There’d been a wonderful run in the mountains. As fast as a 15-year-old dog can run, anyway. He’d taken off on an impulse, just like the old days, keeping ahead of my wife Heather until she finally caught up with him near the road.
“Blake, you goof.”
Big Blake panted and grinned as only an English Lab can. All was right.
And then, back home, over the next few days, all began to go wrong.
For a long time, Blake had been slowing down. He’d always rally, sometimes from a change in medicine, sometimes from a laser therapy, sometimes from his own strong heart and a blessing from the Angel of Dogs. But each rally got a little shorter, each miracle a little less enduring than the one before.
Now what rallies there were seemed to come and go like summer lightning. A brief moment of courage to handle the stairs. Twenty minutes of ease while listening to someone read. Some excitement as Missy entered the room, stiffly heaving himself up to greet his developmentally disabled friend. And then, more pain and confusion.
The conversation that had ebbed and flowed for weeks began to accelerate in earnest as Heather and I tried to figure out how much time there really was. Maybe two weeks? Next weekend? This weekend? Tomorrow?
Each time we looked at his hurting body and worried mind, each time we asked ourselves the question, the true answer got a little clearer.
And on July 29, after a hamburger of his own and half of Missy’s (this is still Blake we’re talking about), way too many french fries, and all the hugs and tears that a family’s hearts could hold – we let Blake go.
It hurts to write those words.
If it didn’t, something would be terribly wrong.
Because even when you’re ready, you’re never ready.
We touch so many lives, collecting heartprints from each one that embraces ours. We build a well of memories that refreshes our soul, we weave their story into our own for a richer, fuller tapestry.
And then the fabric tears away. And it leaves a hole behind.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. This is the bargain we make, every time we hold someone close in love – that loss will come, but that the having will somehow be worth the losing. We know it. But we let ourselves forget the day will come. We have to, in order to live.
Sometimes, it really seems like it won’t ever end. Big dogs don’t always last long, but Big Blake had an amazing gift of life. At 12, he had all the energy and athleticism he’d possessed at 6. Even into his truly old and slow years, he still had to be watched for acts of food burglary, still stuck to Heather like a second shadow, still often greeted Missy’s arrival with a loud THUMP, THUMP, THUMP on the floor from his muscular tail.
It fools you. Lets you think that maybe you won the lottery, maybe you finally discovered the one that’s truly immortal.
In a way, maybe we did.
Maybe we all have.
Every memory, every story, every past moment of love and exasperation, brings a bit of them back for a moment. It’s never enough. It never can be. And it hurts with the sting of salt water on an open wound.
But that’s part of the bargain, too. That if you give enough to each other, a piece of them stays on in you.
And so a little of me will be forever Blake. A bit of all our family is forever tied to that wonderful blockheaded klutz, with the voracious stomach and the mighty heart.
Once more, Blake is running ahead of us. Someday, we’ll catch up. Near the road, ready to smile as only an English Lab can.
We love you, Blake, you goof.
Wait for us, big buddy.