Unbeknownst to my husband I scheduled three days off so I could surprise him with a visit. The drive is 10 hours from my summer job so I was only going to be able to be home for 48 hours. It was a big sacrifice for a seemingly small reward, but my family and my home was worth it.
I had no idea that our world would be rocked in that one day. Everything started out great. I had a vision of a past life in which I was a housewife and not a wiped out working woman 600 miles from her family. It was awkward actually.
Then everything changed with one passing comment. “Babe, have you noticed that Maverick has gotten skinny?”
Actually, now that he mentioned it, I did notice his haunches were really bony. I’ll stop by a vet’s office and stick him on the scale.
I loaded him up and took him to an office by our house. It wasn’t even our regular vet. Maverick weighed in at 66.6 pounds. He usually weighed between 70-72 pounds, which was right where he needed to be as a retriever.
“Is an unexplained 3-5 pound weight loss worth a visit?”
“Yes,” the workers in the office area said. He should be bigger. “We can get you in right now.”
I preferred to take him to our regular vet because I knew this office to be overpriced, but I was leaving the next morning and it is difficult for my husband to get to appointments with his work schedule. So, in a split decision, I went for it.
After a thorough interview from the vet, I explained all that my husband had told me. He was a healthy filled-out retriever three weeks prior when my family visited me in the Midwest. Then he was suddenly skinny. After upping Maverick’s food, no weight was gained. The vet grilled me on the minute details of what was normal for Mav. I was amazed at how attentive she was and the fact that the office had called our regular vet for his last weigh-in and blood panel results right away. Turned out he was 70 pounds last winter, so he had only lost 3 pounds. That didn’t seem like much to me. Nevertheless, the vet was very concerned that she could feel every bone in his body.
I had spoken to my husband prior and he said “Only the best for my Maverick,” so when the vet asked for x-rays and a blood panel, I agreed. I wasn’t worried at all. He is getting older and I figured they would find some kind of imbalance that would easily be remedied. Fifteen minutes later the vet invited me back to look at the x-rays. His blood work matched the recent panel, but the problem was found on the x-rays.
“Is he going to live?” I asked, still not worried at all.
In those next moments I had so much compassion for that vet. There was so much sorrow on her face as she broke my heart. Maverick has cancer throughout his organs. I can’t even say which ones because the only one that matters is his heart. He has a tumor on his heart and it has already started bleeding. It is that bleeding which will ultimately take him. So far it is a small leak and his body is able to reabsorb much of it. But that leak will grow. There are two outcomes: the tumor will rupture and he will be gone in seconds. The alternative is that the leak will get bigger and he will become extremely weak as he slowly bleeds out. What is worse is that the leaking blood will fill his chest cavity making it impossible for him to expand his lungs.
I could barely take this in. “I don’t live here!” I told her. “I’m not going to be here for him.” I just kept saying “Okay” over and over again. “Okay” is our dogs’ keyword for dinner. Mav kept looking up at me confused. As I held back tears he became agitated and concerned.
The vet reiterated that absolutely nothing can be done now. He is losing so much weight because the cancer has sent his metabolism into overdrive. His body has began to consume itself. “Feed him anything he wants.” she said. She explained the clear signs that it would be “time” and I walked out of the x-ray room.
My husband wouldn’t be home for another 30 minutes. I walked out on our deck and sank to the floor. “What am I going to do?” I asked myself over and over again. I live so far away, I can’t abandon him. He has relied on me for 7 years. It was just us for years before I met my husband. He was my whole world for so long. Growing our family to 3 and finally 4 didn’t negate any of our history as just the two of us. In this moment the delicate balance of my two worlds were colliding.
Finally, it came to me. I can say a proper goodbye. I can be there for my family and then go back to work. We would go to our favorite family vacation spot, I would spend lots of time with Maverick and then we would come home and have family pictures taken. After being there for my family as we face this reality, I would go back to work and know that I had given Mav my best.
Then it dawned on me. Mav could die today or he could die a few months from now. What if he didn’t make it a few more days to have family photos?
I called up my best friend, and his favorite auntie. I told her what happened and asked for a favor. I can’t tell this story over and over again. Please find me a photographer for tomorrow morning. I then started calling groomers. It was so hard trying to explain in tears and hearing them say “No, retrievers take too long.” I put out a plea on a Facebook buy/sell group. People were so helpful. Countless groomers were tagged but no one would commit. A photographer was found and booked but I was losing hope for grooming. Finally a woman had compassion on us and agreed to do it late that night. When I arrived with Maverick and Goose at 8 p.m. the first thing she did was hug me. I am so grateful for the generosity of the few.
Having family photos taken after doing nothing but crying for hours is a feat of makeup. We were exhausted, but this had to be done right away. After the photo session we packed up and hit the road. Our family has always found peace in the Vermillion Cliffs, and that is where I wanted to say goodbye.
I cried for most of the 9 hour trip. He looks so healthy and vibrant. It’s unfathomable that he is going to drop dead and I won’t be there. In the last few days Mav has experienced so much people food that he is now a bona fide beggar. We have taken him swimming, canoeing, and on leisurely strolls.
Rumor has it I am going to lose my job, but being there for my family is worth more than any job. The outpouring of love from friends on Facebook has been overwhelming. Anyone that knows me, knows how dedicated I am not only to Maverick and Goose, but also to fostering dogs. I love animals and that is part of who I am. When I accepted the job away from home I knew I would be gone for half of the rest of their lives, not all of his. Is 7 years not worth 7 days?
Watching my husband grieve has been agonizing. He grew up without pets. Mav is his first four-legged love. I have had to give him pain-staking details about what he is going to have to do alone. He is going to have to make the final decision, he is going to have to walk that path alone. I even asked him not to notify me until after I get off work (if I still have a job.)
In a few days we return home and will host a going away party for Mav before I return to work. This has been the only way I could find to say goodbye to a boy that has relied on me for most of his life. I’m terrified that he will try to wait for me. I’m praying sincerely that this will happen peacefully in his sleep after a beautiful day and that he will wait at least long enough to see his favorite aunt in a few weeks.
All of this grief has showed me so much. It has shown me how much I love and need my husband. In all of the busy of our lives, we have taken the time to hold each other. I have taken the time to prioritize. My husband says he will not bat an eye if I do get fired, which will effectively end my career as a helicopter pilot. I have seen the beauty and love and compassion in friends and strangers and I have seen the ugly in people when I hear about people at work trash-talking me and the inability of one of my bosses to even express shallow and polite sympathy when I could barely get the words out through tears.
Our family of four is only two years old now, but we are just that, a family of four. This is our first time experiencing tremendous loss together. We are both blessed and cursed to know what is coming. We scrutinize every noise Maverick makes, every breath he takes, and today he is still his old self. We get to enjoy him as we always have, but we also get to know that in an instant he will be gone. Life is so precious and now, more than ever we are making the most of it.