Monday, March 23, 2015

Miles and Miles

Today, I have felt every last one of them.

Three hundred twenty-seven miles.

My heart has ached as those miles seemed so much longer, the distance so much sharper.

It started with a text message from JJ that chimed in at 8:02 this morning:
So today is the day we have all been dreading since September. The trip to the vet.
My heart squeezed hard and cracked. I knew what this meant.

JJ had been forced to retire Aussie back in September when neurological issues led to lameness in one of his rear legs, and thus an inability to work. Aussie could not guide effectively and safely if he could not walk. It would be dangerous all around...and the vet could offer no treatment that would allow Aussie to regain full use of his body.

Aussie, 11/08
But he was otherwise in good health. Despite the unexpected retirement—JJ had expected him to be able to work for several more years—Aussie was still a part of the family. Still her boys' dog. Still very much loved. Until his condition deteriorated to the point that it became obvious it was time, there was no reason for him to not have a good life as an idle retiree.

As idle as it could be with the arrival of a new retriever puppy, anyway.

When we lost Pa'ani so unexpectedly back in December, it was JJ's shoulder I leaned heavily on. Tear-filled emails and was so unfair to lose him, so young, so unexpectedly, so right before Christmas. Aussie was 7, and she was quite literally watching him wither away...JJ understood my grief, moreso than many other friends. She knew what was coming for her beloved four-footed friend, all too soon.

Thatcher & Koa, long ago.
It wasn't the first time we've walked the valley of death's shadow with each other, continuing out the other side without the furry family member we walked in with. I can still remember the night JJ called to tell me that she'd lost Thatcher. It was within the first few months of the girls coming to live with us. I sat on the steep stairs in our house, after 10 at night, grieving and trying to console my dear friend from so far away, remembering her first Seeing Eye dog, trying to keep my voice quiet enough to both not disturb Hubby (watching TV in the living room) or the Fries (sleeping upstairs in their room). And while Thatcher had spent most of the last two and a half years of his life with JJ's parents, he was still her dog, and her parents had deferred to her when the time came to make the call. Four years later, it was my turn as the grieving owner who made that same call.

Aussie's deterioration over the last week meant she would be facing the valley again.

This time would be different, I knew.

It's always different when your kids are grieving too.

Thatcher's loss hit JJ hard, but not so much her boys. T1 wasn't a year old when Thatch retired, and only four at the time of his death. T2 only really knew Thatch as the doggy at his grandparents' house, and he was not quite two. T3 wasn't a glimmer yet.

And when JJ went back to The Seeing Eye in late 2008 to be matched with a new dog, I got an email from her after match day with a subject line declaring, "It is Thatcher 2.0!"

Me, JJ, and Aussie at TSE, 11/08
He was the same cross as Thatcher, yellow Lab and Golden Retriever. Softest ears in the world. Stout, hearty...both in build and in love. A charmer. I drove to see her during her stay at The Seeing Eye, since it was close-ish (closer than the six hours that usually separate us), and it had been too long between seeing each other. He grabbed a piece of my heart as I watched him work, excited and eager to learn and loving his job. Such a good dog, and a good fit for my dearest friend.

The boys knew him. Loved him. Played with him. Probably trapped him under laundry baskets, too.

They would remember this time.

Aussie...he loved those boys nearly as much as he loved their mom, and slept in their room every night, because Uncle JD (JJ's younger brother) had told them that Aussie ate under-the-bed monsters.

Tonight, I hope the boys know that angel doggies eat monsters, too.

I hope JJ knows that.

For watching your children grieve the loss of their beloved monster-eater is worse than your own grief at times.

These are deep waters for any parent.

It's a fine line to teach your children how to grieve, to stop yourself from trying to fix that which cannot be fixed, to show that it's okay to be sad, and yet still teach how life continues on when all you want it to do is stop for awhile.

Hard at work.
Even though he was not my dog, and I did not know Aussie nearly as well as JJ and her family did, today I want the world to stop too. I ache and grieve for my best friend, for her sons, for her husband, for the miles between us that keep me from just scooting over to her house and hugging the stuffing out of her. That keep me from sitting quietly with her as she talks, or even as she doesn't. That keep me from being able to cry healing tears with her. I want the world to stop, so I can find a way to warp over there. I want to hug her boys and tell them what I know: Aussie is whole, happy, and racing around heaven, charming all he meets, just like he did here. This is not goodbye. This is "see you later," for God promises heaven will have all we need. And Aussie is needed. Of that I have no doubt.

Goodbye, dear faithful friend, hard worker, conscientious guide, monster eater, and love walking on four legs.

See you later, Aussie. See you later.

1 comment:

  1. I am so very sorry. Losing the furry ones that guard and protect those we care about is the hardest thing in the world. I hope Barkley is there to greet him and play with him.

    Hugs to you and your daughters


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