The Green Mile

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The phone rings.  The vet is ready when we are.  It’s 5:45pm on Sunday.  We ask her to meet us at The Farm in two hours.

The clock is ticking.  What do you do with your dog for the final two hours of its life?  She’s too weak to really walk or play and she can’t see.  It’s 90-something degrees outside and, since she can no longer control her bowel functions we can’t take her indoors.

We lie in the grass and pet her and talk about her and tell stories about her and I think it’s the closest thing to a funeral you can give a dog.  She moans and wheezes the entire time and I watch bugs crawl all over her body, treating her like she’s already dead.  I put my hand on her ribcage and feel her heartbeat, wondering how many pumps it has left.

I feel mournful and sad but in control.  I feel like I have it completely together but I know the worst is yet to come.  An hour and a half.

Earlier in the day my wife and I had dug a hole.  “Hole”.  A grave.  Kaidance lazed in the grass nearby and slept while we worked.  At one point I glanced over and she appeared to be sleeping with her eyes open.  I shouted her name but she didn’t respond.  “KAIDANCE!” I shouted again.  Nothing.  I walk over to her and nudge her with my foot.  She blinks.  She’s alive.

Horse

It would be just like this dog to give me the final “screw you” by being disobedient even in death; passing onto the next world on her own accord when I’ve orchestrated this whole beautiful thing.  I turn around and keep digging, through the top soil, through the clay, through some roots.  It’s a very textbook operation.  I turn to my 8 month pregnant wife – who is using a spade to flatten the edges – and say, “It’s better than I thought.  I thought I’d be a mess but this is sort of cathartic.”  She agrees and stomps on the top of her shovel.

It’s now around 7:30 and we decide to make The Long Walk before the vet shows up; get her comfortable Out There before hand.  I try coaxing Kaidance to follow me but she seems reluctant, maybe even more so than usual.  I loop my finger through her collar and start walking very slowly while whispering, “C’mon.  Good girl.  It’s okay.  C’mon”.  And she follows me.  Off the driveway, through the yard, past the electric fence, into the pasture, towards a small grove of trees.  It’s not exactly The Green Mile but it’s definitely The Green Block and a Half.

This is it.  20 minutes and counting.

The first purchase my wife and I ever made together was a striped comforter.  It’s come with us from house to house over the past ten years but, as we’ve upgraded our home, the blanket has slowly found it’s way to the back of the closet.  Every year or so we pull it out while doing a spring clean and say, “Maybe we should donate it to Goodwill….no….no, it’s too emotionally valuable.  Put it back in the closet.  We’ll talk about this next year”.

And so it goes.

But today we’ve found the perfect use for it.  Today it stops being a comforter with high emotional value and it transforms into a shroud.

We lay the blanket out on the grass in the field about ten feet from the grave and, since she won’t sit on her own anymore, we force her backside down.  I set a white Burger King bag down on the blanket and something turns over in my stomach.  The Last Meal.

I say, “Look what I’ve got for you,” and pull out a Whopper Jr.  I tear it in half and feed it to her.  She swallows it in one bite, barely chewing at all.  I tear the half in half and give her the first piece.  A pickle drops on the blanket.  She sniffs it out and picks it up.  I feed her the final bite of the Whopper Jr.  I pull out a second one and the exercise repeats itself.  My wife and I continue to talk about her and joke about how bad of a dog she is.  I pull out a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast croissant and feed it to her.

FinalFeast

I say, “You’ve never had one of these,” and I pull out a King Sized Snicker bar and unwrap it.  I break it into quarters and feed her the first bite, the second bite, the third bite.  I put the fourth bite in her mouth and my wife says, “Last bite” as she’s swallowing it and I immediately feel a sense of loss, like it should have been cherished more.

But it’s gone.

I start to choke up a bit.  We get her to lay down on her side and I think I hear something in the distance.  I look.  Nothing.  I huddle next to her and I pet her behind the ear and my wife pets her muzzle and I put my hand on her heart and I feel the beating again and I just want it to be over but I feel so guilty for wanting that and then I definitely hear something and I turn my head and I see a truck pulling into the driveway and it’s so real and it’s happening now and panic washes over me and tears start running down my face and I’m sobbing and I’m hugging Kaidance and I’m telling her how much I love her and I’m whispering in her ear and I’m telling her that I’m sorry and she’s so good and everything is spinning around and it’s all so surreal.  The sun is setting and there is a breeze and it couldn’t be more beautiful or horrible.

I turn around and the vet is walking towards us and I know this is the end.  This is what the last week has been leading up to.  We’re here and it’s now and it’s happening.  The vet is blond and tells us that she’s very sorry.  My wife and I are both puffy and salty with tears and we both mumble something about, “Thank you so much for coming out here on your day off”.

She sits down on the blanket with us and hours has turned into minutes has turned into one minute.  The final minute and I’m not ready to let go and I don’t know if I can do this.  I lean down and whisper, “It’s going to be okay, good girl, good girl, good girl,” and the vet pulls out a syringe filled with something intensely blue and she tells us that it’s a high grade anesthetic and that it will be just like going to sleep.  I put my hand on Kaidance’s heart and the vet asks if we’re ready and there’s no way we are or ever will be but we both nod yes and she sticks the needle into her leg and words just start pouring out of my mouth.  “I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance.  Good girl.  I love you so much,” and I can’t say it enough.  I can’t get it across.  Every bad thing I’ve ever done to her is flashing into my mind.  Every time I’ve ever yelled at her and every time I’ve thrown her outside for tearing into the trash and every moment of our stupid road trip where I asked her to stop breathing on me and I just want her to stay here and be okay and I just want it over with and it’s done.

Before the vet even pulls the needle out, Kaidance has stopped breathing.  Her heart has stopped beating.  No matter where I put my hand, I can’t find the labored thump-thump.  I lay my forehead against her and I weep.

The vet walks away and Jade and I are left in the field alone with our dog.  We try to shut her eyes but it’s not like in the movies.  They just stay open.  We sit with her for several minutes and we both cry and pet her and say those final words.

Jade picks up the Burger King bag with the old wrappers in it and lays it down on the blanket by Kaidance’s chest and says, “We should bury her with this.  She would have wanted it,” and it’s so stupid but she’s so right.  Kaidance would have wanted an old Burger King bag.  We wrap her up in the Striped-Comforter-With-High-Emotional-Value and we each pick up a side and there is definitely a reason they call it dead weight.  120 pounds is much heavier than I was imagining.  I step into the grave and I grab both ends of the blanket and I lower her in.

We each throw a couple handfuls of dirt on and then we grab the shovels and for the next 15 minutes we move dirt and tell more stories.  When we’re done we stand above the grave, the sun just dipping below the horizon and we say a couple more things.  “Kaidance, we loved you and we valued you.  Thank you for your protection.  Thank you for loving us.  You were a terrible dog but we loved you.  We will think of you often.  We probably won’t miss you, but we’ll think of you often.”  I say the last part mostly in jest because I need to laugh.

We grab the shovels and we begin walking back to the house.

Alone.

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ABOVE: The last photo.

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12 thoughts on “The Green Mile

  1. Julie Brookbank says:

    Hi John. You won’t remember me, but I’m your cousin Julie from Mitchell. I just read your amazing tribute to your dog. We lost our beloved rescue dog Priscilla in much the same way last December. She was the third member of my canine family that I have parted with, but her death was by far was the most difficult. You have honored your girl so well and I hope you find comfort in that. It’s the hardest and the best thing you will ever do for her. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Hi, Julie! Of COURSE I remember you! Thank you for the kind words and for taking the time to go through this journey with us.

      I hope you’ll stick around JBB.com and enjoy that SD heat!!

  2. Michelle Floyd says:

    What a very moving story…so sorry for you loss…an amazing story…I sit here reading and the tears roll down my cheeks as my baby Joe the Boxer lays sleeping next to me…he is deaf and can’t hear me sobbing…but then he raises her head and leans over and licks me as to say it is OK…we loves our pets so much…and I can tell the love you had for yours. Bless you and your lovely wife!!!

    • Thanks for taking this long journey with us, Michelle. It’s strange how soothing a dog’s presence can be.

      When I was going through chemotherapy, the hospital would occasionally bring a golden retriever into my room just to pet. It was so easy to get lost and to allow my mind to wander in those moments.

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. Matt Berkenpas says:

    Wow, this tore me up. Makes me want our pup Simon to stay his rambunctious 1 year old self forever. Thanks again for sharing man.

    • I KNOW!! We still have a cocker spaniel that has several years left but over the past few days when I look at her all I can think is, “I have to go through all of this one more time…”

      These Earthly bodies don’t last forever, do they?

      Sent from my iPhone

  4. Lindsey Hurd says:

    Ugh, you guys. I’m so so sorry for your loss. This was a beautiful tribute to her, and reading it makes me wish that we all had time for some really long conversations under the summer sun in South Dakota. Maybe next time you are in Seattle…

  5. Rebecca Keunen says:

    Such a beautiful tribute to Kadience. I’m sitting her sobbing after reading that. Thank you for sharing her story and death with us all in such an authentic and real way. It was beautiful and true much like Kadience it seems. Thinking of your family as you grieve and feeling a bit more patience towards our own four legged trouble makers, realizing that no matter what the time we have with them is never really enough.

    • Thank you for sticking around this journey with us, Rebecca. Yes, I agree that many lessons can be learned through our dogs whether that be how to raise children, how to be more patient or simply showing us our own inevitable mortality. They’re here long enough to make a difference and they leave early enough to make us remember them for a very long time.

      Sent from my iPhone

  6. Jeannie K. Swinemar says:

    beautiful tribute. You were all so blessed to have those years of love and learning …

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