Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Loss So Profound: A Letter to My Bayley

To my sweet Bayley,

Over the course of the past few days as I try in vain to adjust to life without your large, ever sweet, physical presence in our lives, I’ve sat down to try to put into words what you meant to me. Not to anyone else – just to me. I haven’t been able to until now and still this doesn't begin to touch it. The grief is too profound. Too new. I haven’t been able to see through the hot tears that seem to be my constant companion. If they're not coursing down my face, then they're just under the surface. They’ve replaced the warm, living being who was by my side just a little while ago. I can still count your absence by hours and I know that soon it’ll be by days and then weeks, and life will go on without you. Every night, before I try, and fail, to sleep, I ask God to let you visit me in dreams to let me know that you’re OK, that you’re safe and loved where you are… So far, you’re elusive, my girl.

For now and always, I can still feel you. Your hair is still on the rug since I’ve been unable to bring myself to vacuum up that part of you that’s tangible and that I can still see and touch. I cry when I use the lint roller on my clothing to remove the soft fur that is still there so I can go to work…pathetic, but there you have it. I was only able to take up and wash your bowls yesterday and a few pieces of kibble remain on the rug where they landed when they fell from your floppy lips and where they’ll stay for a while longer. I miss the sloppy sounds of you eating and spreading kibble and drool all over the kitchen because you had to look up for me as you ate.  Just couldn’t keep that face in that bowl… 

I reach for your warm self all the time, both with my hands and in my mind. I miss the sweet sound of you breathing quietly and deeply, then snoring and snorting and chasing “something” in your dreams as you sleep. And I miss the surprising sound of your deep voice on the rare occasions that you used it to entice me to play or to alert your people of the presence of “something” that only you could see. I miss you waiting for me, without fail, just outside the bathroom door while I shower, and my body’s muscle memory still steps over the spot you occupied. I guess you always thought that somehow I’d escape through some non-existent window or door… It was always as sure as the sunrise that you would be there. And I miss you waiting for me, without fail, at the top of the stairs when I came home from work. I still open the door gingerly and slowly so that I won’t hurt you since you were always there. So does Bill. It seems you were always patiently waiting for us…

Today was my first day back to work after this long, hard weekend and I found myself avoiding eye contact with my co-workers and friends so that I could maintain some semblance of composure. People who have loved and lost a beloved companion have all been through the helpless feeling of losing control when someone gives you sympathy and that’s what I wanted to avoid. Most people got that and I appreciate it so much. And for the most part, I was able to get through the day focused on what I needed to do. Then I came home from work for the first time without the joyful greeting that I’ve grown so accustomed to. If you’ve shared your life with a dog, you’ve also all had that. But you were different, my sweet Bayley - not like other dogs. No running around in circles or racing laps. You would almost melt into my leg, pressing your face so close against me that it was almost as if we were one. And I would hold your face close to me and the love was palpable. And I would come away with hair and schmutz (or pupcus, as my friend Molly calls it) on my clothing and not care one bit. Then I’d change clothes and off we’d go on a walk… It was our routine and I think that’s why the loss feels almost more profound today. The weekend was terrible and lonely and I was deep in my grief… But the loss of our normal routine, our life together, the normalcy of it, has affected me more than I can say. The loss of everyday life with you, of the love I could set my clock by, is anguish to me. Now, I simply don't know what to do with the hands that always touched you.

The stories of your life, shared by many, are an amazing testimony to what you were: love, pure and simple. But those stories, while I will treasure them always and they will keep your memory a living thing, don’t speak to the deep love that you and I had together. Just the two of us. You were proof positive that there can be a connection so deep and so lasting that one is not right without the other. That one being needs the other.  And I needed you, my sweetest heart, just as much, if not more so, than you needed me… You had a huge life; one that most dogs can only dream of, full of love and life and adventure and wonderful memories. But the impact you had on my small life, and I on yours, is immeasurable..

In the days before you left us…you were pretty snowed with all of the medications that we used to try to keep the pain at bay, but you were still game for a short walk as long as we helped you up those impossibly steep stairs. But then you started looking at me as though to say you didn’t want to try but would for us. And so you did. I did my best to help you and our little family got into a routine as your strength started to wax and wane…in the days before you left us. Once we got going, you would stop every few steps and sniff the cold air for some smell only you could detect with your big, beautiful nose.  Maybe you were committing those scents to your memory…in the days before you left us. Walks took much longer, but I didn’t mind.  We were together and I loved you and I would take as long as you wanted so you could sniff and enjoy being outside. And we looked forward to the day that we would move upstairs and you didn’t have to climb those steps to go outside…in the days before you left us.

On the day before you left us, we went for a walk in the afternoon, just you and I. You seemed to want to, so we walked a little farther than we had been in the previous days – down the alley toward the home of your little lab buddy that you always liked to visit. I think you secretly loved to tease him by peeing on his fence – he had such a crush on you and would cry every time he saw you… Anyway, we had been walking close together, you and I, since you hadn’t been able to walk as far or as fast for the past couple of weeks and I wanted to be sure to be there to support you. Of course, that was the day you decided to try to chase a cat and I didn’t bring your leash with me – and so you did! Scared that little sucker and sent him under a car!! And hurt yourself in the process… But you made it to the little lab’s house and fence fought with a dog who was there for a play date and one last time, I got to hear that beautiful, deep voice that you rarely used! But we needed your dad to get the car to take you home and I had a sick, sinking feeling that the time that I hoped to be able to spend with you wasn’t to be… How thankful I am, looking back, that you were able to chase that cat, and bark at that dog, and visit with your friend, and ride in the car one last time on the day before you left us.

On the day we sent you with angels, you didn’t want to go outside to potty in the morning even though it had been since the afternoon before that you went, but we helped you up the stairs to try… to hold off the inevitable just a little longer. And then you wanted to just lay in the snow, so we let you and asked no more of you then, nor would we ask more of you forever. On the day that we sent you with angels, you told us very clearly that it was time for you to go and I made the call for them to come to you to help you leave this earth. We didn’t want to take you someplace foreign. We didn’t want to traumatize or hurt you; we didn’t want to make you try anymore. We wanted you safe and warm in your bed, home with us… So, you and I spent all morning together with your head on my lap, or with me lying next to you, or with your dad giving you love… You got some good ol’ wet dog food, a Greenie, some chicken, some cheese, water with chicken broth to entice you to drink, and anything else you wanted. I told you the story of your life and the story of how you healed my heart and how it was OK for you to go and that you’d always be by my side and in my heart. And that you should wait for me just around the bend and that I’d be there. And that you wouldn’t hurt anymore and that you could chase cats, and squirrels, and bears, and gophers. And how much I love you, and always will, and how I know you love me, too. So they came, and you were ready, but we were not.  We never would be. But we knew that releasing your spirit from a body that had failed you was the very best thing for you and that anything else would be selfish of us. I would have given anything to keep you, even for just a little longer, but you were ready to go, my sweet girl.

On the day we sent you with angels, you were gone in an instant, a heartbeat. Before I could take a breath, you were gone. You closed your eyes, those sweet, gentle eyes, one last time and you went to God.

On the day we sent you with angels, our little family was together, and we loved you, as we always did, as we always will. Nothing was different except that you went with angels…

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Bayley Beck, Ranch Dog Extraordinaire

Bayley Beck, Snow Dog on a road less traveled
As I write this, on a cold, snowy day in December, we are on day two of our Bayley’s osteosarcoma diagnosis.  After feeling as though I couldn’t breathe yesterday, today I am more together and able to function to care for our sick little girl.  And sick she is.  Osteosarcoma is a terribly painful cancer of the bone and the preferred treatment for it is amputation followed by chemotherapy, maybe buying a little time if your dog is younger than Bayley’s 10 years old.  The vet also recommended amputation strictly for pain…remove the cancer, remove the pain.  All of this is well and good if there are no metastasis but our Bayley has lesions in her lungs. Or you can try to manage the pain with medication until it can no longer be managed and then humanely euthanize your dog.  We’ve chosen this last option for our sweet girl.  After a conversation (via messages) with Suzanne, my golden retriever Sophie’s beloved vet in Tulsa, I feel more at peace with the decision that Bill and I have made.  Of course, the knee jerk reaction is to do whatever you can to keep them with you for as long as you can, but is that the fair and right thing to do for them or is the selfish thing to do for yourself?

When my Sophie was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, presenting as a highly vascular tumor in her heart that had ruptured and bled into the sac around her heart, I was shocked to my core. I had taken Sophie in to see Suzanne, who did an ultrasound of my golden girl and found that her weakness wasn’t caused by her hip dysplasia, as we had suspected, but was her heart, which was being compressed by the blood that had filled her pericardium.  I remember feeling angry that I knew too much medical terminology and the word tamponade kept popping into my head.  Medical emergency. With tears in her eyes, Suzanne explained that we could tap the blood, giving Sophie a little more time, or we could let her go.  I asked her then of Sophie, as I asked her today of Bayley, “if she was your dog, what would you do?”. And in the honest, caring, and kind way that I miss so much, she told me.  So, we let my lovely dog Sophie, she of the beautiful spirit, go with angels.  And when it is our beloved Bayley girl’s time to go, we will send her to God in the same loving way, thinking of her and her needs, and not our own.  Our own need is to keep her forever, but when you give your heart to one of these beings, your time together is finite.

Bayley and Bill, learning together
When I met Bayley, it was love at first sight.  I had come to Bear Creek with dear friends for vacation, soon after losing Sophie, and Bayley was more than willing to let me put my hands back on the familiar body of a dog – a feeling I had been missing so much.  When I moved there to be with Bill a year later, Bayley became my constant companion in a foreign land and I fell head over heels for her. She became mine. I changed her food, she got a bed and toys, access to the house anytime was hers. Still Bayley Beck, Ranch Dog, but also Bayley Beck, Family.  Bill often joked that I married him for his dog and he’s only half wrong – she sealed the deal!

Many of you know Bayley.  Many of you don’t and should.  Bayley is pure love.  Her heart is that of a trusting child – sweet, honest, free.  She gives her love to all she meets, which is wonderful because her job for the entire time she’s been with the Beck family has been just to love and be loved.  Bill’s son, Dane, his wife, Felicia, and our family friend, Johnny B, found Bayley in a Mountain Trader (or so the story goes).  She was living in the Flathead Valley with a family who had other dogs who picked on Bayley so they decided the best thing to do would be to find the gentle giant a new home.  They brought her home to live at Bear Creek and she bloomed and blossomed with people and no other dogs! 

Bayley with our wonderful friend, Linnea. Bayley is a wonderful surrogate dog!
She loves our guests and they, in turn, love her with abandon and with few exceptions.  Multitudes of people have threatened on many occasions to dognap her and take her to everywhere from Australia to Texas.  She is the very best surrogate for people who miss their own dogs back home.  Bayley loved to go on trail rides with us and our guests, and until age caught up with her in the last couple of years, went almost every time. She’s scared up little bears, chased a moose, and has a hate/hate relationship with the chipmunks who reside in the barn.  More people than I can imagine have photos of Bayley swimming in Buffalo Lakes! At Bear Creek, Bayley is a celebrity, a greeter, a watchdog, a giver and receiver of love.
Channeling Ferdinand, the Bull.  Stopping to smell the flowers and nap in the grass

In her time, she’s been an amazing bear dog.  Her size and her huge bark are intimidating to even a grizzly bear!  She’s a bit like Ferdinand, the bull, however, and would rather just sniff the flowers… Bayley is shameless in her insistence that EVERYONE must give her belly rubs and she routinely places herself just outside of the doorway to the breakfast room (where she is not allowed to be), rolls over, and waits for people to finish eating so they can get to the business of rubbing that tummy, because it’s not going to rub itself!  Those of you who have met her know exactly what I’m talking about.

Autumn is her color
Elias, Me and Bayley

When Bill and I wintered in Tulsa a few years ago, Bayley traveled in the car like a champ and made friends in Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma.  She and Bill walked the trails of the Arkansas River in Tulsa every day – for miles – and she was very briefly an urban dog. She loved my mother with abandon and my mom became a “Bayley person”, not a dog person, or so she said!

But the country is her home and she thrives at Bear Creek, wandering the property, sitting in the creek on hot days, hopelessly dreaming of actually catching a chipmunk or a squirrel or a gopher.  And Bear Creek is where we will take her when it is her time.  It’s her home. It’s where she’s happiest.  And it’s where she should be…

As I write, she’s snoring peacefully on her bed behind me and the sound is music to me. I don’t know how long we’ll have her but I tend to think not long. We won’t have her suffer and lose herself and her joy and become something she’s not. We’ll also give her a good life for whatever time is left.  We’ll take her to see the horses, let her potty in the tall grass, go for car rides, take short walks to see the little lab who has a terrible crush on her and we’ll simply love her.  Every moment with her is a blessing - she is our love and our family.  My heart is breaking at the thought of the loss of her. 
Spectacularly beautiful Bayley at her home at Bear Creek