It's hard to say good-bye. On Sunday we put our thirteen-year-old black Lab, Milo, to sleep. It was a heart-wrenching day.
When we brought Milo home as a pup, he was fast friends with our chocolate Lab, Dakota, who was two. Milo was a menace and got into EVERYTHING! Dakota assumed the job of "training" him and when his puppy feistiness was too much, Dakota would gently manage him with the love of a big brother. They had an amazing bond.
Three years ago, we lost Dakota to cancer. That was tough. He was the first pet, well, aside from YoBuzz-the-Gecko, that the whole family had to say good-bye to. Helping your child process a BIG loss like that is not easy, especially when your own heartbreak needs tending to. My kids hung their heads for quite a few weeks, though they found a renewed purpose in loving all over Milo who seemed lost without his best friend. My youngest, Noah, wrote notes for Dakota in heaven and left them under his pillow. Every few weeks or so, Dakota even wrote back. We still do this.
Over the last year, Milo really began to show his age. His back legs didn't support him on our long walks, his hearing and eyesight diminished, and he slowed down. Really slowed down. The kids noticed. They worried. And then something incredible happened: they began to mentally prepare for Milo's death. I could see it happening. They were more patient with him. They gave him lots of extra hugs and treats. Milo's wagging tail was their only goal. Then they talked about how much fun Dakota and Milo would have in heaven and all of the dog biscuits awaiting him. (The treats are unlimited in Dog Heaven, in case you didn't know.) Eventually, they even entertained the idea of getting another dog, maybe a shelter puppy. Though it may sound harsh, it was their way of finding hope in the future to ease the pain of the present. And isn't that a great life skill?
When we said our final good-byes, I was a wreck! Again my heart broke for my grieving kids. I felt sick at the thought of Milo being led into an exam room to undergo euthanasia. Anxious, I worried for my husband who was about to take Milo for his last drive and his heartache over losing his best canine friend. We were walking right through the pain and it was intense.
Noah wrapped his sweet arms around Milo's big barrel of a middle and rubbed his heart. "You will always be in my heart, Milo," he softly cried, big crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks.
Logan sat on the ground and gently held Milo's muzzle right up to his face. Petting his head, with tears streaming, he looked him in the eyes, loving him up close and personal. "I'll miss you, good boy. You've been a really good friend. I love you, Milo."
Bella was sick in bed so I passed along her hugs and kisses. "Make sure he's on that fluffy blue and brown blanket, mom. He might be scared in the car." Despite her fever and lack of energy, my sweet, sick girl was still taking care of her Milo.
Once loaded in the back of the Expedition, forehead to forehead, I let the tears fall as I kissed him good-bye. I rubbed his belly and scratched him on his ears, just like he loved. He wagged his tail, slowly, but still, it was his way of communicating he was happy. I'd like to think he knew that I needed to see his happiness, not his pain or his fear or his sadness. "Bye buddy," was all I could manage as Michael left to drive Milo to the vet.
Yes, losing a pet is hard. Very hard. After they've gone, waiting for them to greet you at the door or seeing an empty dog dish, brings all the sadness rushing back. The feeling like things are all wrong without them, lingers. But slowly, very slowly, it is replaced with memories. Memories of shoes eaten and holes dug and ocean swims and long hikes. Then, as the joyful recall seeps in, we let it take root because there are a hundred memories of happy to that one day of sad. And when we choose the joy, when we remember and share and talk about our Milo, it soothes the heart.
So thanks for the memories Milo. You were a great companion and we will always love you. Give Dakota hugs from us. We will write to you both and one day, we will see you again. Until then, enjoy the endless dog treats. Good boy.
An excerpt from one of our favorites books, Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant:
"Dogs in Dog Heaven have almost always belonged to somebody on Earth and, of course, the dogs remember this. Heaven is full of memories. So sometimes, an angel will walk a dog back to Earth for a little visit and quietly, invisibly, the dog will sniff about his old backyard, will investigate the cat next door, will follow the child to school, will sit on the front porch and wait for the mail. When he is satisfied that all is well, the dog will return to Heaven with the angel. It is where dogs belong, near God who made them...
"Dogs in Dog Heaven may stay as long as they like and this can mean forever. They will be there when old friends show up. They will be there at the door. Angel dogs."