Last night we said goodbye to our boy. He’s been going downhill rapidly these last couple weeks. There appears to be a big, soft tumor growing in his belly while the rest of him gets skinnier and bonier. Every small movement is an immense amount of effort. His breathing has been shallow and rapid for days now and I don’t know the last time he ate or drank or even slept. He seems afraid to close his eyes. We were pretty sure he wouldn’t make it through the night so we gathered all the kids around to love on him and say goodbye before going to bed on the eve of the anniversary of the day of our country’s independence.
I sat there and rubbed his back with tears streaming down my face as I suffered along with him. Grace asked if dogs go to heaven and wondered what Togo was thinking and wondered if he could understand us and if he knew that we loved him. We all wondered together. We talked about the things we knew: while dogs are good, loyal companions, created by a loving and merciful God, only man is made in the image of God. Togo gave glory to God with every day of his life by being who he was created to be, which was the best dog a family could ever hope for. After she had asked all that there was to ask, Grace got up, seemingly satisfied with our semi-non-answers, put her arms tenderly around Togo’s neck, kissed the top of his head, then went around kissing and hugging the rest of us while saying goodnight and she went to bed.
Sadie stood for a long time, not wanting to sit, just looking at Togo, with a deep, dark look in her eyes. She never said a word and wouldn’t give away her thoughts or feelings but kept them inside herself in that cautious way she has always done. I let her stand for a long time before making a gentle motion with my hand to encourage her to come and sit by him and me. She did and as she let her fingers run through his fur, her chin began to wobble and her dark eyelashes got even darker. We sat there for awhile, never saying a word.
Callie openly cried and talked to him and cupped his chin so very compassionately in her hands while he raised his head to look at her. He didn’t take his eyes off her face for the longest time, though he struggled for every breath. She sat there with her bright blue fingernails caressing his face while her bright blue toenails in her bright blue flip flops were next to his heaving, laboring body and the tears fell freely out of her bright blue eyes. As his head finally fell back to the ground, she left the room and went to get a drink of water where Chris held her and I rubbed her arm while she wept.
Sometime while the three of us were in the other room, Sadie must have said her private goodbye to Togo because when we came back, she had gone to bed. I went in to say goodnight where I got an uncharacteristic, extended hug and a heartfelt kiss on the face and a genuinely tender declaration of love. When Chris went to say goodnight, she was crying and hugged him tightly and wouldn’t let him turn her light off. I don’t know if she turned it off at all last night.
Chris sat with his buddy a long, long time after the rest of us went to bed. After a while, he was able to coax him slowly back to our room where we slept and Togo laid beside the bed, wheezing but still.
We woke up this morning to everything exactly the same. He’s fighting hard, not wanting to give up. I don’t think he’s closed his eyes in a couple days. I’ve been at many births but this is the first time I’ve had the privilege of being at the end of a loved one’s life. There is much that is the same, with the tender, quiet voices and the laboring and waiting. Time slows down a bit and life gets a little quieter.
I’m really thankful for the wonderful dog we’ve had for the past eight years. And I’m really thankful for the sweet family time we had last night. It is good to love and care for and grieve all creation together.