Yesterday, unexpectedly, I had to put Nelson down. He’d been sick for a while with an uncommon autoimmune disease. Sunday, he was chasing me around the house trying to eat the tortilla chips off my plate, in his normal, annoying way. Monday as I left for work, I gave him a treat and kissed him goodbye—all the while thinking we had years before us. When I returned late afternoon, he couldn’t stand.
That quickly, life had changed forever.
I spent Monday night with him on his bed, spoon-feeding him water. He could no longer lift his head and was having a hard time breathing. This dog, who the week before was still going on walks, and the day before was begging me for baby carrots in front of the fridge.
You get to a place like this and language fails you. Bereft? Distraught? Completely lost? What I felt was failure, and like my heart was going to stop beating. I knew he was in serious trouble and pain.
Oh, sweet Jesus, the pain. I could see it on his face and it made every bit of me hurt. I scooped him into my arms and took him to the vet as soon as they opened Tuesday morning. Our long-time vet, and a childhood friend of mine, took one look at Nelson and knew. He didn’t want to tell me that it was Nelson’s time. He had tears in his eyes as I openly sobbed in the exam room. The options were few and only one would bring Nelson less pain.
How could this be happening?
Too soon, I was sitting on the floor, cradling him. He looked into my eyes and I told him how much I loved him, how much he would be missed. Stroking his face, I tried to stay as calm as I could.
And then, he was gone.
I held him to my chest and wailed.
I don’t have well crafted word to express how terrible I feel, or to describe the loss. Nelson was in so many ways my child. The moment I met him, I knew we were family. He gave me more than 7 years of love and companionship. This morning, I came downstairs for the first time to see his bed empty. Right now, the house feels haunted. I keep expecting to hear the tick of his nails on the floor, to hear the soft grunt that meant “please lift me on the couch,” or the “meep!” noise he made when he was happy to see me. I am profoundly sad.
His passing has made me see that love is a game of tag. I loved him because I have been well loved. He loved me in return, and this made me more loving. I hope I’ve passed that on to others, and I know his presence—his long eyelashes, and curious personality—gave others joy.
Thank you Willie Nelson Mandela for being the best friend I could have ever asked for. I will love you always.