This is the seventh, and final post in a series about life through the eyes of a wiener-dog owner
Farewell to My Friend
Boomer died, yesterday. It was Aug. 26th… National Dog Day. On July 31, we found out that he had lung cancer. We had four more magical weeks with him before the end crashed in our door. It broke Debbie’s and my hearts. I couldn’t look at social media yesterday, because everyone was posting pictures of their dogs doing cute things. Not their fault, just too hard to process. How do you deal with the loss of your most devoted friend? I’ll let you know when I figure it out. I have written a series of blogs and devotions about lessons I learned from Boomer throughout the ten years he lived. I didn’t know he would save his best lessons for last.
The devotional series began with the story of him, as a puppy, being afraid of thunder, and progressed through adulthood into him beginning to eat dog food for “senior dogs.” Boomer was the teacher of great life lessons (not that he knew that…). Now, one day removed from the emotion of yesterday, I am realizing that he never stopped teaching. The last four weeks were his lesson in how to dignify the end of life. We had noticed him breathing fast and shallow for a while, but just thought maybe that was him getting older. We decided to get him checked and the vet showed us an x-ray of his lungs. There was no healthy tissue, at all, remaining. Here was why that was a shock to us: he didn’t act any differently. He ran wildly in circles, would eat anything in sight, would fetch until you begged for mercy, and remained alert and acutely aware of any movement or noise inside the house, or out. The vet said she couldn’t believe the way he acted when she looked at the x-rays. So, we took him home, determined to try to make his last few days pleasant. That wasn’t his plan, at all. It was to be business as usual, and then some. I awoke each morning expecting to see him deteriorating. He awoke each morning expecting to leap tall buildings in a single bound. There were three themes that encapsulated his last days.
First, his last days were some of his best days. He spent a couple of days in a cabin with a great view of the Smokies. One day, he went for a swim in the Little Pigeon River
and then went shopping at Orvis.
Other days, he fetched balls for hours or watched preseason football games.
He went for walks, ate whatever he wanted, and just lived life all-out. Wouldn’t you love for your last days to be like that? Wouldn’t you love to live each day, not like your last day, but like the first day of summer vacation? The final morning, it was a real struggle for him to catch his breath; however, every day up to then, was really normal. In fact, just the night before, he stayed up late with me, sitting in my lap watching TV.
The only sense he seemed to have of the impending end, was that he seemed hesitant to leave us and go to bed, and he often stopped at the door of his room and looked back over his shoulder at us for a long moment. I don’t know if he knew the end was coming, or if he just didn’t want another really good day to end. I knew, and I often stayed up extra late, because I didn’t want another really good day to end.
The second lesson he taught me was that he remained on task… committed to his duty to protect and be a companion to Debbie and me. For his entire life, he has been our guardian. Every day, he barked a warning to the mailman, not to even think about coming into this house. Any loud engine, dog bark, or voice that he heard outside got the same stern warning. Once, a few years ago, we got a mouse in our house. It ran into the hall bathroom and hid behind a Canada Goose statue on the floor. I’ll be honest, I was conflicted. I am an animal lover and an absolute softie. On the other hand, my wife would have spent the next two years of her life standing on our bed, if she had seen him. Boomer, on the other hand, had no such indecision. His duty was to protect us. He walked into the bathroom, I heard the goose statue scoot aside, and he walked out and dropped the dead mouse at my feet. All of this happened in under 5 seconds. In his eyes, no conflict, just commitment. The very last morning, struggling just to move and breathe, he still barked at every potential threat. In fact, he seemed to bark more that morning; as if to say: “hey, don’t think that stuff is going to fly around here after I am gone. I’ll be watching you from somewhere… and don’t make me come back down here!” He was also totally committed to doing the things that he thought would make us happy. He assumed that fetching a ball would make us ecstatic. So, even as he grew more short of breath and needed more breaks, he still would bring the ball back over and over… for hours, until you finally had to take it and hide it from him. The very last picture I ever took of him was on the last morning. Though breathing was a real struggle, I got out one of his old balls and he began yelping at it and pushing it around with his nose.
No matter how much effort it required, he never failed to produce what he thought we wanted or needed from him. What a tremendous lesson! Even though he was deteriorating, he didn’t make it all about him. On the contrary, it was all about us and his commitment to being there for us. Oh God, let me come somewhere close to that level of unselfishness.
The final lesson was the most poignant. He never took his eyes off of his master. He could be dead asleep or across the room engaged in some other thing, but let me make a move or sound and his head immediately snapped to attention and his gaze locked onto me. Even after he had gone to bed at night, I just had to click the footrest down on my recliner and he never failed to get out of bed and come out of his room to see what I was up to. It wasn’t just about duty, it was about affection. He couldn’t stand the thought of me doing anything without him tagging along. The last couple of days, I have realized that I never take a step around my house without first looking down. That is because he was always at my feet – sometimes nearly tripping me. He had another game, any time I went to the bathroom, he came and pushed the door open and came in to check on what I was doing; and any time it was the hall bathroom, he checked behind the resin Canada goose, in case the mouse had returned. Even when I would play the piano, he would come sit at my feet and sing! He never took his eyes off of me, unless he was taking a nap on me.
Fittingly, I was standing in front of him and petting his head when the vet gave him the final injection. He was staring straight into my eyes and took his last breath looking at me. His eyes didn’t close, they fixed… staring into my eyes. (What a way that would be to go… never taking my eyes off of my Master). And that’s why I love him so much… and miss him so much. He wasn’t my smartest friend, not at all. He wasn’t my most talented friend, either (unless you count running in circles as a talent, in which case he wins, paws down). He didn’t share words of wisdom with me or loan me money when I was down and out. In fact, he said nothing and had nothing tangible to give. What he had, and what he gave in abundance, was devotion. And that’s why he was my best friend. This must be how God felt about David. Solomon was smarter, richer, and more famous. He prayed eloquent prayers and wrote more books of the Bible than David. David just was devoted to God. He followed God around. He wrote songs about Him, he praised God, questioned God, fussed at God, and failed God. Yet, he did all of it… everything, right under God’s feet. God had to look down whenever He took a step to make sure David wasn’t going to get stepped on. If heaven has a bathroom and God uses it, David probably pushes the door open to check on Him. David’s devotion captured God’s heart like Boomer’s captured mine. I miss my boy very much.