Sadly, I am writing this blog about deep loss. This week I said good-by to Bailey, our old yellow lab who lived 16 long years (and a few months). Larger breed dogs often live 10-12 years so we were very lucky to have Bailey with us for so long.
We think she lived as long as she did because she was so easy going. Bailey never rushed or even exerted herself. We had another lab, Mudd, a chocolate lab. He loved to retrieve anything. If you pulled out a tennis ball, you should be ready to invest some time and energy because Mudd would chase it for an hour. Bailey on the other hand might retrieve the ball once and would only trot to get the ball and then walk back, drop it at our feet and go lay down. She was easy to train because she didn’t pull on the leash—that would require too much effort. We rarely had to ask her to sit or lay because she was in repose most of the time.
But time finally caught up with her. She had terrible arthritis in her hips and shoulders; she had a benign tumor that was the size of a puppy on her side making it hard for her to lay on one side (vet said it was too dangerous to remove at her age and it would grow back); she had almost no muscle development in her hindquarters; her sight was bad though she wasn’t completely blind; she was mostly deaf and was becoming incontinent. Lately we had an increasing in incidences where all four legs would splay out and she’d go down and was not able to get up on her own so we couldn’t leave her alone. In spite of all of these aging challenges, she continued to wag her tail, loved seeing the grandkids and she never lost her appetite. With physical help and lots of love, we helped her maintain some quality of life. Still, I knew the time was near but I wondered how I would know when it was time to let go.
The vet told me I should trust myself and that I would make the decision at the right time. Given how long she lived in spite of great physical loss, I doubted his advice. Yet on Tuesday she did tell me. Most days Bailey would get up in the morning, eat, go outside to relieve herself and come back in to nap for hours. She’d go outside again around 1 pm and then sleep until dinner. But on Tuesday, she followed me around the house all morning. I work from home so I spend time in my office and between calls and projects, I rush around picking up the house, doing laundry and washing dishes. Following me rather than resting was completely out of character.
Finally I sat down next to her, put my arm around her neck and buried my face into her soft, warm neck. Tears slipped from my eyes as I immediately realized what she was asking. I said “OK Bailey.” She looked at me, licked my face and then she walked to her bed and was finally able to rest. Later that day our vet helped Bailey move on to her next life.
With great love comes great pain. I ache physically, emotionally and mentally from the loss of Bailey. I have had a headache for 24 hours and my stomach is in knots. Yet it is this intense pain that forces me to think about Bailey and the manygifts she gave me and to realize that the person I am today better for having Bailey in my life. She taught me the joy of just “being” and of non-judgmental love. I pray that she will watch over me and look for me when it’s my turn to make that journey.
By Susan Cain McCarty