I always have words. It's my thing, my gift. When all else fails, words can rescue me; when I am drowning, words are my air. When I am stuck in the trenches, words offer me a rope to get out. Writing things down is how I release the toxic, dead weight from me.
On Thursday January 28, 2021 at approximately 3:30, I had to let my beloved Gideon Wainwright Hernandez-Cude go.
Well, let's back up. I didn't have to. I made a decision. I could have just dodged the issue and waited for him to pass at home and he could have lived days and maybe he would be miserable, but he would have had love, and life. Or, I could have let him go two days prior, when I took him to the vet. Dr. Utt has been his doctor since he was a puppy, and has performed three hip surgeries on him. When I brought him in on January 26, 2021, the tech who collected him said "We have him down for possible euthanasia. What are your thoughts?"
"If Dr. Utt says it is time, I will accept her advice. I know the time is closing in. But I never want to let him go because it's hard on me to let him live. But look at him - He still has light in his eyes. He still wants to be here. If I can buy him even one more day, I want to do that. I'll do what Dr. Utt says."
I had to wait in the car. They tried to carry him in on the gurney, but he was just too big and restless. So he walked in.
Dr. Utt called me as I sat in the parking lot. "He's struggling. I can try a steroid injection. Sometimes it helps. You'll know within 24 hours. Do you want to try?"
Gideon walked back out to my car. At home, Marcos lifted him out of my cargo space, but he walked into the house. He tried to lay in our front room, but I coaxed him up to lay on his orthopedic bed. He didn't walk or stand again.
The next day he laid on his bed all morning. He ate, and he looked happy to have our love and attention, but he didn't stand. The weather was beautiful, so I dragged his bed to the backdoor and let him lay in the open doorway. A breeze blew by, and he urinated on his bed. He looked at me saddly, and I grabbed wads of paper towels to soak it up. I kissed him and told him it was okay. I called the vet, and made the appointment for the following day. I slept downstairs on the fold-out bed that night. Throughout the night I woke up to see him panting, in pain, but he never cried. In the morning, I put chicken thighs in the crockpot for him and Noelle. I spent most of the day sitting next to his bed. He was offered, and chomped at the chance, to eat bits of food. When the chicken thighs were ready, he devoured the first one I offered him. I packed another two to take in the car with me, and then it was time to go.
Marcos had to pick him up, and he let out the first and only painful cry I heard from him. I carried his bed out right behind them, and stuffed it into the cargo space of my car. Marcos set Gideon down on top, and off we went.
Marcos and the girls were home in quarantine for COVID. I had just made it through my ten days in time to take Gideon t othe vet a couple of days prior. I still felt bad for going, but I didn't know what else to do. If I had waited even one more day, Gideon might not even be able to eat. So, as it was, we sat together in my cargo space and on my tailgate. I offered him the chicken thighs I had packed, and he ate heartily. I kissed him repeatedly through my mask, trying to do "my part" but also thoroughly resenting my part on that particular day.
When the tech came to get him, she asked if he could walk. I said I didn't think so, and she asked me to back my car up to the back door. She and another tech brought the gurney out. They tried to lift him - He was huge, almost 100 pounds. We finally worked togther to lift the bed onto the gurney. I kissed him again, and said I would see him soon.
Soon enough, a tech came out, and I prepared to follow her inside.
"Um. He's very restless. Dr. Utt wants to know if we can give him a sedative. He just - he won't calm down."
"It's not time," I said frantically. "Maybe it's not time. He's not ready, maybe today isn't the day."
She touched my arm. "No. It's time. He's just scared. You don't want him to be scared. Can we give him the sedative? It will be mild."
When they brought me in, there he was, his massive body on that table, his eyes already vacant. I realized I had said my last goodbye in the parking lot, without knowing it, and maybe it was better that way. I stroked his coarse fur. Dr. Utt came into the room.
"It's the right thing to do, right?"
"It's not the wrong thing. This is so hard on a big dog. He's a very special guy." Ever the doctor. I just wanted some reassurance that we shouldn't just turn around and go back home. She couldn't give that to me. I just had to trust my heart.
As she injected him, I kissed him relentlessly, whispering in his ear, "You have been such a good boy. I love you so much. Thank you. You've been such a good boy." The medication took a long time to course through his giant body. My strong boy, to the end.
And as I stood there, I was transported to that June day, 2011, when I said goodbye to my only son. I recalled the tears I had cried into that wiry brown fur. The times I held him because I couldn't hold Gabriel. The weight of 10 years of struggle - 10 years of loving and caring for this beautiful dog and all of his medical issues, 10 years of loving my medically fragile son who could not stay to be cared for, 10 years of putting on a brave face, 10 years of exposing my brokenness but ploughing ahead anyway - the weight of my grief came crashing down on me as my dear Gideon took his last breath
I proceeded to get very drunk that night. Selfishly, I had hoped Gideon would make it to the following week, AFTER I marked the 10 year anniversary of Gabriel's Diagnosis Day, January 31, 2021.
What is it about 10 years? Is it because we have a name for it - a decade - that makes that particular year so rough? If I were celebrating 10 years of marriage, or 10 years of sobriety, or 10 years at a job, or 10 years since I graduated high school, the celebration make sense, and others would join me. But grief - We don't treat it that way. 10 years of grief means you grieved 9 years too long. That should have been put on a shelf long ago. 10 years means you can let go now, FINALLY. You don't have to count birthdays. You don't have to think about the what ifs. You don't have to make note of the empty chair at the table. You don't need to hang his Christmas stocking anymore.
But grief doesn't work that way. Motherhood doesn't work that way. I can't table the biological connection to a little boy that I carried inside of me, who changed the makeup of my body, and who made me a little more aware of the soul that I was created to be long before I was born.
When my Aunt Naomi told me she had a litter of puppies, and one male left that I could have, but he had a "lazy leg," I didn't ask what was wrong with him, I just took him. I wanted him, without condition. And when I found out on September 28, 2010 that I was pregnant with the baby that would be my first and only son, by that point his neural tube already abnormally developed, I did not ask what could go wrong. I wanted him, and I loved him, and I love him without condition. I would not give up on Gideon or Gabriel because it was hard. And I won't stop grieving them now just because it is hard, or it is "time," or because I have surviving children and a surviving dog. They are part of me. Words cannot express how they changed me, how they have both imprinted my soul. I could never describe it; it takes more than words.