I wrote this essay on 8/13/18, and Charlee died on 10/31/17. Writing is so good for processing grief. Upon reading this tonight, I realized how much I had forgotten. I am so glad I recorded this.
It was Halloween night in 2017. I was tired, unhappy in a job that was quickly evident was not a fit. We had just moved back, and my kids were adjusting well, but because of my stresses, and my husband’s stresses, we were struggling in the recoverable way all strong couples occasionally find themselves. We had three dogs – Iggy, Otis and Charlee. Iggy and Otis, brothers we had purchased the prior Thanksgiving, 2016. Adorable Boston Terrier puppies with energy for days. Completely exhausting, and at that point, maybe a little too much for the recipe of life-soup we were swimming in. And then my sweet Charlee. 13 year old female Boston. My dog, my shadow, my best friend. She had moved with us to Idaho. Rode in my lap for most of the way. Slept curled up in my soft spot on my stomach every night. Knew that I was the only one at the table she couldn’t beg for food.
When she was a puppy, back in 2004, she was just as hyper as the boys. We bought her when I was living with my family for a year after graduating college. We actually got her for my parents, who had just lost one of their Boston Terriers. She was awkward, gangly and peed everywhere. My mom even had her advertised in the newspaper to find a new home. Thank God she declined the calls (she knew that dog wasn’t going anywhere). I carried Charlee around in my purse when she was a puppy. I had befriended the international students in a college town where I knew nobody. A town my family had moved to after I had graduated high school. It was a fabulous summer of partying, working early mornings and early afternoons at a bakery/café, always carrying cash, and floating around in my parents’ swimming pool Dustin-Hoffman-Graduate style, and then taking naps in cool air conditioning. Charlee was by my side the entire time, until I headed to law school.
During the 3 years I was in law school, Charlee lived with my parents, mostly. Upon graduation, I lived in an apartment where no pets were allowed, for a year. After that, my boyfriend and I bought a house and we brought Charlee home. She had always been my girl.
Charlee was there when we brought our daughter home from the hospital; jumping up to lick her little fat foot that stuck out from the swaddle. Probably thinking it was bacon. She adapted well to the baby, and the baby to her. All of us would lay in the bed together, snuggled little family. Charlee usually had her head on the pillow.
She was there when we brought our son home. This time, the house full of other dogs too, as my mother was visiting with her pets, and helping to take care of me after my second c-section. Charlee was getting older, very gray in the face, but still very much excited and satisfied just to be a part of things. She slept on the top of the couch pillows, mostly. Except at bedtime, where she always resumed her spot in the curve of my stomach.
I remember petting her soft white fur, under her chin at the base of her chest and neck. We called it her “puddin” and I swear it was the softest stuff I’ve ever touched. She loved being rubbed there.
Much to my chagrin, she had sensitive skin and often got infected in her nether regions – they were constantly inflamed from allergies. My husband would comedically call the inflamed area “the Radish.” She always knew when I’d need to come smear cream on it, and she’d submissively roll over on her back, hold really still, and let me apply it with a q-tip; not the most fun for anyone, but certainly memorable. .
She did what we called the “dump dance.” She would make a dropping, stay in the hunkered position and then take a few steps, and then drop some more. We could always tell it was a Charlee poop, because rather than a pile, it was a trail of turds across the yard.
When we moved to Idaho, she rode shotgun either at our feet or in our laps. She was such an easy dog. We would get lunch at fast food places, and eat outside so she could join us. She’d sit there and wait for her share, panting in the hot sun, because her fur was black and shiny.
Fast forward back to Halloween night. A few weeks prior, Charlee had an episode. I looked down, and her face was lopsided and drool was coming out of her lips. I knew she was getting old and that I would have to face the inevitable someday. I presumed she had had a stroke. I burst into tears, swept her in my arms, held her, and then got into the car and took her to the emergency vet. They advised it was not a stroke, but was either a severe inner ear infection that occurs in older dogs, or possibly a brain tumor. They advised to give it a few weeks, and see how she was recovering before coming to any conclusions, as the ear infection was a fairly common occurrence in dogs her age. I prayed to God – if she’s sick and dying, please give me a sign. I don’t want her to suffer, but I don’t want to make this horrible decision uninformed.
I bought soft dog food for her. One side of her face wasn’t working well. Her feet would give out from under her. But there were also moments of lucidity that gave me hope. She would still banter with the pups, and run around in the yard. She wasn’t drooling as much. She was responsive when I called her. Somehow I knew that we were coming to the end though. Those last weeks, I carried her up the stairs, kissing her soft neck the whole way up. I curled my body against hers, petting her head and chin. Loving on her puddin. Savoring the touch of her soft warm body. Holding her paw. Studying it. I can still feel how she felt today. I am so grateful I took the time to really focus on her little life and presence.
That Halloween night, I was outside handing out candy. Trick Or Treat had just started, and my husband and the kids were walking the neighborhood in costumes with friends. I was at the end of the driveway, when the sudden urge to go inside overtook me. I tried to ignore it. I didn’t want to miss out on the trick or treaters and it was the busiest hour. Not the time to go inside. Yet, I kept feeling this pull to get up and go in. So finally, I set the bowl of candy in the chair, asked my neighbors to keep an eye on it for a second and went in.
As soon as I opened the door, I knew there was trouble. I saw a pile of drool by the front door. Immediate flash backs to a few weeks ago, when she had her first symptoms, played in my head. I found her under the table, mid seizure. There was the sign I had asked for. I knew her time had come. I scooped her up, her little body stiff and seizing. I sighed and moaned “Oh Charlee.” I texted my husband and let him know I was taking her in, and that I wouldn’t be bringing her home. I asked him to continue with the children. They were so young, and they didn’t need to remember their dog in a seizure. They needed to remember her alive and happy. He asked to come with me, but I knew I needed to do this alone. She was my dog, and she was mid suffering. I had to act immediately.
I put her in the front seat, and kept my hand on her little body the whole way. I told her how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. I thanked her for her dedication to my family. To me. I told her she was a gift I was so grateful for, and that I’d always know she was the best dog I ever would have. I held her paw, and touched her puddin, and when we got to the vet, I carried her in, tears streaming down my face. The receptionist knew right away what was happening and got a nurse to take Charlee back.
Although they couldn’t get her out of the seizure, they were able to stabilize her and sedate her. The vet came in to talk options, and I stopped her mid sentence. Charlee was suffering. She was not, nor would she ever be her old self. She was 13 years old and had lived a gorgeous dog life. She did not deserve to prolong it in pain or discomfort in order to comfort me. It was clear that what she had was not an ear infection, and it was time to make one of life’s most adult and difficult decisions. The vet agreed.
They brought her in, wrapped in a soft fleecy old dog blanket. She was sedated, but breathing. I felt her breath. I took time to be alone with her. To talk to her one last time. To touch her warmth. Her softness. Hold her paws, with her long over-grown old lady toe nails that were so difficult to cut. Her little white paws that used to be beautiful puppy paws with sharp little claws. These paws had lived a dog lifetime, and had seen me in my early twenties, single and dumb. Had seen me buy my first house with my boyfriend. Had seen my boyfriend propose to me – he proposed while we were walking our dogs (Charlee and his dog Deuce, whom we had lost years ago). Had seen us get married. Had seen both of my children come home from the hospital. Had seen a cross country move to Idaho, and back. Had seen my happiness and sorrows, and had been by my side the whole time. Someone for whom I was her favorite person on the planet, whom she trusted with her entire small simple being. She was trusting me to do the right thing now, and in her slumber, kissed her, held her and I let her go.
Weeks later, my husband went back to the vet to pick up her cremated remains. She came home in a beautifully carved little brown box. That night, I took that little box, placed it in the curve of my tummy, and slept with her there all night long. I cried and remembered and said good-bye.