I have been putting off this post. Every time I think about writing it, I start to crumble again. Throughout all of these losses y’all have read about in the past five years, I’ve always tried to approach them head on. Acknowledge the pain, be honest and open with you. But with Pascale, I haven’t been able to do that. It hurts too much.
On Wednesday, April 22nd I said goodbye to Pascale. When the pain came for her, it came quickly.
The previous week I took the dogs hiking to the creek on a Thursday afternoon after work. By that time, close to half of her face was paralyzed from the tumor but you wouldn’t notice much unless you looked at her closely. She ran and chased the other dogs in the water, and throughout the rest of the walk was slow, but right by my side. The following Friday, she rested a lot more than normal. I figured this low energy was our new normal, but she was eating and happy otherwise.
Saturday morning she started showing small signs of pain again. Sunday it was worse. Her bi-weekly acupuncture appointment didn’t perk her up like normal, and this black feeling of dread began to creep over me. Sunday evening we rallied enough for the pictures you see in this post.
Monday was horrible. I woke up to her not in bed with me like she’s been every morning for the past five years, but hiding in my closet trembling. A call to my vet got us on higher pain pills, opioids instead of gabapentin, and they assured me I should see a big difference. I didn’t. Monday night she tried to hang out with a friend and I, but it was clear she wasn’t herself.
Tuesday she stood around a lot with her head held low. Laying down was uncomfortable for her. I doubled the pain pills, but nothing work. That night I picked her up into the bed, but she panted or trembled all night. Even though I set an alarm for 5am to give her another pain pill before they wore off, she had jumped off and stood panting next to my bed. She couldn’t make it up the 12″ stoop outside without me lifting her, and she kept looking at me with this expression that broke my heart. When I think about it now, I’m still shattered. In the dark hours of the night, curled up next to her in bed with my arm over her side to try and calm her trembling, I made the appointment to put her down the next day.
In the hours that we waited for the vet to come to the house, I sat with her on the couch. Somewhere I had read or heard that long, slow strokes are the most calming type of touching to a dog, so that’s what I did while we waited. I’ve calmed myself during her terminal diagnosis by the idea that dogs don’t have timelines. She hasn’t woken up every morning and thought, I’m not even seven yet! I should have years to live! But that day, waiting, I think she knew.
There are a many stories about Pascale, but I have been thinking about two specific ones over the past few months. One is funny, one shows her heart.
She has always been my little hunter. It’s why I called her Panther, because she stalked her prey. Less than two weeks before she died, she casually killed a baby opossum in the backyard one night. Two shakes of the neck, and it was out. When I found it the next morning, she just looked at me like, “Yes, so?” But that’s not the story.
I visited a friend two Christmases ago in her older barn apartment. Now any horse person will tell you that rodents and feed go hand in hand, and she had a mouse problem at the time. Not her fault, but they were everywhere and crawled out from the oven not-so-far away from where I tried to sleep on the couch. Not super restful. But Pascale set up as sentry all night. Any time there was a squeak or scratch, she sprang up and chased them back away from me. I only slept because of her.
The other story is also about sleeping. Maybe that’s why I keep thinking of them both.
Before Tim died, he exhibited a lot of erratic behavior that I now of course know was due to his addiction and using. One afternoon I came home from the barn, and found him asleep on the floor of his office. Right there on the rug, no pillows or anything, he was curled up on his side. Pascale was right next to him. She got up as I entered the room to greet me, and I asked Tim what the hell he was doing as he woke and sat up.
“Oh,” he said, righting himself and shaking off the grogginess. “Pascale and I were just taking a little nap.”
It wasn’t until after he overdosed that I realized that of course he wasn’t napping, but he had nodded off from the opioids. And my dog, this eclectic mix of Manor street mutts I happened to take home on a whim, laid down right next to him. The heat of her long body on his side. She stayed there until I got home, until it was safe.
When your spouse dies unexpectedly while you’re not home, there are a lot of thoughts. For me, one of the most prevalent was that I wasn’t there to be with him. There were on last words, no one holding his hand as he drifted from the world. But Pascale did what I couldn’t. She was in the room with him when he drifted away just inches from where they “took a nap” that day.
Later that night when I tried to sleep alone for the first time, she curled right up next to me in bed. Curved her long body up next to mine to fill up the empty space. She slept with me every night after he died. If I was sad, scared, or just lonely all I had to do was reach out an arm and feel her coarse fur.
Sitting on the couch waiting for the vet, I told her I could never thank her for what she did to Tim. For what she’s been for me. I told her that I don’t believe in an afterlife anymore, not like the fairy tale we’re taught as kids, but I still hope that myth is true. The love she gave me was so uncomplicated and complete. If I could choose just one of these people or creatures I’ve loved so deeply to see again, I choose her.
When the vet came, she barked at the door to ward off intruders like she’s always done to protect me, but it was hoarse and short. She didn’t try to buddy up to the vet like she usually does to visitors, but stood off to the side near me. It took three doses of the preliminary sedative to get her down. When I did all of this for Eliot, he sauntered into my arms and peacefully went to sleep with the happiest smile on his face, but Pascale fought it. Even when she finally laid down, she rocked her head and tried to get back up several times. I kept petting her and saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” Over and over. Finally I said, “I’m okay,” instead. And she put her head down.
It was the first time in days that she slept without shivering or breathing heavily.
The vet told me to let her know when I was ready for the final dose, and again I thought about Eliot. Once he slept, I immediately nodded because I was ready. But as I sat there sobbing over Pascale’s head, so thin from muscle atrophy from the tumor, the only thought in my head was, I want more time.
But I nodded anyway. I let her go. The vet left me with her body to get the stretcher, and again I thought how usually once an animal spirit leaves I want nothing to do with the body. It’s a shell of what I loved. But I looked at her on the floor of my living room, and wanted to hold on to her forever. It’s the first time I’ve begun to understood how some people want to taxidermy their pets. I miss seeing her so much.
Lucie watched all of this happen. I encouraged her to smell Pascale once she was gone, but Lucie didn’t really understand. When we carried Pascale out to the van, Lucie tried to jump in the back after her sister dog. My heart shattered again.
Then I came back inside, shut and locked my front door, leaned against the wall and howled in the house that had never been empty of my Texas Black Dog. It hurt. It hurt so much.
Now, time has passed and will continue to do so, and I get through the day like anyone else. I dote over Lucie. She sleeps with me in the bed every night. Sometimes I remind her about the things her sister did better, like hunt squirrels and bark at appropriate things instead of the lawn bags my neighbors leave out in their yard. Mostly I’m trying to learn who she is as a dog and my pet without Pascale around to get the majority of my love and affection. One good thing about Lucie is she’ll always give you a kiss on the nose is you ask, something P hated to do. I know I’ll discover more good things with time.
Writing all this is like it happened all over again. I used to judge people who couldn’t confront the loss of a loved one, but I understand more now. Thinking too deeply about Pascale only reminds me about how much I miss her, and how angry I am that she was taken from me so soon. We didn’t have enough time together. One day I hope to have more peace, but I don’t right now. There is only hurt and loss.
After Simon died, I wondered how I will get through it. As Pascale was dying, I didn’t wonder how I would survive this grief. Unfortunately, I have a lot of sample data in that regards. But mostly why, why I had to lose this much. And why her.
Those questions are natural, but not productive. There’s no greater plan for any of this. Life is a series of meaningless tragedies. But I also believe that there is immense joy we’re just as lucky to stumble upon as we are unlucky to lose. I’m trying to focus on how delightfully random it was for this wormy-bellied puppy to stumble into my life.
Her friendship was something I could have never planned for or predicted. If only for a short time, what a beautiful heart we shared.
2013 – 2020