Sunday, January 4, 2015

A very sad day

Today is Saturday, January 3, 2015.

Today our hearts are broken.

Several years ago a good friend, talking about the nature of being a dog owner, said that when we welcome a new puppy into our family, we know (if only subconsciously) even in that happy time that we are making a commitment to be there all the way through the incredibly sad time that will be end of that dog’s life, with all its accompanying feelings of sorrow and loss.

Still, we do it gladly, knowing that all the joyful companionship and love that will result from having this dog as a member of our crew will be totally and completely worth it. We never dream that our time with our beloved pet may be cut unexpectedly short.

Late yesterday afternoon we were blindsided by the sudden end of our youngest (and biggest -- there he is, standing in the center window) canine family member, when a kind-hearted down-the-road neighbor and fellow dog lover (they have more than a few themselves) came to our door to break the news to us that they had found our Roadie way out on the highway, the life gone from his big, muscular body. I asked her if they would help us bury him, she readily agreed and gave me a big hug; I was sort of in shock at first, and all I could think was that Paul was going to be devastated. Which he was.

I have watched countless times while Roadie would follow visitors departing in their vehicles -- the UPS or FedEx delivery guy, my brother, whoever -- down to the end of the paved part of our driveway, stop and watch them drive out on the gravel drive to the road and over the railroad tracks to the highway and out of sight, and then, after having seen them safely away, turn around and trot back up the driveway to the house. We’ll never know what curiosity or scent caught his attention and led him out to the highway.

It wasn’t until I was hugging Paul and telling him what had happened that my tears started to flow, and I just couldn’t stop crying for a long, long while. All the other dogs were gathered around watching and listening, curious as to why we were so sad. And curious as to why I was so late with my 4:30 p.m. daily playfully teasing question to them, “Is it time to feed the dogs?”

I finally gathered myself enough to start getting the dog bowls together on the kitchen table, and when I looked at the blank place on the table where Roadie’s bowl should have been, of course tears started streaming down my face. Again, I cried and cried as I scooped the food into their bowls, making their evening meal a little saltier than usual.

All the rest of the evening, Paul and I talked and cried and laughed and cried some more as we recalled memorable “Roadie moments.” I can’t imagine our family for the last three and a half years without him, and we are so glad that our friend Kelly looked to us when she was trying to find a good home for him. When he first came to live with us Roadie was without a doubt the most exasperating, obstinate, rascally, destructive and (because he was so darn big, strong and smart) challenging pup I have ever had the privilege to attempt to mold into a viable family member.

And I never expected that his death would hit me so soul-rackingly hard.

Really I should have known, though, because after all was said and done he had become much more than viable. He was exuberant, funny, adoring of Paul and me, rowdy and rough with the big dogs and still rowdy but gentle with the smallest. Like most dogs he LOVED car rides and got the absolute most out of them by sticking his head out the window and laughing in the wind. And he was undeniably the never-met-a-stranger friendliest dog I have ever known. Really. I’m not just saying that because I love him so much. It’s just plain fact that he possessed a heart as big as the outdoors he loved to romp around in.

Because of the size of the breeds in his mix (mostly the Great Dane side), at a little over four years old he was just coming into his own as a mature, no-longer-a-puppy, dog. He was a good dog. At the same time, also because of his breed size (weighing in at just under 130 pounds) he was the one of our pack with the shortest natural life span, and was probably just coming up on his exact middle age. In just a little over two more years he would have been considered not only senior, but probably geriatric. I was really looking forward to watching what a great old dog he would become.

Today has been really hard. Anyone who has lost a beloved pet has gone through the experience that everywhere we look in the house and yard, every little daily thing that we do brings a memory, and a few more tears. Like last night after taking off my shoes and starting to put them up on top of the wardrobe “where Roadie can’t reach them,” and then remembering that now I can just put them under the edge of the bed until morning like I used to do before he came, this realization bringing renewed tears.

And this morning when I sat up and swung my feet over the edge of the bed to the floor, where my toes brushed against the side of his dog bed, still with the blanket rumpled just as he left it yesterday at approximately 4:00 a.m. (same as every morning) to go get a drink of water and then return, stealthily climb up past Trixie’s sleeping form at my feet and (same as every morning) ensconce himself cozily between Paul and me, nuzzling my neck to remind me of the fact that breakfast time was a mere two and a half hours away, and then roll over to lay his head on Paul’s chest and fall into a Z-stacking snooze until time for said breakfast.

And later, taking my after-breakfast second cup of coffee to the open side door where I almost always stop for a few minutes to watch the dogs engaging in their morning frolicking, force of habit lifting my gaze to the pasture beyond the fence, where by this time, after stopping by the front porch just long enough to finish off the remainder of Moustachio’s cat food breakfast to top off his own doggie breakfast, Roadie would usually be nosing around following a scent or attempting to round up a few grazing cows or horses. (Roadie was the only one who was allowed outside the back yard fence because he was the only one who would NOT run off for days at a time and then finally show up all scratched up and limping from a too-long trek trailing some critter or another that had gotten away in the end after all. Roadie always stuck pretty close to home.)

But this morning my gaze fell on empty, rain-drenched pasture. No horses, no cows,
no Roadie.

And no Roadie to bound along beside me and run circles around me when I walked out to the road after lunch to get the mail. Just more tears.

A couple of things I’m grateful for: Yesterday morning, Roadie spent an unusually long time lingering in bed with Paul, his head on Paul’s chest, and just gazing and gazing at Paul’s face, with Paul rubbing his ears. Paul has said several times that he’s so glad he has that memory of his last morning in our bed. And I’m grateful to know that Roadie spent his last hours of life doing things he loved: romping in the rain after breakfast, coming inside and playing rambunctiously with his brothers and sisters, sacking out on the sofa for a long nap. Plus he spent the early part of the afternoon “helping” our neighbor, whom he loves, and who loves him right back, with some work out in the pasture, and a little while later I heard his excited, high-pitched “I-KNOW-you’re-in-there-I-can-SMELL-you” barking at a log or the hollow trunk of a tree where he was trying to oust a rabbit, possum or some other varmint, so I KNOW he was having fun.

This afternoon, sitting down to write this, I just sat looking at my blank page for a few minutes trying to gather my thoughts and, again out of habit, I turned my head to look out the second-story window where so many times in the past I would see him contentedly lying in the front yard, and something caught my eye about halfway down the driveway. I couldn’t quite make out what it was because of the tree branches in the way so, partly out of curiosity and partly out of thinking a little fresh air would make it easier to think, I put on my jacket, walked outside and headed down the driveway. When I got close enough to the object and started to realize what it was, fresh tears welled up.

It was Roadie’s beloved Pink Bear, which he found abandoned in our neighbor’s garage a couple of years ago, and which they said he could keep. He used to carry it around from place to place around the outside of the house. Sometimes I’d find it out back, sometimes out under the oak tree, sometimes the front porch, sometimes the back. As destructive as he was with everything else -- cardboard boxes, throw pillows, books, shoes, etc. -- he never chewed up that bear or tried to unstuff it. After two years of Roadie’s playing with that bear and tossing it around and nuzzling it and carrying it from place to place, the only signs of wear and tear that it’s suffered are two missing eyes and being faded to almost white by the summer sun.

There he was, lying on the edge of the driveway, right where Roadie had dropped him the last time he would ever play with him. Just yesterday.

A few days ago I was out in the yard cleaning up a bit with Roadie “helping” me, throwing some trash in a dumpster we temporarily have out on the front patio to make cleaning up and getting ready to move that much easier.  I picked Pink Bear up off the grass, looked at its shabby, dirty, bedraggled self and said to Roadie, how ’bout we throw this guy in the dumpster and get you a new toy? I started toward the dumpster and Roadie raced past me, snatching Pink Bear out of my grasp and running away around the side of the house. Okay, I thought, I guess we’ll keep him a little while longer.

Roadie doesn’t need Pink Bear any more now, but after I picked PB up off the driveway this afternoon I couldn’t bring myself to toss him in the dumpster as I passed it. Not yet. So I set him down on the front porch, leaning against a wicker chair and looking out to the front yard. I’ll probably throw him away in a few days, but not today. And Roadie’s bowl is still in the dish rack where I set it to dry after doing yesterday’s breakfast dishes. Neither Paul nor I have been able to bring ourselves to put it away in the cupboard just yet. And Paul asked me to leave Roadie’s bed on the floor beside our bed just a little while longer.

Six dogs and three cats comprise the other cherished pets in our household. It seems that somehow they are sensing our sadness, and keeping close to us today. They depend on us and we love each and every one. I know from experience that as time passes remembering Roadie will bring more smiles and fewer tears for both Paul and me. And I’m grateful to God for designing us that way.

But until then, and for today, there’s a Roadie-sized hole in our lives, our hearts and our family.

And Roadie was a great big dog.


10 comments:

Elizabeth McCrindle said...

So very sad for your loss Karen and Paul, sending cyber (((hugs))) across the miles XX

Nicola McLean said...

What a beautiful tribute to Roadie. Your words really resonates with me as a fellow animal lover who is owned by 3 dogs and a cat. They are family and it is such a shame that they naturally have much too short life spans without the added heartbreak of a random traffic accident such as this. Roadie was a beautiful boy and I'm so very sorry for your loss.

Jane said...

So sorry for your loss. I understand.

Mary Jane said...

Karen, I am so sorry you lost your Roadie. How terrible it is to lose one of our dog-loves.
You wrote about the experience so well. I lost my golden boy Cubby in November, and still miss him every day, and his bed in still right next to my bed. I have been in the pet food aisle at the grocery store and started crying, realizing that dog food was not on my list any more. In the car, in the garden, in the middle of the night, seeing his beautiful face looking for me out the window when we come home... it is just tough.
I have always thought the depth of our grief is a measure of the depth of the love we had for them, and them for us...

Mary Jane said...

Karen, I am so sorry you lost your Roadie. How terrible it is to lose one of our dog-loves.
You wrote about the experience so well. I lost my golden boy Cubby in November, and still miss him every day, and his bed is still right next to my bed. I have been in the pet food aisle at the grocery store and started crying, realizing that dog food was not on my list any more. In the car, in the garden, in the middle of the night, seeing his beautiful face looking for me out the window when we come home... it is just tough.
I have always thought the depth of our grief is a measure of the depth of the love we had for them, and them for us...

Sara B said...

This was beautifully written and a wonderful tribute. You are in my heart!

Judy Wood said...

What a sad and touching post this one is. We know when we our dogs come into our lives that one day our hearts will be broken, but it's an added burden to those hearts when the end comes so much before the hoped-for allotment of years. Thank goodness you have many good photographs of him, and of course the wonderful artworks in which he stars. I hope these will be a source of comfort to you and Paul once the shock of your sudden loss starts to recede. You have my deepest sympathy.

Kathy said...

Beautifully written. You are a great writer!!

Karen M Schmidt said...

Thank you all so much for your heartfelt condolences; Paul and I both appreciate all your kind messages.

Elizabeth, I cried alongside you when you shared about the loss of a beloved horse, and now I'm grateful for your cyber-hugs right back. I do hope someday we will be able to meet in person (if Paul and I ever make our dream trip to Scotland)!

Mary Jane, I'm so sorry to hear about your Cubby, and still a fresh loss for you, too. I pray that over time your sorrow will be soothed and memories of him will bring more smiles and fewer tears to you as well.

myra anderson said...

so sorry - what a great dog - it really leaves a hole in your heart and in your life when you lose a loved one - may you be well...