It’s been 10 whole days since Cubbie left this world. Sometimes it feels like 10 whole seconds. Other times it feels like 10 whole years. I’m not sure I want it to feel like either.
Grief is weird. Sometimes it crushes you. Sometimes it numbs you. I knew with Cubbie it would crush me. I’ve logged far too many hours with this wide-eyed rotund creature to not feel heartbroken by his death. I was as they say, obsessed.
I’d have it no other way. He was my best friend on four legs, my office manager, my confidante, my softest spot before Henry and my most loyal companion before Joe.
In the end, he loved Joe as much as he loved me and I will forever remember my husband kissing his warm, still face in those heavy moments after he was euthanized. I will forever remember Joe’s grief, because there was no other person on the face of this planet who loved Cub as much as I loved Cub. The first half of Cub’s life was spent on my lap. The second half was spent on Joe’s.
Our sidekick is gone, robbed of time. In December he would have turned nine – 63 in dog years.
Sometimes I’m so bummed about this I walk around the house clutching his blanket and apologizing to his roly poly pug ghost for the agony he endured over the last few months. I tell him I’m sorry I let it go on so long. I tell him I’m sorry I ended it so soon. I tell him I’m sorry it had to happen to him. I assure him that he was the dog of my life, that no matter what pooch comes after him, he will always be the one to which every other dog is compared. And I don’t care if this sounds wrong. Cubbie earned that right by being first and awesome.
Sometimes I still smell him, feel him and hear him. I call for him then remember he’s gone. I walk through the front door then wonder where he’s hiding. I convince Henry to come in from outside because Cubbie wants to see him, then I realize I’ve just turned our dead dog into toddler bait – mistakenly of course, because this was something I used to do when he was alive.
I wake up and expect to see him taking up half the bed, snoring, at ease, alive.
I thought I’d feel relief. When you spend so many nights kneeling beside an unconscious dog, rubbing his eyes until his seizures end, wiping foam away from his mouth, carrying him outside so he can pee, steadying him so he can poop, scrubbing the kitchen floor when he can’t hold it and bathing him because he fell in it, you’d expect to feel some sort of solace when it’s over.
I didn’t feel solace. I only felt sadness.
When something you love suffers, you would think letting it go would come easy. It didn’t come easy. I needed a sign. I needed permission. From whom, I don’t know. As strong as I think I am, as wrenching as it was to see Cub slip away, it seemed almost unbearable to be the one to end it.
Joe told me it was my choice. I would have to make peace with it, pull the trigger, then make peace with it all over again. No matter how humane the decision seemed to other people, to me it just felt cruel. Love him madly, then help him die.
I wanted more time. I wanted to turn back time. I wanted to re-experience specific moments in his life with greater awareness and appreciation. I wanted to save him. I wanted to keep him forever.
And then I got my sign.
It was a Thursday. Henry was at Joe’s parent’s house for the day. I was at home alone with Cub, who by 3 o’clock in the afternoon had been asleep for 17 hours straight in my bed. Despite my reluctance to wake him (waking him would often provoke seizures), I lifted him from the bed and gingerly set him on his feet. His blind eyes met mine.
“I’m here Cub. You’re OK.”
He let out one long raspy breath and suddenly I felt guilty for waking him. He needed his meds, especially his anti-seizure meds. I folded the pills into a lump of mashed potatoes then I coaxed him into going on a walk.
In the days prior, Cub could only walk in tight circles – another telltale sign of a brain tumor. Nonetheless, I thought if I could get him on a short leash and steer him straight we might make it around one block.
My efforts paid off. Sort of. He labored down the driveway, turned right and surprised me by not breaking his ponderous stride by spinning in circles. This improvement, albeit slight, seemed monumental.
We were plodding along slowly when out of nowhere we were passed by a little girl and her mother walking hand-in-hand up my street.
The girl looked about 10 years old. She had freckles across her nose and rusty red hair the color of my mother’s. She stopped as soon as she spotted Cub, her face flushing as she smiled. She immediately left her mother’s side to approach him.
“Can I pet your dog?” She asked.
“Of course,” I said. “He’d love that.”
She crouched to pet Cub, who wanted nothing more than to lay in the shade where we had stopped. Within seconds he was stretched out on his belly, his eyes closed and his mouth open as if to say, “Ah, that’s the spot, kid.”
He looked so peaceful in the afternoon light, pleased to be basking in a child’s affection. He looked as he always looked to me before he got sick: happy.
Under the tint of my sunglasses, I started to cry.
“He’s sooo cute,” she said. “He’s sooo nice.”
She sat down beside him and turned over his tags, landing on the red heart I gave him as a puppy.
“I like his heart,” she said.
“I like his heart too,” I replied.
Her mother was getting impatient.
“Grace,” she said. “We’ve gotta get home.”
Grace protested. She was in no hurry to get home. She turned over his second tag – a silver square I ordered off Etsy a few years ago.
“His name is Cubbie,” she said, presumably, to her mother.
Under the tint of my sunglasses, tears fell to the pavement like raindrops.
“Grace,” said her mother. “Let’s go.”
Again Grace protested.
“But I want to stay,” she said. “I don’t want to leave Cubbie.”
She rose from the sidewalk, bending to pet Cub once more. She thanked me for letting her pet him. I thanked her for taking the time. I told her she had no idea how much he enjoyed the gesture; how much I enjoyed the gesture. Then she quietly said goodbye and walked away.
I knelt beside my dog for another 10 minutes, watching Grace turn a corner and disappear. I wanted to sit there and pet him forever. I wanted to hold my hand up and stop time the way Superman stops speeding trains, but then I realized the time I wanted to freeze had come and gone. Cubbie was dying and like Grace, I didn’t want to leave him.
I had gotten my sign.
I hoisted Cub onto his fours and led him down a street we’d walked 100 times before. I told him I loved him. I told him he deserved an eternity of peace and kindness. I told him I would never leave him. Then we turned the corner and walked once more side by side in the warm afternoon light.