On Sunday morning and on what would have been my grandmother's 92nd birthday, Luckie died. I found him dead on the kitchen floor. I think he choked after vomiting. I wasn't with him. No one was. He died alone. I feel terrible for this. I hope he did not suffer for long and that he wasn't scared. Of course, I will never know. I just know that he isn't suffering now.
After fighting arthritis, a thyroid tumor, seizures, and the undignified maladies of old age, Luckie probably succumbed to a relatively new problem for us, a paralyzed vocal cord. This is what made him gag after drinking water and made him pant and lose 10 pounds in one month. This is what he died from. I didn't see it coming.
Even in his last weeks, as he lost weight and became a picky eater, he still followed us from room to room, still enjoyed his dinner of turkey or ground beef with rice and veggies. On his last night, he picked up a bone that had been lying on the floor untouched for at least a week. I thought he was unable to eat bones anymore but he picked it up and chewed it slowly. I was so happy to see him do something he had once enjoyed so much but had to give up. Then I became concerned that he might choke so I left him with the few small pieces he broke off and threw out the large part. He didn't try to take it from me, as he would have when he was younger (when he was younger, he never would have let me near his bone, period). He gave in and slowly chewed on the small bits before leaving them behind for his water. Maybe he knew that he was going to die and he just wanted one last bone.
I feel lost, guilty, bereft, and sad. I ache and miss him. On Wednesday, my mother and I will watch him be cremated and then we will take his ashes home. On the drive up to the pet cemetery on Sunday, we carefully wrapped Luckie up before placing him on the back of the pick-up truck. I drove in front with Brian while my mother, stepfather, and Luckie followed in the truck. We had our hazard lights on because we were driving slowly but we also inadvertently gave Luckie a final procession.
Luckie was in my life for half of my life. I haven't known an adulthood without him and with him gone, I finally feel as though my childhood is completely over. I remember a time when Luckie was my only true friend. I remember our walks in the woods, the one time when I sat crying on a rock and was lonely, except he was there. He was there when I cried, there when I giggled, was so ecstatic to walk with me and catch balls I threw, and he seemed to forgive me when I was too busy with my own life and took for granted that he would always be around.
Taking care of Luckie has been such a focus for me in the last few months that last night I felt like howling as I laid in bed and knew there was no one to check on at 2 in the morning anymore. The house is so empty. We've left his last bit of water in his bowl but many signs of him are gone. Even most of the dog hair is cleaned up. As I pulled into my driveway last night, I still looked for his head to pop up in the window.
Losing him, even in just a day, has shown me who the truly compassionate people in my life are. A yoga teacher I've only spoken to once and arranged to meet with privately today sent a kind email expressing her sympathy after I called to cancel our meeting. Johanna of Vegans of Color, who I have only met once and only know through a blog, immediately sent her sympathies. Sky, who lives across the country, called within minutes of me sending her an email about Luckie's passing. Two friends who I see or speak to just a few times a year sounded truly concerned and hurt when I spoke with them. Then another friend, who I have known for over 15 years ignored my calls, didn't listen to my sobbing message, and then feigned ignorance when I finally spoke to them and could not even muster up an, "I'm sorry," when I confronted them on their unavailability and duplicity. I am raw and angry and have felt conflicted about this friend for a very long time and now all ambivalence has come into crystal clear focus. This person is not a friend and I don't want them in my life. Losing Luckie has made many things clear: who does and doesn't love me, what my next moves will be. Everything is now apparent after being in limbo for so long.
Brian. Oh my god, what would I do without him. He was with me when I found Luckie. He cleaned up after Luckie while I paced around the house sobbing and sounding insane. He helped us take Luckie to the pet cemetery. He cried for Luckie and held me. Having Brian in my life also has made it clear to me that relationships and friendships I once mistook for love, attachment and passion were nothing more than toxic wastes of time. I'm grateful that I have Brian. I am not alone anymore and even when I sometimes feel lonely, he still loves me.
Luckie most of all always showed me pure, unfettered, unconditional love and affection. I will miss his sweetness, his intuition, his intelligence, his sense of humor and mischief, and his valiant spirit. He outlived most retrievers by two years and he left still being able to eat and walk and hobble from room to room to be with his loved ones. He still gave kisses and never became despondent even after his walks stopped and his world got so much smaller. I love and miss him so much and thank him for being one of my greatest teachers.