Expression of feelings through words is something I've always felt comfort in. Once I get it onto the paper or the screen, it releases me. My thoughts are out there now, documented, re-readable and sent off into the universe. So as I continue to cope with the grief in losing Keelah, my best dog friend, it seemed important. I say continue, because in the last 6 weeks we saw her health deteriorate massively - and that in itself was the beginning of the process.
We made the decision early this week. We knew that Keelah's quality of life was deteriorating and for a strong stubborn girl like her, we knew it was so difficult. She was no longer walking on her own, or at least not without extreme struggle. She had to be hand fed, led to water. Her mind wasn't quite the same, and her laborious breathing made my own heart ache. Our best guess was that she'd suffered some sort of stroke or brain aneurysm - her left side no longer worked properly. So after receiving confirmation from our Vet - aka comforting words that we were doing what was right, we scheduled her appointment for at-home euthanasia. I knew it was right, but the finality of it looming broke my heart.
We spent nearly every waking moment together on Wednesday, Inauguration Day. As my best girl, I wanted her to watch the coming in of a new administration, and a woman VP. Girl Power, after all she was my best girl. We shared snuggles and sandwiches on the couch for hours. Me, crying happy tears at the things I was seeing on TV, watching strong, incredible women - but also knowing that it was likely the last time we'd do something like this together. Her, breathing more calmly and napping while I gently stroked her ears. Later, we moved her into my office for her final "work day" with me and I joined my Purple Ladies Zoom Call - an activity I've taken extreme comfort in since last March, filled with strong, powerful women who know just what to do/say to provide comfort. Keelah was inducted as a Purple Lady for the day.
After the "highs" of Wednesday, and being my Type-A self, I got to planning. I had always dreamed of Keelah's last, best day. All the things we would do. I had even scheduled it in my mind that I'd find some Furry 5k so she could finally run a race with me. Absent in my brain though was the fact that during her final days, she may not be healthy enough for the things *I* wanted her to do. It seems dumb now, looking back at those ideas, as though I'd just magically know we'd have several months left and be able to plan the things for her when she was still willing and able. And so, we adjusted. If she could make it to Saturday, she would have her own furry .0005K, in our front yard, with the sunshine and her best friends surrounding her at the finish.
I turned to local Snohomish Running Company, whose many races I've run before, with one of my last ones having Keelah there at the finish line, barking me on. They graciously let me choose a medal and race bib for Keelah and her final "rainbow race" as we deemed it. I chose a beautiful Women's Run medallion shaped like a flower, and for a race I'd not completed - it seemed fitting that she have her own. I bought balloons and flowers, I scheduled the event. We received the gift of Pupcakes for her finish line "carb sesh." I got out a wonderful bottle of bubbles so we could all celebrate. I ordered rainbow macarons from a special friend and a little flower charm that I could wear in solidarity with her for her final best day. It was all coming together.
The night before, she decided (by walking out and laying down) she wanted to be in the living room and accepted loves from a few guests that wanted to say goodbye. She and I watched our last sunset together out those front windows. I cried, and frantically wrote down my best memories of her, along with poem verses that had been coming to me throughout the week. I hand fed her her last dinner and then piled blankets high around her bed. I was adamant that she wouldn't spend her final night with us on the floor, by herself. I snuggled in tight next to her bed on the floor, I held her paws, stroked her fur and tried to comfort her in those dark hours. She struggled a lot that evening, and I feel like it was her way of letting me know that she was just so very tired.
In the morning, my alarm went off, and I woke with tears knowing our time was quickly running out. I also realized that I had set the alarm perfectly in time to watch the sun come up. Keelah had repositioned herself (as she did) in front of the sliding glass door where the old lead windows let in all the cold air. She loved cold air. I reached out, held her paw and we watched as the clear, cold morning began - with colors of orange and blue and pink. The hummingbirds flitted outside as if to remind her that she would be getting her own wings soon.
Joe woke and went to get us all a last-day breakfast consisting of coffee (for us) and breakfast sandwiches for all. While he was gone, I started doing things to keep myself busy. Bringing out chairs, making sure everything was just right. We were waiting to bring things outside because it was so very cold. Beautiful, but cold. As I was gathering a few things downstairs, I heard a slight commotion which I thought was one of our other dogs bounding down the steps. I hurried out of the closet to find Keelah laying at the bottom of the stairs. She hadn't been up or down them on her own in weeks. But on this, her final day, she decided to do it one last time. I lifted her, my heart still, thinking she had hurt herself (she more fell down the stairs vs. walking down), but she hobbled up, wobbled to the door and did one last good pee and poop out in the backyard. Almost as if to tell her brothers "the boys" that "this is still my yard too."
She devoured her breakfast along with her final dose of pain pills so we could keep her comfortable all day. She watched me with her big chocolate brown eyes as I primped and styled to make sure my outfit was just perfect for her. I chose bright, girly colors with rainbow tassel earrings. She seemed to be smiling at me, and knowing her big moment was coming. She also seemed to say "Mom, you look pretty. Thank you for looking your best for me."
By 11 a.m. the scene was set. We had arranged a finisher pad for her with rainbow flowers, race signs and her favorite bed laid out so she could rest and greet her guests. We spend some early moments getting family photos with all of us, and then as guests started to arrive, each person spent time with her individually. Our amazing photographer started capturing all of the moments and all of the little things I tried so hard to do. The sun was incredible and the skies so blue. I don't know that Keelah's tail stopped tapping away the entire morning.
It was finally time for her big race, and we gathered as planned, with crepe paper streamers - me at the end waiting to adorn her medal. Joe held her up at the "start" and I queued up "Lovely Day" on the bluetooth speaker and off we went. Keelah, I think wanting to make it known that it was HER race, decided to pee after just a few steps. It was like her little sassy self stating "I got this mom, but I need to pee, you always do that at the beginning, I've heard you say" By most of her own accord, she wobbled down to me for hugs, a medal and lots of Pupcakes and pictures. Smiling, happy.
Over the next hour or so, she got more treats than I think she bargained for and so much love. At one point, she made it evident that she wanted to get up, and she went around like a good host, walking up to each person there as if to say "thank you." I pride myself on trying to be a good host, and obviously I wore off on her.
We moved her to a spot in the sunshine as the guests started to depart. We were down to about 2 hours until the doctor would be arriving. I grabbed some blankets, tucked us in and we sat for that time watching all of the birds, the sun rays, and the mossy footprints in the grass where all her friends had been just a bit ago. I made us a playlist to listen to with songs that made sure I cried for her. We brought her brothers out to see her and say their goodbyes - they already knew but we wanted those last few moments for them to understand.
I sat until my legs were numb and my hands were freezing, but they found warmth in scratching her ears. I nuzzled my nose in her neck and her so-soft ears as my tears dropped onto her fur. The sun cast the most wonderful rays across us as it tucked in and out of trees. The neighborhood was so quiet (a rarity).
Dr. Kelly's car broached the horizon of our road and I new that we were down to moments left with her. Again, the finality of it sent me into all of those human thoughts - is this right? is it really time? couldn't I have done more? My heart ripped open again and the tears flowed freely. But basking in those late day winter sun rays, knowing that she saw so many that she loved and finally go to finish her race, we knew. We knew that we could not have given her a better "last best day."
Dr. Kelly was kind and compassionate as she walked us through the steps. She brought a blanket for Keelah and tucked her in more. The first shot was administered to put Keelah into a deep, deep sleep. Normally it was supposed to take up to 10 minutes, especially for strong, big dogs. Keelah fell asleep within 2 - her breathing so calm and smooth, the most it had been for months. I played her "Somewhere over the Rainbow" by Hawaiian artist IZ. We knew in that moment how peaceful she was and how tired & strong she'd been for us. Joe read her a poem he wrote for her about the dog heaven of Valhalla and her viking friends awaiting her. The birds flurried around, more than I've ever seen in our yard before.
We loved her so hard in those last few moments and Dr. Kelley came back to sit with us as the final shot was administered. Joe and I linked hands while scruffing her neck - the part of her we always called her "Direwolf Mane." Keelah's heartbeat slowed and we loved her some more - knowing that the rainbow bridge awaited and she was ready. We cried openly and without hesitation as the seconds ticked down. The doctor took her pawprint for us. We knew when she was officially gone - the warmth seemed to leave immediately and our best friend was on her way.
We left her flowers out in her final space. We moved the others to our front door, along with the balloons, as a beacon to those that come - here we mourn and here we celebrate the life of a great friend.
Before I finally, exhaustedly headed for bed last night, I crawled on the floor to inhale her scent on her bed - I just wanted to feel her again - and I blew out the special candle I had lit that evening - saved just for her. I pulled back the covers to find Lambchop, a representation of her favorate toy, in large scale, waiting there for me with Keelah's pink and purple bandanna on it. The one she had on just hours before. Joe had put it there for me, and hoped I would find solace in the smell and love Keelah had shown it in her last few days. I said "Goodnight Keelah" for the very last time. I cried so hard and wept for my girl as I gently fell asleep.
I hope desperately that she will come to me - on the trail, in the woods, in my dreams. I hope that I am intuitive enough to feel her nose on my leg when I need her most. I miss her so much it feels as though I am cracking wide open. I have to be strong though, we both do, as we have 2 more amazing pets that we get to love and find comfort in. They are mourning too, and we're trying our best to be there for them while we start the grieving process.
But today there is rain. And to me, it feels like the balm of her happy tears, wherever she is, saying "Mom, you did it all so well, you did it perfectly. It was the best last day."