Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Morey

I wrote this yesterday evening. I decided to paste it here as well. I wanted to share it not just to tell the world about Morey, but also to allow others who have lost a much-loved pet to share their own thoughts. I hope you will.

When I arrived home for Christmas yesterday, I knew my family's yellow lab was getting into her later years but I wasn't at all prepared for today.

This morning, Morey passed away.

She was fighting lymphoma and instead of going the basic treatment route of repeated chemotherapy and drugs, we decided to go the more holistic route. Morey lived more than two years beyond what other vets had anticipated. She had a lot of fight in her, after all, she was the runt.

I arrived home on Monday morning to my pup struggling to even stand up. With shaky legs and confused eyes she rose to greet me. Little did I know that this was the last time she would do so. The lack of any tail wagging was the only thing I noticed. Over the course of the day it became clear she was unable to move. We took her into see Nate, our holistic vet a few minutes away. The care and love with which he handled her comforted all of us as we sat in the room watching him examine Morey.

The diagnosis was not a shock. The lymphoma was giving her a lot of discomfort and the arthritis in three of her legs was making it difficult to move. He gave her some anti-biotics for the fever she was running and then acupuncture to open up her bodily energy flow.

We returned home hopeful for healing. I carried her in and placed her on the living room carpet where she liked to lie during the night. On the window ledge in the living room my mother had spelled out, "Unyielding Hope" in the giant Scrabble letters she had bought. Without a doubt, that is what we held in our thoughts. I kept saying to myself that all Morey needed was a good night's rest. I checked in on her from time to time before dinner and saw that she wasn't sleeping, just lying still her eyes staring into space. I tried to offer her food and water but both were turned down. I was worried. I felt she was giving up.

I was awakened by my dad this morning. He expressed concern that she hadn't moved all night. I went down to lie next to Morey and found her all four legs splayed out in different directions. She was trying to get more comfortable. It seemed to take all of her remaining energy to adjust her head to a more comfortable angle every few minutes. Still, she wouldn't take any water or food.

My mom spoke to Nate and tearfully described the scene. They agreed that it was probably time to let her go. Nate offered to come by the house and take care of everything. We gratefully accepted. Noon was the agreed upon time. I suddenly only had two and half hours left with the dog I had known since i was fifteen.

Morey came to us from a small family in Isle La Motte a tiny island in Lake Champlain just off the Vermont "coast." She was bred for hunting and always seemed to be in her element deep in the woods zipping over undergrowth and hurdling fallen tree limbs. She was our first family dog and the runt in a litter of five. When we brought her home, we realized she had fleas. So, unfortunately, the first memory she had is of a pretty nasty flea-bath. Not exactly the welcome home anyone wanted. My mother slept in the guest bedroom with her hand in the little box holding our new puppy all night. She whimpered and yelped for her family, trying to understand what this new place was.

We all fell in love with her. Over the course of the three years I was home before college we took her everywhere. Daily hikes and jaunts to the local woods, on errands to our local bread bakery, hikes up Mount Philo, football games, and just about anywhere in the car. I can still see her in the rearview mirror, mouth open, ears flapping, with a giant doggy-grin as she absorbed every possible scent driving by at 40 miles an hour. Or see her streak across the backyard after a bouncing tennis ball snapping it up in her mouth.

Though I left home for college I always relished coming back to take her out for a walk and toss the ball for her in the backyard. It was energizing for her as much as it was therapeutic for me. I used to try and tire her out but she was rarely ever the one to call it quits. She led a charmed and spoiled life and we were all more than happy to oblige.

She loved the winter. I'm now certain that she hated being in the house between December and April because it was just too hot for her Labrador coat. Meanwhile, outside snow was falling. Every hour she would yelp to go out, saunter out to her post, checkin on her territory, and flop down in the snow. It was her hourly air-conditioning bath. Then, she'd come back in, if only for the promise of a treat and a rub-down. As frustrating as it was to getup and open the door every half hour, I chuckle at what she must have thought as we gathered around a raging fire to warm up.

While I was away from home after college, carving out my own niche in the world, Morey remained a staple in our family. She was a comfort to my parents when their only child headed off to college and continued to be as I my transience brought be back on holidays and short vacations. She was the one thing we could all count on to come bounding down the hallway when we opened the front door. She ate a charcoal briquette once, requiring surgery and two days of rest to recover. She was hit by a car on a busy road above our house surviving an emergency-surgery from a late-night veterinarian. But most importantly, through all of it, she never whined, never turned ornery or bitter. She remained as happy, loyal and innocent as she'd always been. And if you believe dogs can smile, she smiled a whole lot.

Over a year ago, my father took a job in Denver. An all-out move from our home of 17 years in Burlington was not possible. This meant that my mother would be spending a lot of time by herself. Obviously, during this time Morey has become more than just a pet. She was her partner, her co-pilot. As my mother said with quivering lip last night, "She was my best friend."

This was clear to Nate. When I handed Morey's limp body to him, he had tears in his eyes. I knew that to this man, Morey was more than just a patient and we were more than just clients. It made my eyes well up to see him carefully and lovingly place her in the backseat of his car. He looked at me. I shook his hand, my voice cracking, "Thanks so much for doing this. It means a lot." He nodded, and said, "Take care of your mother."

In that moment I realized what Morey truly was: our family's keeper. She is the bond that keeps us together. When one of us is away, she remains. When two of us go out, she stays, keeping all company, watching and waiting. When you come home angry or frustrated, how could you not smile when an ecstatic puppy leaps from her bed to greet you, begging you to kneel down to accept her wet kisses? How could we not be comforted when she snuck up onto the couch next to us leaning in, letting you know she's there? And how could we not find joy in watching her chase down a tennis ball or track a scent in the woods, snout glued to the ground? We depended on that love and in turn gave it back to her. Now, it felt as if our love wasn't strong enough -- it wasn't healing her.

I sat on our front stoop and cried. Morey had been a part of my life for nearly half of it. Her absence felt like half of me had disappeared with her. It's the little things you notice that suddenly seem estranged from this new reality. The paw prints on the snow-covered walkway from only the day prior. The hair covering my jackets and clothes which annoyed me but was something I had become accustom to, and now treasured. The yelp at six in the morning, telling everyone to get up and start the day. Her face appearing at the backdoor, eyes wide and ears propped up, waiting to be let in. Or the food and water bowls, still full, waiting to be consumed. I opened the front door realizing there was no Morey on the other side, leaping from her bed to greet me. For the first time in thirteen years, it was a quiet entrance.

My mother read aloud Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar" as the three of us sat there on our floor holding Morey. It was difficult to finish the poem in that moment, knowing what was about to happen. Some say that being with a soul as they move on to whatever is next is a beautiful thing. I'm not sure I'm quite able to agree. Maybe in time I will. For now, its still hard to think about. After Nate gave her the injection it took only twenty seconds. There was no convulsing, no shaking, no yelps. Just silence and a quiet fading of life. She was gone.

In the end, I know that I'll be able to see Morey again. Through the memories, mental snapshots, and maybe in the final moments of my own life, I'll be able to reach out to loved ones who have since departed. I certainly hope so. But for now, its hard not to tear-up at the profound sense of loss one feels. At the same time, there is a danger in letting Morey's death intimidate my life. David Sarnoff, head of RCA in the early part of the last century, said, "We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears. We must not demean life by standing in awe of death." I refuse to demean any part of her life. So, I guess it's time to stop standing in awe of her death.

Certainly there was something right about how everything unfolded. It was almost as if Morey was unable to let go of life until all of us were home, present to see her off. Just the previous day she had made her usual neighborhood rounds, ambling around the block checking in on everyone: The folks across the street who gave her food at their back door, the yellow lab down a few houses and others who have seen her drop by over the last few years. Younger dogs didn't jump all over her like they normally did. Instead, they approached with care and gently licked her face as if to wish her well on some journey we were yet aware of. And of course, having the family here to support my mother, the hardest hit by Morey's passing, couldn't have been more well-timed.

It all seemed to be....right.

My grandmother always said, "No one gets to stay here forever." If Morey was going to pass on, now was the time. I don't think she planned it. But I think she knew her time was coming to an end. As sad as it was to hold her and watch life leave the body I was so familiar to seeing full of spirit, I wouldn't have done it any other way. It may have been painful, but it was honest.

The poem my mother couldn't read because there were too many tears in her eyes, I've pasted below.

"I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid, more accessible
to loosen my heart until it becomes
a wing, a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes on to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit."

- Dawna Markova, "I Shall Not Die an Unlived Life"

Morey, we'll love you always. See you soon.