting more gaunt and her eyes more watchful. She never slept while I was home. I think she had a knowing that she would be whisked away very soon into the next dimension, so she watched me like a hawk to try and hang on as long as she could. In life, she never wanted to be out of sight of me.
No one tells you that your guts will hurt from the pain of loss of that innocent face. That wagging tail. The dinner songs she sang because I demanded it and she did it with glee because it made me laugh and brought us both so much joy. No one tells you that during your time together, you must savor and cherish, live life fully, seek adventures and experiences, record memories in word and art, share stories of your connectedness. If you’re smart and lucky, you do those things instinctively to honor what you have.
No one tells you that one day you wake up without crying, without the “last hour video” playing in your mind, because you are finally clear enough to fully feel how much gratitude you have for the quality moments and years you were lucky enough to share. No one tells you that the grief and loss can be replaced by gratitude for the moments upon moments of amazing time that stacked up high to make a lifetime of love. Nothing is permanent anyway. You had a great run together. You feel like you had the best life has to give as you ran free across the fields side by side, sharing joy and songs and tug and chase and eating delicious treats every time we had a chance, visiting friends and family, seeking new hikes, making new friends everywhere we went, walking around the lake, enjoying our lives while our hearts called out to each other every beat or two, and were met with the other heart in response.
What a miraculous gift it is just to be alive, and what a super miraculous gift it is to connect with such a precious, special soul that you had so much fun with and that fit so perfectly with your soul. After 15 years, we were finishing each other’s sentences, and that’s as good as it gets.
No one tells you that the price of love is loss. No one tells you with good reason… because if we knew it, we no doubt would be terrified to love too deeply, if at all.