Wednesday, December 4, 2013

His Every Breath

The first thing you do when you find out your fifteen-year-old dog has lymphoma is go to Jack in the Box. What you don't do is think about what it will be like when he stops eating. You think only about him eating, because today he's eating, and you honor that with a plain burger, a bacon cheeseburger, and a chicken sandwich. When you get home and hand-feed him the burgers, you don't think about the fact that he needs your help now even in the simplest act of eating. You revel in his appetite. You plan your future days around stopping at the Jack in the Box, you plan on burgers for the rest of his life. 

When he wobbles like a top trying to get to the back door, what you don't think about are all the times he ran past you, fast and jubilant, like the wind on a playful day, without yet any ache or nausea in his body. What you concentrate on instead is the way you know how to pick him up without making his legs jerk and tremble, how you know how to do this for him but no one else does. When you carry him off the porch and both of you are standing in the grass, in the dark, you revel in the sound of his long piss, because he's still able to stand to do it. When he walks out behind the shed, you don't wait for him to become confused in the back of the yard and pace a short lap by the fence where you can't see him. You don't spend that minute worrying that he's collapsed, or mourning his ability to find his way back to the porch. You listen to the sounds of the night birds in the field behind the house, and you revel in the fact that your dog is walking around the yard tonight. When you go out behind the shed to find him, to help him find his way, you don't cringe at the way he nearly falls over after each and every step, you rejoice in the way he seems happy to hear you calling him, even though he's disoriented, and nearly deaf, and dying. You feel your heart change its beat to the tune of his tail. You pick him up in the way that doesn't make him twitch and bring him inside. 

When he goes to the water bowl to drink, you don't think about how it isn't enough, how he'll still need fluids later tonight, how dry his gums still are. You bask in his effort to quench his thirst, and you are grateful for the eight years you spent working at a vet hospital, grateful for your nursing degree and your medical ability, grateful for your boyfriend's employee discount at the same vet hospital now. Most of all, what you don't think about are the days when your big old dog wasn't so big yet, and could still fit under a kitchen chair. You don't think about how he used to trail after you to the mailbox, or how before there was a husband or a child or a second child, there was this dog. You don't think about all the times you were crying and he sidled up so close to your face, saying without saying, I am here for you. You don't dare think about how he has carried you, this big dog with his now-shrinking shoulders, all the long and winding way from your pre-everything youth up until this very minute. And you absolutely don't think about how you will start again, after he's gone, and carry yourself from here to some vague and distant point in a future that will not know him. 

You don't think back, and you don't think forward. You try as hard as you can not to think at all. And when he comes finally to lay down on the rug by the couch, and he puts his head on your foot in almost the same old way, you stay there in the moment with him, you become your most dog-like self, and you reach down your hand to him, moving your foot as little as possible, and you love him. You love so much that it's everywhere, like a mess, and you dissolve into it, as if it's the only real thing, both of you being still and both of you so very here that it's almost like this tiny span of time is the most important thing either one of you have ever felt, the only place either one of you has ever been. And you are as calm as he is, as calm as this creature at your foot, who rests quietly even as cancer consumes his tender insides, calm because you know, you both know, that it's true. This moment together is all that matters, and you're both tucked safely inside it, breathing in each other, breathing out nothing but love. The very scent of the air around you is tinged with it, love. The main thing you do when your dog has lymphoma is revel in his every breath, while he's still breathing. 


  1. That was beautiful and heartbreaking. I know he has had a wonderful, full life with you.

  2. thank you. so many tears. grateful tears. grateful for burgers every day he can eat and grateful for every breath while he is breathing.