This is our last goodbye
I hate to feel the love between us die
But it’s over
Just hear this and then I’ll go
You gave me more to live for
More than you’ll ever know
I scolded him the morning he died. He woke me Thanksgiving morning with his head on the bed, whining, because he wanted to jump up and join me. I was tired, and had come in really late the night before and I wanted to sleep another hour or so undisturbed. The bed was too small for the both of us, so I told him “no!” and to go lie back down. After a few more protests, he finally did.
I wish I had let him up to cuddle.
An hour later I woke again to find him just sitting in the middle of the room, staring out the window. I thought it was a little strange but dismissed it pretty quickly when he jumped up to join me as I was climbing out of bed. As he always does, happy to greet me… and even happier to know that our next stop was outside where he could run around my parent’s farm with their dog Peaches. That was always our routine. Straight downstairs and out the door. That day was no different.
I had my pajamas on. I let him out the door and watched for just a bit as he greeted Peaches in his typical fashion… taking her out with an overly enthusiastic body-slam. I chuckled.
I walked to the kitchen in search of breakfast. Corn Pops, it is! I filled the bowl, poured some milk and walked back into the great room where I could watch Buckley and Peaches from the double glass doors at the back of the house. I stood there for about a minute, watching them run around the field, wrestling, bouncing, chasing sticks. My dad was out in the garden. My mom was there, too, standing at the top of the hill watching them play as well. It seems kind of surreal, now. I took particular notice of where each was.
I remember watching him and feeling warm, and filled with love. I saw him circle around the field one time and head back up the hill towards where my mom was standing. They were bringing a stick back, ready for another toss. As he rounded the top of the hill and I saw his face I remember thinking to myself “God, he is so happy. It almost looks as if he’s smiling.”
And that’s the moment it happened.
In the very next stride he was on the ground. At first, it seemed as if he was going to take a break – which wasn’t entirely unusual for him. He’d sit down in the sun and watch for a bit before jumping back up and taking off again after Peaches. Only this time, when he went down he went straight to his side. There was a moment where it looked as if he was going to roll and then all of a sudden everything was still.
I instantly knew something was wrong. I know my dog. I know this is not something he would ever do. I dropped my bowl and took off towards the door. When I opened it I started calling his name.
“Buckley! Buckley, come here! Buckley!”
My mom was still standing at the top of the hill watching.
“Mom, mom, that’s not normal! What’s wrong with him?! Buckley!!”
By now I’m running, panic setting in.
I drop to the ground when I get to his side and embrace his face. He’s staring back at me but there’s nothing there. His tongue is hanging limply out the side of his mouth.
My mom reaches us at about the same time, takes off her gloves and touches him.
“Emmie… he’s dead.”
“NO! NO! NO! NO! Not my baby. No! Buckley, get up. Wake up! Buckley! Oh my god, no!”
“Mom, what’s wrong with him?!! What happened??! He’s still warm, what do we do?!”
Immediately my mom had him on his back and started chest compressions.
The 20 minutes after that are a blur.
I tried blowing into his mouth to get him oxygen. Nothing. In a panic, I called 911, who transferred me to the local police department who took what seemed like a lifetime to tell me that there was nothing they could do and referred me to 411 for a local vet.
In a moment of desperation, my mom told me to take over the compressions as she went into the house to look up a number. In retrospect, the moment I reached him we should have jumped in the car and headed to the emergency vet. Not that it would have changed anything about the situation but it may have saved 10 minutes of panic and desperation.
My dad, who had been working in the lower field, rounds the corner at this point completely unaware of what was going on. When he realizes that I’m sobbing and screaming, not petting or wrestling with my dog, he immediately goes into dad mode. He grabs Buckley and we bring him into the house, he takes over compressions as I grab my bag and tell my mom we need to get into the car and start driving.
The closest Emergency Vet is in Meredith, about 25 minutes away. I know in my gut that that’s too far away for any chance but, it’s easy to convince myself that I need to continue trying.
The car ride over is also a blur. I know I sat in the trunk with Buckley across my lap, and did compressions the entire ride… sobbing, non-stop. I kept asking why… why was this happening? What had I done wrong? How could this possibly be real?
I had a near-death experience once where, in the moments I thought I was going to die I felt like I saw my entire future (or what it would have been) flash before my eyes. A lifetime covered in only a moment or two, but it was as real as anything I’ve ever experienced.
It was similar with Buckley. Our entire future flashed before me as I embraced him. There was so much we still had left to do together. We had also reached such a sweet spot in our relationship, where things were clicking perfectly. Running on-leash, hikes and adventures off… dog parks, play dates, kid cuddling, high-fives. He had so much left to give the world, there was no way he could be leaving it now.
This isn’t real. This can’t be happening.
He was still warm but his tongue had turned blue.
As we pulled up to the vet and I watched them pick him up out of my arms and carry him through the doors I knew it was over. It was one of those moments where it feels like everything is happening in slow motion and I remember the details of every single thing around me. The color of the two cars in the parking lot. The sound of the car horn as my mom pulls to a stop. Feeling a drop of sweat slip slowly down my cheek. Or, maybe that was a tear. It was hard to tell at that point.
We ran back to the ER with them and I watched as they laid him on the table and checked for any signs of life.
She looked up at me, “I don’t hear a heartbeat. I’m so sorry. We could try to resuscitate him but [as she checks his pupils with no reaction], he’s been without oxygen for so long and the beginning signs of rigor mortis are already apparent in his jaw. I’m afraid he’s gone.”
I walked over to him and I held him, sobbing. My sweet, sweet boy. So full of life just moments ago… now still, and peaceful on the cold, metal table.
“What could have done this to him? How did this happen??”
“Well, we could do a necropsy but that won’t guarantee we’ll know what happened. Often times, with something this sudden and out of the blue, it’s usually a heart defect or a seizure disorder, and there are no symptoms to give us any warning.”
“What’s involved in the necropsy?”
“We would cut him open and… “
“No, no. I don’t want to do that.”
“OK. Well, [as she pushes around on his stomach] there aren’t any signs that this was caused by a rupture of any internal organs. If that were the case, his belly would be distended from internal fluid buildup. That makes me think it could have been a heart defect that wasn’t detectable if there weren’t any symptoms, or possibly a seizure. But with seizures, you would see signs, like jerking, which doesn’t sound like happened in this case?”
“No, there was nothing. One moment he was running around the yard and the next he was on the ground not moving. He just kind of laid down like he was taking a break and that was it.”
“Well, a massive seizure might have been enough to kill him instantly but it’s unlikely. It’s also possible it was an aneurism but, we’ll never really know… I’ll give you some time with him to say goodbye.” She and the tech leave the room.
I’ve been holding his face this entire time, unable to stop stroking his cheeks and rubbing his ears as I often did. I kissed his nose, right at the bridge between his eyes, the softest, most perfect spot for kissing. My favorite spot. He was still looking up at me. He never stopped.
I bent down to hug him. He was still warm. As I reached up to stroke his head again, his ear popped up.
It was perfect. Perfect that he should leave me just exactly as he came… that one ear always up. So much character in life and, apparently, death.
It’s amazing how strong you can be when you need to be. Losing Buckley was my worst nightmare come true. There were moments in those last 15 minutes alone with him where I thought I could never leave him. How could I leave this beautiful boy who I had rescued, nurtured, adored and fallen in love with behind on a sterile, stale table with machines all around him? How could this boy not be coming home with me, to run around in the yard and sleep by the big Russian fireplace in the great room?
And yet, I had to. I had to said goodbye, as that choice had been taken from me. I held him for what seemed like a lifetime. Rubbed his belly for the last time. Kissed his forehead, then his nose, one last time. I told him that I loved him more than anything in the world… and I walked away.
I realized as I was leaving that I was still in my pajamas, unkempt hair and flip flops. My hands and jacket smelled like Buckley. I was immediately afraid that smell would go away and I’d never smell it again.
The feelings that I feel are devastating. My heart has been shattered into a million pieces. I’m angry. I’m confused. How could the dog, this 3 year old, healthy, active, happy and joyful dog die in an instant? How and why does this happen?
Later I did some research looking for answers and it turns out things like this don’t happen very often at all. The first bit of info I found that I felt offered a possible explanation is this:
“While dogs do not normally suffer the classic heart attacks we see in people, there are canine heart conditions that may cause an acute collapse. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease with an inherited predisposition for some breeds such as Doberman pinschers and boxers. In this case, the heart (“cardio”) muscle (“myo”) is stretched and thinned out so much it can no longer efficiently pump the right amount of blood. The body receives less oxygenated blood than it needs, and areas get shut down, leading to collapse. Some dogs with this problem simply run across the yard and drop dead.”
That last sentence hit particularly close to home.
Looking back, I can pick out moments where maybe there were signs but, I’m trying not to do that. Even if I did notice something a little off, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Buckley was happy. Buckley got a ton of exercise and ran around fields with dogs and me all the time. There was no indication that anything was ever wrong with him.
The outreach and support has been amazing. I missed Thanksgiving because it was too raw and too painful. Despite not wanting to be alone, I couldn’t bring myself to pretend I wasn’t thinking about it constantly, or wanting to cry and scream about it at every moment. I spent the majority of that day in a haze, curled up on the couch sobbing. Hours went by where I must have been in shock because, I don’t remember much. When I finally ‘came to’, I pulled myself together and showered. It felt good, despite the burning of the water on my reddened eyes and chapped cheeks from all of the tears.
Then, the friend army arrived. One for the night after Thanksgiving. She brought me leftovers from her family’s dinner and I managed to eat something for the first time that day. We drank [a lot of] wine and watched romantic comedies to fill our heads with any other feeling but sorrow.
The second friend took over from the moment I arrived back home at my empty apartment in Boston. The apartment with a newly purchased bag of dog food in the pantry and his favorite toy still sitting on his couch. He kept me company, told me stories and kept my mind off of my sadness for the night. And my brother and his girlfriend invited us to join them at a movie. It was a great distraction.
The third rescue came in the form of a best friend and her daughter for the weekend. We had a planned holiday weekend where we were surprising Bella with her first Nutcracker performance, going to a fancy dinner and decorating my Christmas tree. Her daughter is a beautiful 9 year old girl who started crying with me when they walked in the door. Kids are amazingly empathetic.
It was this friend who said something really profound and deeply healing to me. Her daughter started to cry when she found out about Buckley. They were one of the first people I called in search of a shoulder to cry on. As she became more and more upset and asked her mom why Buckley had to die, she told me that she responded by saying this:
“You see, Bella. Often times people and animals are put on this earth and brought into our lives for a very specific reason. Buckley was brought into Emmie’s life to teach her that she could love again. And now, his job is complete.”
Oh my. How true that is. Buckley in his unwavering loyalty and commitment to me, opened my heart again. He always made it clear that I was #1. That I was the most important thing in his world. At the end of a decade of hurt, lies and dishonesty, he healed me in a way that I didn’t know I needed to be healed, and it was just in these last few months with him that I was beginning to fully realize that.
Buckley & Noa, Winnipesaukee 09/2013.
He wasn’t always perfect but, he was perfect for me. And he was so very, very special. A gentle giant balanced by the energy of a puppy and the calmness of an old man. Great with kids, protective at any sign of threat and by my side at every moment… even if I was just around the corner in the bathroom, he’d get up and come sit in the hall to make sure I was safe. He wanted to be where I was, always.
One of my last memories of him before the trauma of his death was the smile on his face just before he collapsed. I’ll also always be grateful that I came home the night before instead of spending the night with a friend as I had planned to do. At about 12:30am on Thanksgiving eve my gut told me to make the hour trek back to NH. I don’t know why but, as I pulled into my parent’s house and walked up to the front door, I was glad that I did.
There he was, sitting quietly by the front door, staring out the glass pane at the driveway waiting for me. I have that image of him etched in my memory, the house dark behind him and the joy on his face, as it was being lit up by the porch light left on for my return. Everyone else in the house was sound asleep but, he was there. Watching and waiting, greeting me with his usual enthusiasm and a kiss on the face. We walked upstairs to the bedroom, I put my pjs on and just before climbing into bed I took his face in my hands, stroked his cheeks and kissed his nose and told him that I loved him. Our typical nightly routine but this one so much more special than I could have possibly known.
I got into bed, pulled the covers up and felt full of warmth as he curled up on the floor next to me. I heard him let out a deep sigh, as he often did when settling in for the night and I thought to myself, “this is perfect” as we both drifted off to sleep.
Sweet dreams my angel. I love you, always.
RIP. 04/09/10 – 11/28/13.