"A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity,
it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path."
~ Agatha Christie

Alex, Cole and Braden - At 2 years, 2 months

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ruger the Lion

who so often reminded me of a great lion.
An incredible friend with a regal presence.
In many ways our child, he will be forever missed.

I realize that it has been quite some time since I have posted an entry. I have had plenty to blog about, but little motivation to do so. I am lost in a state of grief I never knew existed because we have lost a great presence in our lives.

Recently, we lost our beautiful dog, Ruger. The German Shepherd that made our lives, and us, so much better for having known him. We are better people now, and it has a lot to do with him.

Our baby is gone...Impossible...I have yet to fully come to terms with his loss, he was a huge part of our lives. More than just a dog; an amazing companion, a spectacular friend, an incredible personality and an awe-inspiring presence - his life, and his lessons, will never be forgotten.

I never once gave a thought to the day I would have to write about losing our baby Ruger. For those of you who know us, he was our dog "son", our first baby. As close to us as any human son could ever be, the relationship made even more intense because his life was so short.

We lost our first baby on August 22, a crushing blow to our sense of stability and our forthcoming happiness. I say forthcoming, because the "Grand Plan" seemed just about ready to unfold. We were blessed with healthy triplets after a rough pregnancy, two beautiful and extremely well behaved and human-attuned puppies, a beautiful house of our dreams on forested acres with a waterfall, a perfect place to let dogs run and raise a family together. It was all there, in place, all the pieces to the puzzle of our perfect life. And we were just about to put the last pieces in, which were the kids, since they were starting to be less demanding babies and more active toddlers, everyone ready to enjoy life together…and then the Ruger piece fell out, lost, never to be found again; an eternal hole in our puzzle of happiness.

In only 4 days, we had to come to terms with losing our baby. Only 4 days to process what was happening and spend the last few hours with him in a way that would dignify his life. Keep him strong and comfortable until the end came and give him the best possible send off a dog could ever hope for. Ice cream, chicken, steak…we never got to the steak part.

You know that inevitably you will live through the death of an amazing pet, their life span is so much shorter than ours...but knowing and dealing are two very different things. I can't say one could ever be "ready" for the loss, but someday it will happen. "Someday" happened way faster than we thought, sooner and faster, and that made it all so hard to bear. It didn't seem right, and it didn't seem fair. He had so much music left in him. The kids will never know this gentle heart, and that fact haunts us more than anything, I think.

He seemed to be having a difficult time breathing and collapsed in front of me, so Mike took him to the emergency vet on Monday night. He returned quickly, which I knew was a bad sign. After taking an x-ray of his lungs, she diagnosed him with Advanced Lung Cancer and gave him days to live. Mike came home with the crushing news that our baby was dying, and it was my turn to collapse.

We took him to our vet the next day who confirmed it was indeed cancer, but a far more aggressive kind that had spread to the lungs, called Hemangiosarcoma. A death sentence for any dog who receives the diagnosis because it is only caught in the end stages, after it has terminally spread. In Ruger's case, his lungs were canvassed and there was nothing we could do but make him comfortable. We were, and still are, shocked, saddened and devastated. I have thought this in my head, but never said it out loud, if it weren't for the kids, I would have gone off the deep end of grief, still looking for a way out. When you are forced to deal, you have to make it through the grieving process, and much faster.

On Wednesday, our doctor gave him 2-6 weeks, with the possibility of his tumor rupturing at any moment. He told us that in the eventuality that he would last a long time, we might have to consider putting him to sleep if it became too much of an effort for him to breathe. What a horrible thought, I remember thinking. We have to choose whether he lives or dies? We decide the exact moment he leaves us and this world for a "better" place? We decide his fate? Let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

That night, we had the blessing of being able to take the boys (Cody and Ruger) to a local park, with a nice pond and walkways to saunter on. Mike's parents lovingly stayed with the kids, deeply understanding our need to spend this last precious time together, just the 4 of us again. We had a beautiful night. Knowing it may be his last few days here with us, I was determined to make it special for him. We went to the park and walked around the water, soaking in the beautiful sunset that turned us all pink, then orange, then red. We took pictures by the lake, so mockingly calm, letting the warm breeze soothe our sorrow. I sobbed and sniffled, hugged my furry baby and tried to soak it all in…the last sunset he would ever see, ever be with us for. Just the four of us, like old times, sauntering around the lake as a family. It was beautiful; we loved giving him that last time with us together, letting him know we loved his company and that he was so very special to us.

A week later, I mentioned to Mike just how sorrowfully metaphoric that night was, he was dying, it was our last night together, the sunset, the impending fall weather…it just all felt like it was ending, everything. It was incredibly, yet nicely, sad.

Afterwards, we stopped to get him an ice cream cone, one of his favorite treats. Vanilla custard on a baby cone. Perfect. We ordered two for the boys and I fed them while standing before them in the tailgate of the truck. They devoured the cones! Ruger lapped his up, sometimes taking bites of the soft custard, licking back the white stuff from his chops. Crunching on the cone, he chewed his up fast, looking to Cody for a bite of his. I let them share the rest of Cody’s, knowing it may be the last morsels of the good stuff he may ever get and his brother obliged nicely. They were so cute together, they have always been the perfect fit. Brothers forever!

After the cones were done and the laughing abated, I noticed a little boy off to the side, quite close actually. He was looking at me with barely contained excitement, and I knew he had watched the boys eating and wanted to come over and see them. I leapt for joy inside, knowing that this was another love of Ruger’s…kids! He adored them, playing with them…maybe because he saw them as the kind of human who could match his energy level! So, I motioned for him to come over, he wasn’t afraid at all, which was wonderful, and he lavished Ruger with unabashed affection. Petting him, hugging him, jumping up and down and squealing, telling me just how BIG he was! And still not afraid…I was so glad he was there with us to say goodbye to him, this stranger of a friend, it was the perfect ending to a perfect last night.

Mike actually commented on how great Ruger looked. That night, with him walking by our side, loving every minute of it, it was easy to believe that he would be with us for weeks, months even - he looked fine! His coat was glossy and gorgeous as ever and his eyes were bright. A little panting, but that was it! He looked healthy, if you didn't know how much cancer he was riddled with, you might not actually believe the prognosis.

Thursday was another nice day, and we played in the yard, trying to capture his spirit on film most of the day. He was playing ball, wrestling with Cody...he looked a little tired, but his drive was still there.

Friday morning, I knew something was different. He was panting full bore now and struggling to get comfortable, anywhere. He looked so pitiful, and he was really striving for oxygen. What a difference 12 hours makes.

I looked at Mike tearfully and said, "I think he's trying to tell us something. I think he is done here." He kept looking at us with those pleading eyes, willing us to help him...and we knew, just knew, what had to be done.

It all happened so fast. Sunday he was jumping over the baby gate and playing with us and Cody, wrestling. Friday, he was gone.

We scheduled an appointment (how proper) that evening to put our baby to sleep forever. It was the second hardest thing I have ever done. He was so tired, not getting any sleep, I realized afterwards, in days; he couldn't put his head down on the floor because it was impossible to get any air with all that pressure on his lungs. So, he stayed upright for days, not sleeping, getting weaker and weaker with each passing one.

We brought Cody with us to the hardest thing we have ever done, saying goodbye to our baby. We all sat on the floor together as a family and told him how much we loved him, struggling to keep our composure while we talked to him. I wanted to soak him in, fill up my memory banks with images of his face, so sweet and loving, never forget him. Get my fill of him so that I might be able to last until I see him again someday. Knowing that it will never be enough. There is never enough time, enough hugs, enough kisses…. I held him in my arms and I kissed his cheeks, smoothed back the fur on top of his head, stared into his tired brown eyes, holding his muzzle with both hands, hugging him, feeling his coarse hair on my cheek one last time.

I wanted him to know how much we loved him, how much we would continue to love him and miss him, ache for him after he was gone, but that it would be easier to breathe soon, that it would be ok soon, that he would be able to truly sleep like he hadn’t in days or weeks even, trying to get comfortable through the pain. The pain would be gone, he would feel incredible and he would be able to play without abandon, no more fear, no more worries, no more suffering, no more pain. Just incredible joy and happiness. All dogs go to Heaven…and there is a reason for that.

We said our last goodbyes, hugged our last hugs, kissed his nose one last time...and then he was gone. We both then sobbed like we have never before, feeling impossible depths of grief wash over us, an immediate and incredible loneliness and a deep sadness taking up permanent residence in my chest.

He was gone...and it was going to be a long road back to a life without him.

We took him home and buried him in the flower garden, saying a few last words and a final goodbye. He will be there with us always, since we love being back there...he loved it too, and I think we picked a perfect spot for him.

Some of you might be saying...he was "just a dog", and I feel sorry for you. Truly knowing the love and heart of my dog was one of the most intense joys of my life. Wesley Smith said, "The pain is so intense because the joy was so intense". Since I had the privilege of his company 24/7, I will miss him as I would any close companion. I spent more time with him here at the house than most of my friends, and much of my family. So, if you think he wasn't a family member, I'm not sure what else he would be. My grief is just as intense as losing any other in my family, especially one that shared our home and our love. I see the spots he once lay, the places in our yard he frequented, I still see him everywhere, and it hurts. It has been four weeks since he left us, and I am still sobbing while I write this. I needed to wait until I was ready to write this blog, since it all seems so final now that it is "announced" to the world. Yet, a month later, it still takes my breath away.

I have been writing about him since that day, random thoughts on grief, wonderful memories of him I don't want to forget, poems about his loveliness and courage. 33 pages later, I am still pouring my grief out like water onto those pages. Hopefully, I will post a few of those stories on the Trinity Cole website (my pen name writing blog), see the link to the right. I know this post was long, but thank you for reading, if you have made it this far...I truly appreciate the opportunity to post these feelings. It has helped me tremendously to feel as though I am preserving his memory. I am starting to write a children's book about him and I hope to have it published someday. That way, his spirit will have another venue to live on.

He quite literally was, the perfect dog. And he will be missed greatly. He taught us so much in his lifetime; so many lessons in living simply, purely, and more genuine without abandon, fear or anger. Our children will know his lessons.

Dogs live in the moment, with so much to teach us about not sweating the small stuff, not holding grudges, playing as much as possible and lapping up the day as if it is a great big bowl of delicious water meant to be emptied completely and refilled to enjoy again tomorrow.

Our dog, our son...someday, we will see you again, our baby Ruger. Until then, we love and miss you terribly.

"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." - Roger Caras


Lisa said...

What a beautiful tribute Cheryle! I must admit it was difficult to see through the tears in my own eyes by the end of your post. You have an amazingly open and loving heart. I know Ruger could feel that, in the end especially, when your devotion was there to guide him into a peaceful place. I'm so deeply sorry for your grief. Take care of your gentle heart, my friend.

Steve and Roxy said...

What a sweet doggie. Thank you for posting your story. I agree that dogs are part of our family and I know he will be greatly missed but never forgotten.