How to love an old dog at the end
This is a sad one, but also a gratitude one
As many of you have probably already seen, we lost our dear Puck, also known as Sir Pucklebutt Underfoot also known as Baby Moon also known as many other nicknames, this week. It doesn’t feel right not to memorialize him here, but he had such a long, wonderful, rambunctious then mellow life, I thought I’d approach writing about him a little differently.
Puck the Dog, on his 15th gotcha day, March 17, earlier this year. He was 16 years and nine months old.
How to love an old dog at the end
With your whole breaking heart, which you try to hide from them, because you don’t want to cause them more stress. Being old and in pain is bad enough. But they know, you big idiot. They’ve known how you feel for ten, or twelve, or, in this case, fifteen years. They hang in there for you, so they cause you less pain. They know you aren’t ready, so they keep fighting, waiting for you to be able to say goodbye. They don’t want you to pick them up and carry them, it’s undignified, but, eventually, they’ll let you.
You know, because you’ve been here before, and it’s terrible every time, and precious every time, and worth every bit of how much it hurts, that you have a gift you can give them. The right moment. Peace. You wait and watch for it, afraid you’ll get it wrong. But they’ll forgive you if you do. And, if you don’t, if it turns out you took them to the vet in your lap and held their sweet faces at just the right moment, they will look at you with big brown eyes and go peacefully, a sigh, a slowing heartbeat, a thank you. A wish that you’ll be okay and take care of each other, because they know you. They know you’re going to need each other.
A simpler answer: You love them the same way you always have, as if it’s forever, because it is. And when they go, that love stays and you share a little of it with your pets current and future. With everything and everyone you love. You remark when one of your pets in the future does something like your lost, but never forgotten friend.
The way we love our dogs and cats might be the only unbroken chain of love in the world. We love them easily, entirely, because that is how they love. Even the reticent ones, even the ones who’ve been hurt, like this little scrapper. They’re so much easier to love than people because they make it easier. They don’t have all the walls and barriers and posturing (well, mostly). They love you. You love them. It happens effortlessly. They are always happy to see you. They like the world better when you’re around. And in this hurting, breaking, beautiful world, they love and love and love. Despite the fact it could be incredibly cruel to them. Before you.
The fountain of youth is bullshit?
When I posted the news about Puck on Facebook, I said that I wish dogs were immortal (a friend earlier in the week said if anyone deserves immortality, it’s dogs) and my friend Mandy Kiley posted that she believes they are. That one of her beloved lost dogs comes to visit her in dreams, still, occasionally, and she’s always happy to see her.
I started reading Stephen King’s new book Fairy Tale the day we lost Puck, which I had zero idea was about loving and trying to save an old dog (minor spoiler). I’m more than halfway through and I find myself both completely understanding and, as it goes on, having lots of arguments with it. Because, as above, I do believe that the moment, the goodbye, is a gift we get to give them, in thanks for all the years. But if you asked me if I’d do anything to save my dog and give them a happy life, I’d say yes. Especially travel to a magic kingdom.
And then I ask myself if I’d start over? Go back to being younger. And I don't think I would. I don’t know the rules in the book, but let’s assume you go back to youth — is youth always better? I don’t think so — my big question is do you have to give up your memories, and the relationships built on them? If you do, I definitely don’t want to. But maybe I’d feel differently if I was at the very end of a long life. Or if my memories were going anyway. I love living, and I would not want to give up the rest of this one wild and precious life. (Hat tip to Mary Oliver.)
But a story about saving a dog? Making a dog young again? I keep asking if they would want that. If it’s less complicated for them, and they just want to be able to run and romp. And then I think, well, if they were able to understand the choice, and they had to give up their memories and relationships, I have a strong suspicion at least one little guy would say a quick no. Probably many more of them would too. That’s just how they love.
(I have no idea if this is how it will work in the King book, by the way; like I said, I’m halfway through and have only googled to make sure the dog does not die. But now I’m worried it will somehow be sadder, see above. I do recommend the novel and it has been the right book for the emotional moment, so far. One caveat: the main character’s voice does not sound like a 17 year old from now, so just imagine him being in the ‘50s or ‘60s or ‘70s or something and looking back later.)
How do you love an old dog at the end? Exactly the way you need to. Exactly the way they need.
Christopher and I had a toast last night and looked at a sweet picture of our sweet boy on the fridge and we said things about him. Fifteen years is a long time. He went through many eras. The thing that made us laugh the most? When we agreed that, sometimes, he was a really bad boy. Especially at the beginning! “We didn’t have people over for five or seven years,” Christopher said. “But it was okay, because we had Puck.” “It really was,” I agreed.
He was not perfect, but he was perfect for us.
Thanks so much for your condolences all over the internet and in our emails and texts. It helps. And I promise, it’s back to writing stuff next time. I know a lot of you have asked about how I approach revisions, since I’m in the midst of one. I’m happy to unpack that. In the meantime, cuddle your pets if you have them, just a little extra.
And, so it’s not all sad, these girls have been getting and giving love love love all week, and will continue to do so, hopefully for a very, very long time.
Oh, boy… if you were going for wistful, bitter sweet tears, you got ‘em! Puck loved and was loved, and it hurts when that love no longer has a place to go. We know this path well at this point, and we understand, intellectually, that this is the way things will go - and even that this is how it will feel. That never makes it easier, and maybe we’re really masochists? But no… it’s that unconditional, omnipresent love we crave - and are allowed to give - that we really want. As you grieve, you’ll find new places to put the “Puck love”, but the best parts are the memories. And you have 15 years-worth of those! I cry for you and with you, with that beautiful boy in my mind.
Oh, Gwenda, I'm so sorry! I know Puck loved you as much as you and Christopher loved him. Sending you much love and many hugs!