It’s 4:21 am as I begin to write this post and I feel like I can barely breathe. For the fourth day in a row, I’ve woken up in a cold sweat. I had every intention of sharing projects related to the kitchen this week but a trip to the vet’s office late Friday afternoon changed everything. As you guys may know, my little white Jack Russell terrier, Talladega, has been struggling for the past six months with canine dementia. She rarely slept through the night anymore and over time we found ourselves up with her every 3-4 hours. Last Wednesday we couldn’t get her settled enough to sleep at all. I held her most of Thursday as she rested off and on throughout the day but we were all, in a word, exhausted.
Friday afternoon, we took Tally to the vet. He carefully reviewed the possible causes of her rapid decline – mini stroke or fluid buildup likely on the brain. Then came the possible courses of treatment – we have a great neurologist in town I’m happy to send you to – we can try more supplements and brain food diets – we can run more tests and give her IV meds – but she’ll probably not recover from this, he gently said, and you need to prepare yourselves for that possibility.
Well, as you can imagine, I totally lost it.
I’ve learned over the last few months it doesn’t matter if it happens in the hallway of a hospital, the doctor’s office or the vet’s office, hearing the words – there’s really nothing more we can do – are the most devastating words you can possibly hear. For in that one sentence it feels like someone has blown out the flame of hope and left you standing there holding the candle.
Through our heartbreak, he softly said, “You can’t make a wrong decision here. I’ll support whatever you choose to do. Dogs are strong that way, they’ll try to hold on as long as you need them to.”
…the words they’ll try to hold on as long as you need them to kept ringing in my ears…and that’s when love showed up the first time.
We somehow made it to the car, Tally in my lap, pamphlets in my hand, seat belts buckled, engine on and yet we found ourselves completely unable to drive away. We just sat there in total silence…stunned. Finally, my bestie S said, “It would be really easy to go home and spend the weekend crying and upset. I think Tally needs us to celebrate her life though.”
I know this is going to sound so mean, but I’ll be honest here, in my head I was screaming at S not a second after those words left her mouth. “Who are you to tell me how to handle this!” I thought. “I can cry as much or as little as I want to! When I want to! And how I want to!” I silently yelled. “Don’t you think I’ve been through enough already?” I wanted to say. “A freaking tornado ruined my milestone birthday, my grandparents both died three months ago and I’m too numb to give myself time to grieve! My dad was hospitalized and I don’t even know if he’s being honest about his care! We barely made it through the One Room Challenge in tact! I worry about my mom every single day! I’m behind in everything! I have no motivation, I’ve lost my creativity, I’m scared and hurting and angry! I. AM. SO. INCREDIBLY. ANGRY. RIGHT. NOW! And here you are telling me what to do when not even 5 minutes ago, I’ve been told I’m going to lose the most treasured love I have in life!”
I don’t say anything of those things out loud, I just keep staring out the window instead. You know what stopped me from saying all those words out loud?
Grace… that’s when love showed up for the second time.
When I didn’t respond S drove us to Starbucks and somewhere between sips of chai latte, my heart started to melt just a little. We stopped crying long enough to pull together a bucket list of sorts to celebrate Tally’s last days with us:
A trip to the pet store
A pup cup
Watch All Dogs Go to Heaven
Walk on the beach and swim in the ocean
Lick a vanilla kiddy cone
Hike the trails
Sing “Who Let the Dogs Out” while riding down the road with the windows rolled down
Road trip to Mimi and Popi’s house and eat sweet treats
Run around the yard
Play in the bathtub with Jelly Bean
Snuggle with my mom one last time
We started the list as soon as we got home on Friday and then spent the rest of the weekend crossing each activity off one by one. It should come as no surprise that love showed up in each scenario. It came through a pod of dolphins swimming so close to shore it felt like they were waving hello; in a heavily tattooed stranger that stopped to tell us he had loved two Jack Russell terriers and missed them every day; it came in a random turtle crossing our paths on the trails; in a hawk that flew over our home every morning; loved showed up in my mom’s tears and in my dad’s hug; it showed up in the white flowers we took with us to the vet’s office to say thank you for treating us with such kindness.
Over the past 15 years I’ve been entrusted with this fur covered white shadow, I’ve learned more about myself than I even knew possible. She woke me up in the mornings with her kisses and slept in the small of my back every night. She met me at the door with sweet smiles and snuggled my neck each time I cried. She energetically sat at my feet as I blogged and slept next to the bathtub while I soaked after a long day. Tally was a gift I didn’t even know I needed at the time but I’m convinced her unfailing and unconditional love helped to bring me out of the darkest chapter of my life.
A few short hours ago with tear filled eyes and a completely broken heart, I held her in my arms and whispered one last time…you have been my greatest gift…I love you so much…I don’t need you to hold on any more… I promise, I’ll be ok.