Saying goodbye is never easy.
Today my faithful, feisty, trash-raiding, cover-hogging, bagel-stealing little dog said goodbye. In the end it was the only kindness I could do for my little friend. And after 15 years together, he had more than earned the kindness of a gentle exit.
Angus was three-days old the first time I saw him. The breeder held cupped hands against her bosom, three little lives cradled together there. I picked him up first. He was perfect. I had to look at the other two, just for good measure. But from the first time I saw him he was mine.
'I call him One-spot,' the breeder said. All the pups were white with black splashes, but only Angus had one perfect round spot just above his snipped off little tail.
Seven weeks later, he cried all the way home. My sister, Fritz, rode shotgun on the long ride out to Laveen. We wrapped the pup in one of my old T-shirts and snuggled him into a small box, expecting him to sleep. Wrong. Shrieks of outrage filled the little car. Howls of misery followed one after the other. My poor sister handled the screaming pup with remarkable grace. But after all, what could she do?
The first night he shrieked all night long. The second night, after the household fell asleep with pillows over their ears, I crept into the kitchen and took the little thing out of the kennel. It was cold. I took him into the bedroom and snuggled him on a blanket at the foot of the bed and we both fell blessedly asleep.
Morning came early and quietly. I checked the bed. No pup. I looked on the floor. No pup. I panicked (one of my favorite activities). Just then my husband stirred and said in a half-terrified, half-asleep voice 'I think there's a dog down by my foot.'
I could just imagine the little guy, dead, suffocated under the heavy blankets. I threw back the covers and grabbed his tiny body to check for signs of life. He opened one eye, snapped at my fingers and dove back under the cover.
And that was where he slept many, many nights. If he wasn't in my bed, he was on a pillow close by, covered with a blanket. So it was that my sons grew up and so did Angus. He was always there, underfoot and begging. Sleeping on somebody's coat or raiding the garbage.
One day I looked up and he had grown old. The number of sleeping boxes and pillows grew. Soon there was one not just in each room, but in each part of each room. And blankets were everywhere. One day we found him on the sofa and somehow didn't chase him off, just brought another blanket to him.
Old age isn't kind to any creature. If there is any mercy for the little ones it's that they don't know what lies ahead. One day may be bad, but they never expect the next to be bad, too. Each moment simply follows the last and time moves on until one day, time has to stop.
I brought home his collar and tags. Sometime soon, when we can do it without bawling more than a little, we will have a family moment for Angus. We will tell all the Angus stories that were too long to include here. Because my sons and husband are male, inevitably we will start telling stories of Angus's legendary digestive system. We will laugh. Before we know it, the sad tears will be mingled with laughing tears. Memories of Angus will begin to bring a soft smile and sweet gladness rather than with the sharp pang of fresh grief.
That's how we go on, after saying goodbye.