I might have mentioned it before but I didn’t believe in love at first sight until that Christmas eight years ago when Catie sat on the mat by the front door with a big red satin bow around her neck, and placidly surveyed her new domain. She was a gift from my children as my youngest prepared to leave home.
So you won’t be lonely when I’m gone, my daughter said, she’s to keep you company.
And what good company she kept.
It’s been almost six months since Catie’s died. Oh my. Throughout the entire cancer journey, she was braver and stronger than I could ever hope to be. Through the diagnosis of bone cancer, the amputation of her right front limb and the weeks of recovery, through the treatments of chemo which left her bedraggled and tired, to the eventual return of the awful disease and the quiet final moments of her passing in the small back room of the animal hospital.
A brave girl, the vet kept saying to Catie, you put up a brave good fight. And we stroked Catie’s head and tried not to choke on our tears.
Was there a little sigh? Did something in the universe ever so subtly shift? Even if there wasn’t a sound, I could feel her soul stir and stretch with each slowing heart beat until it finally took flight.
This season is difficult because the holiday season is when she came home. Every bauble and bell and bow that adorn the trees in the shopping centres and grace the picture windows of the neighbourhood houses make me think of her. Every Christmas movie and Christmas carol, every bright coloured gift box and wreath and garland of lights remind me of her. Although I’ll admit that I’m crying as I write this because her loss still shudders my heart (and it’s not helping that Josh Groban is singing “Thankful” in the background), I remember her with an abiding, deep tenderness and love, and gratitude for the Christmases we shared.
Catie was so much more than just a dog who died of cancer and it hasn’t sat well with me that the last entry of this blog ended with such abrupt heaviness.
She tried, with varying degrees of success, to teach me much about myself and life: that the human heart has a capacity for love and awe; that I’m worthy of love myself (who couldn’t believe that when confronted by such a uninhibited resounding welcome every single time they returned home); that life is not measured in quantity, but quality; that bad things can happen to anyone, even the most innocent of creatures; that the simplest of moments can evoke the most powerful memories, sunlight dappling through trees, a ball to chase, a stick to shred, a snuggle on the couch, a cookie in bed, two golden faces smudging the glass of a livingroom window.
Riley’s face is the only one pressed there now. If my eyes are tired as I pull into the driveway I can almost see her image shadowing his. It makes me smile. As a wise someone often reminds others: Love never ends.
Riley’s adapted well to being a single fur child. I believe, in my heart, he knew Catie was ill long, long before we did. He knew when the cancer returned. For me, the irrefutable evidence of his innate knowledge was when one day, close to Catie’s end, he finished off the food she declined.
He had never touched her bowl before.
He also knew, on that last day, she would not be returning. Typically the first one at the door when there was the slightest inkling of an outing, that day he settled himself on his rug in the kitchen and watched. Catie turned at the door to look at him. He looked back. I like to think she was telling him everything was going to be okay.
We’ve done our best to keep Riley from feeling lonely. He still chases his ball at the park with his dad during the day and goes for evening walks with me. In the summertime we took him several times to the downtown outdoor farmer’s market – Catie was too skittish around strangers to ever attempt such a public excursion. Riley did us proud even when confronted with a 140-pound Alaskan Malamute. Now, Riley’s not a small Golden Retriever. He’s tall for his breed and weighs in at 80 pounds, but he greeted that huge, noble dog with typical unflagging and fearless enthusiasm: Wanna PLAY??
We took him on a road trip to Calgary and spent a day in the Rocky Mountains. He finally comes up on the couch without coercion. He has basked in the undivided attention.
I don’t know how I would have managed without him, his wild enthusiasm for the most ordinary of things. I adore him – his goofy smile and nutty smell, his energy and eagerness to please – I swear, just as much as I adore my granddaughter who was born in August.
Life moves on.
The camaraderie and respect and kindness and encouragement and laughter I found here is proof to me that there is, really, still much good in this world and in people. I want to thank everyone who shared Catie’s journey with me.
To every departed Tripawd – we’ve learned much from each of you about courage and resilience and living in the moment.
To every Tripawd still soldiering on – you continue to give so many hope.
And, lastly, to all the Tripawds who I know will follow, and struggle to work through all manner of decisions, I’m going to close with a quote by one of my favourite philosophers, Rhonda Giger – also known as Lincoln’s mom, from a blog she published, on this site, entitled “Acceptance, Lessons, and Courage.” I hope she doesn’t mind.
“We do what we can, sometimes it is hopelessly inadequate, sometimes it is everything. We rely on the most minute and infinite chances at a miracle. We hope that whomever is in control sees fit to breathe life into our dog, and that he will be the one to beat the miserable and discouraging odds. We do it because by believing in something, even something rooted in the rocky dirt of impossibility, we are not only trying to keep him alive, we recognize that it is the only way to stay alive ourselves. We realize, that by trying to save them, we are really saving ourselves, and in the end, that is what courage is all about.”
The date of Rhonda’s entry is June 2, 2010.
Catie died on June 2, 2011.
My love to everyone.
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