One year ago today, on August 15, 2013 @ 5:15am, my oldest dog, Cole, died at home, in his own bed, while I held him.
As best I could tell, he was between 10 & 12 years old, not terribly old for a medium size dog of mixed breed origins.
Cole had not been sick, he had no disease that we knew of and he had been acting normally until 4pm the night before when he refused his dinner.
By midnight he could no longer walk, and by 4am he was having trouble breathing.
I have never had a dog die from 'natural causes' at home before. Previously, all my babies had had something wrong that required a decision on my part and a trip to the vet. I always stayed with them; the process was as painless as possible and quick. Once the final shot was administered, they were gone in a matter of seconds. It was quiet and peaceful. Except for the sobbing of the humans, the patient just 'went to sleep'.
Real death is not like that.
"Real death' was noisy and looked uncomfortable and scary, both for Cole and me. As he transitioned into the heavy, labored breathing I recognized as the last stage of dying, I found myself trying to make him more comfortable, but I didn't really know what to do. I finally ended up on the floor next to his bed, cradeling his upper body in my arms with my face buried in his ruff while I told him to just let go; that it was alright to leave me; that we would all love him forever; that he was such a good boy, his whole life. I told Cole that I would see him again; that we would all be together forever; that I would be with him again soon.
I asked him to wait for me, then I asked God to please take my baby Home.
For a few minutes, his body continued to heave, his breathing was so loud I was surprised it hadn't woken the other dogs, who were sleeping in my bed nearby.
Then, with no further changes, he just stopped breathing and I felt the tension leave his body. I sat up and looked at his face: he was gone.
His fur was wet from my tears, and I wondered if we would be able to carry him to the car.
Bodies, all bodies, are somehow so much heavier once the spirit leaves. I don't know how that happens, but the dog I had been able to easily lift into the tub for a bath would become something that two grown adults could barely move together.
Cole had gone home; and I and woke my brother to tell him that Cole was better, in fact, he was good.
He just wasn't going to be with us anymore.
One year later, I still think about Cole everyday; his loss has not lessened, in fact I feel his absence every time I take my remaining two dogs anywhere in the car. Cole loved to ride in the car more than anything else, except to be brushed while resting his head on my shoulder.
I wish I had brushed him more often.
I wish I had taken him for a ride in the car everyday, even if it was just around the block.
I wish I could feel his head in my arms as I hugged him just one more time.
For the longest time, I would look over at his bed and I still expected to see him sleeping there.
Finally, I put it away. It just hurts too much to see it empty.