Monday, June 19, 2006

big dog

raleigh died the day after my birthday.

as i turned 45, he turned into an angel. at least, that's what my daughter said.

i sit here, looking out the window, and the sunset has me thinking about the inexplicable. it has me wondering where my dog is. he's not in his familiar spot by the door, or by the back gate, or on the deck. i can see him there...but he's not there.

raleigh was our "big dog," an oversized golden retriever with a big smile and the most endearing personality i've ever encountered.

when our children were tiny, raleigh was their jungle gym. when our other golden went blind, raleigh was his wing man, leading so gunnar could follow.

raleigh never asked for more than to be with his people, and occasionally to have his ears skritched. if you stopped too soon, his nose would duck under your hand, hoping for just a bit more.

raleigh unexpectedly collapsed a few weeks ago. the ER vet removed his spleen, along with a tumor. as it turned out, the cancer in his body was malignant, and the prognosis was "a few weeks." during that time he was resolutely cheerful, to the point that we could almost forget his time was running out. toward the end, as the vet predicted, he began having more bad days than good. still, with the help of some potent medication, he was stoic, even when he must've been in pain.

there were several nights when i was sure he wouldn't be there in the morning. somehow he always bounced back, ready for another walk, another day in the sun. yesterday morning he joined us at the park, rolled in the grass, chased down a tennis ball. he looked at me as we returned home, and he had that familiar smile on his face.

last night, though, was different. he wouldn't take his pain meds, and i had to carry him to his bed. he could barely hold up his head as i brushed him. i told him he'd feel better in the morning, and we'd go for another walk. and that i loved him.

this morning, he was gone.

and suddenly i find myself in a strange place. unmoored, unfamiliar. his big heart has stopped, and mine doesn't know what to do.

a voice in my head says, "he was just a dog." but it isn't true. he was a constant, joyous presence in our family for more than 10 years. he moved with us from one side of the country to the other, and back again. he set an example in life, and in death, that puts me to shame.

raleigh wasn't just a dog...he was my dog. and he was my friend.

and i can't seem to stop crying for him.


Anonymous said...


I'm so sorry to hear about Raleigh. Speaking from experience, I wish could offer words of comfort, but what can one say that would make the pain go away?

I think of the line from "Mr. Bo Jangles,"
i after 20 years he still grieves

so it shall be. The two lessons I try to remember that in time the room in your heart that allowed you to love a big ol' dog will need to be filled (and this will happen again, and probably again). and the that dogs help us remember that we live our lives a day at a time and that every day is precious, because in the end, there ain't a whole lot of 'em.

be well my friend.


spaceneedl said...

thanks, doc. one day we'll have to have a sober, drunken discussion on how to reconcile the joy of loving with the pain of loss.

right now it's hard to focus on the good stuff, because the bad is right up in my face. i can't brush it aside the way i want to, and it keeps popping up at inconvenient times and places.

spaceneedl said...

it's a year later, and re-reading this i cry just as easily.

we've talked about getting another dog, but our lives have changed. we don't have time to give ourselves the attention we need, let alone care for a dog.

in a way, i'm sad, because i can't pet a golden retriever or a big ol' swiss mountain dog with wishing we had one in our family.

spaceneedl said...

it's now eight years later, and there are three dogs in the house. including a golden retriever from the same breeder where we got raleigh.

she's a small, carbon copy of him. their demeanors and behaviors are so similar it's mind-blowing.

and, here i stand, still crying for raleigh. i guess i may never be over him...and that's okay. every once in a while i dream about him, and waking up it's like i've just seen him again. so strange, and so very welcome.