I am almost always the first one out of bed. There is a light on the kitchen counter and I turn it on and head towards the coffee maker. Right about then there is usually a thump. Fisher is jumping out of bed. He heads into the kitchen and I say “Go back to bed, buddy. It’s early.”
For years he would head straight to his dog bowl but recently he would sometimes head back to the bedroom. I would return to the bedroom and help him back into bed. Sometimes when I left in the morning I would fill his bowl and he would still be snoozing.
This morning I went out into the kitchen and wept. He was gone.
Last week I took Fisher in for a check up. The days that he decided not to eat had been outnumbering the days that he was eating. Lab tests came back and indicated that something wasn’t quite right. Our vet asked if we wanted to come back in later in the week for x-rays. I explained that Emily would be turning eleven on Sunday and that I needed the weekend. We started him on some antibiotics and hoped for the best.
On Saturday I almost called the vet to say that I felt like I had my old dog back. On Sunday morning I fed him before I left for a run. I came home to discover that he had tricked Mike and the kids into feeding him again. Old man was up to his old tricks. Emily’s birthday was the kind of day where we were all together and everything was just right. I went to bed Sunday evening with my girls upstairs and Fisher curled up on my feet. If an ordinary day can be almost perfect than Sunday nearly was.
I struggle with Em’s birthdays. She is getting older every day it seems and her independence is startling. When I woke up just after midnight I was teary and struggled to go back to sleep. I ran up the stairs and peeked in on each of the girls. I let Fisher outside and sat on the couch to wait for him to come back and scratch at the door. He was out longer than normal so I opened the door and called for him. For a moment I thought “If that bastard went outside and died tonight I will never forgive him.” It was dark and I really didn’t want to be out on my knees in the dirt sobbing. Just then he came around the corner and he looked so tired. We came back in and he went straight to the bedroom. I tried to get him to come back out for some water but he didn’t want any.
I went back to the bedroom and patted his spot on the bed. For weeks now I have helped him get the back legs up. He would jump up into bed when nobody was home but if I was home he would whine until I helped him. “Come on, let’s go to bed.” He curled up on the floor and he wouldn’t look at me. I went back to bed and tossed and turned. Eventually I joined him on the floor and listened to him snore, pressing my face against his ears as I have done so many times before.
In the morning I told Mike that I was worried about him. He didn’t eat. We joked that he was likely still full from Sunday’s double breakfast. I admitted that I was possibly just being melodramatic what with Em’s birthday and Lucy sleeping in her own bed. I was running out of babies to baby and was just focusing all of my attention on my old man. We sat on the front porch and waited for the school bus. Lucy and Fisher were slow to come back up the front steps.
In the morning I called the vet to schedule a time to take him back in. They had an appointment in the late afternoon available. I hung up and put it on the calendar and the phone rang. “You can bring him in right now if you’d rather.”
When our vet came back in with the lab results she said that his hematocrit levels had dropped rapidly in the five days since they had seen him. She said his anemia was likely the cause of his lethargy and that x-rays could give us some answers. I said “I would rather be worried sick and here than worried sick and at home. We can stay all day if we need to…”
Lucy and Fish and I just lay on the floor and goofed off. Lucy is good company when I am worried. She has a pretty black and white world view. “We don’t even know what’s wrong yet, Mom!” So no tears from me!
When the vet came back in after his x-rays she said “Lucy do you want come up front and color a picture for a minute while we talk to your Mom?” I knew everything I needed to know right then. “We just took one picture and that was all we needed to see.”
I am not much of a hugger but as she said “It’s cancer and it’s in his lungs,” I clung to her in the hopes that I would not slide to the floor. “You don’t have to do anything right now. But you will need to make some decisions soon. He is one tough dog…”
I explained that I felt like I was crazy this morning but that I knew. You read those stories about how people live until their grandchild is born and then they pass in their sleep. Or a husband passes and days later the wife joins him. He had given me one more weekend. I had asked him for one more and he rallied. But he was holding on just barely and I had to let him go.
Lucy was coloring calmly in the lobby. “Come on, Lu, we are going to take Fish home.” In silence the three of us got back in the car. It had been pouring down rain all morning, a perfectly gloomy morning. I had seven hours. Seven more hours to make sure he knew that I loved him.
Mike came home quickly and picked up Em from school. She knew right away when she saw him that it was Fisher. “Baby girl, Fish is sick…. we have to say goodbye and let him go…”
We spent the day on the floor in the living room. Shortly before the vet came to the house we tried to take him for one last walk. He peed on some mailboxes. He was trotting along and making me doubt our choices and I was sobbing as I watched him. And then not a quarter of a mile from our house he just sat down. He was done. Mike went back to the house for the car and we sat in the middle of the street and laughed at our stubborn old man. One more car ride and we were all back assembled in the living room.
Fisher was my constant. In a life of heartbreak and new houses and divorce and new love and marriage and babies and change he was my one thing that was unwavering. I have been dreading this day since Emily was only a few months old. When the vet looked at me yesterday and said “Are you ready?” I lowered my face into his chest and sobbed.
Fish, I brought my babies home to you. I will take care of the babies… you, go. I got this….