As it is New Year’s Eve, I had a very different post planned for today, but life changes in an instant, doesn’t it?
Our Sunday began as it typically does, with quiet conversation and snuggle time with the animals. We treasure this one morning of the week where we can linger in bed, not having to jump up and run as we do most every day. I am always so grateful for our peaceful home and our little pack of critters, all getting along so easily. Sweet old Sophie, our Border Collie mix who had turned twelve in mid-December, our newest family member, Marley the Husky, and our crazy Tortoiseshell cat, Shiva.
We had a productive day and planned to go see a movie and have a rare date night out, even though stormy weather was forecast. I took the pups for a walk and they were both so excited as always, though Sophie took an extra long time coming up the stairs when we got home.
Dan and I got dressed up- a major change from our usual evening attire of jammies- and headed to the theater only to find that the movie we’d wanted to see wasn’t showing there after all. We decided to head to Outback for dinner, but it was absolutely packed. Deciding it was meant to be, we folded up our tent and headed back to our own ‘hood, choosing to forgo the movie and head to Surin for sushi, just a mile from our home. A wonderful dinner, our favorite waitress, and then home to watch Inception in jammies- a lovely evening. We also got to snuggle on the couches with our sweet critters, Sophie always glued to my side. The perfect date night after all! After the movie, we piled into bed with the pups.
We’d been noticing for a few weeks that Sophie was not quite herself, but we attributed her behavior to old age. She began to seem confused about normal tasks, struggling with the stairs, and losing her appetite, but never her calm and gentle demeanor. We adjusted, being extra patient with her as we called her to come inside. When she wouldn’t eat, we fed her the most tempting food and I sat on the floor with her and fed her each gooey morsel from my hand. She always wanted to please me from the moment I brought her home from the Humane Society almost twelve years ago. The whole time she seemed happy and content, wanting nothing more than to be be at my side. The pack…
Sophie’s breathing was a little off when we went to bed, but I did my usual denial and explained it away to the abnormally warm temperatures for December. She slept on my feet all night, just as Coops used to do.
At 6:30am, Sophie suddenly stood up and quickly lumbered toward me from the foot of the bed, collapsing into the crook of my shoulder, eyes wild and breathing labored. I find that I am not good in situations such as this- I froze, holding her and talking to her, but I couldn’t seem to move except to call to Dan who had gone to brush his teeth, “Honey! I think Sophie’s had a stroke or she’s dying!” Once Dan could stay with her, I jumped up and quickly took care of Marley and Shiva and threw on some clothes. Dan scooped Sophie up in his arms and gently loaded her into the back seat of the Mini. We called our vet as we headed out and were told the doctors wouldn’t be there for forty more minutes. Sophie was suffering, so time was of the essence.
We raced to the animal ER, Dan driving as I sat in the back seat trying to cradle Sophie’s head as she struggled to breathe and had strong spasms. When we arrived, the tech scooped Sophie out of Dan’s arms and raced with her to an examination room as we followed on her heels. It all happened so quickly; one person gave her oxygen, the other prepped her for the ultrasound and shaved part of her leg. The doctor did the ultrasound and sadly shook his head, turning to us and asking us to look at the screen. We had seen this before when we lost Cooper, and our hearts sank…a large mass showed on the screen by her liver.
The vet said that at Sophie’s advanced age, the anesthesia for surgery would probably kill her, and that surgeries like these rarely went well. There was no question- we didn’t want our sweet girl to suffer; it was time to say goodbye. We kissed her and stroked her as the sedative and then the final shot were administered, telling her how much we loved her and what a good girl she was. I asked her to give Mom and Coops a kiss from me as she left us. They took us to a visitation room and brought Sophie to us wrapped in a towel, laying her on the table. We talked to her, stroking her as her body lost its warmth. Goodbye sweet girl…
As we drove home I was messaging close friends and family to tell them what had happened when Dan said, “Honey! Look- that’s a sign if I ever saw one!” What had to be a thousand black birds were swarming right by us in the field like I’ve never witnessed before. I got goosebumps thinking of these black birds escorting our black Dog to Heaven. The signs are always there to comfort us.
We came home stunned and tearful at the turn life took today. We never expected to wake up and have to rush to the ER to have our cherished dog euthanized on New Year’s Eve. That Sophie was my mother’s dog first made her loss even more difficult, vividly bringing back the end of my mom’s life, as well. Dan says that each loss we experience brings back the pain of all the other losses we’ve had in our lives, and he is right.
It felt so strange not to have Sophie there with us- she was always the constant, the thread of connection to my mother, to our dogs Bailey and Cooper, to our cats Rosie and Kasey. Her gentle and easy nature made it possible to integrate both Shiva and then Marley into our home so effortlessly. She always good-naturedly chose to stay out of the spotlight, happy to be a sidekick, wanting nothing more than to be with me.
We watched the animals to observe their reaction to the change- animals are so in the moment and don’t grieve in the same way we do. Shiva seemed to be the most aware, going into Sophie’s crate, sniffing and just lying there for the longest time. I had Marley sniff Sophie’s collar and she sighed and plopped onto the floor at my feet. Both of them followed me around the house as I cleaned- always my therapy after losing a loved one.
I feel numb, with the waves of grief coming when I least expect it. I am well-acquainted with grief, and I know that time will help to soften the sharp, jagged edges of our pain. The knowledge doesn’t help right this moment, though, as I miss my sweet shadow and feel a huge hole in my heart. I am grateful for every moment with her- even the sad end. I am grateful that we were with her, that I’d had all break to spend wonderful quality time with her, taking her for walks, for her beloved car rides, to the office to sit with me as I worked. She sat at my feet in the music room as I practiced all break, and got to enjoy being the star of our Christmas party. She was told every single day that she was precious and loved, enjoying a comfortable and happy life with humans who adored her. Not a bad life at all. This summer we will take both Sophie and Cooper’s ashes to our waterfall on the Nantahala River where we released Mom and where we were married. I love the idea of them all together again, becoming one with what is a sacred place to us. Sophie and Coops, best buds.
I don’t pretend to know with any certainty what happens when we die, but I want to believe that Sophie is back with my mom and her beloved Coops, surrounded by the other dogs and people who knew and loved her, free from pain and full of pure love.
Run free, sweet Sophie. You will always be in my heart. Thank you. Thank you for every precious moment.