Recently I lost my amazingly compassionate dog, Loki. Words cannot even begin to explain our history and how meaningful it was. Yes, even with a dog you can have a meaningful relationship. Though his life was short it was no less meaningful. He was family in the truest sense.
A brief history on how we found each other, he was a rescue from a shelter in Fresno. I would be spending the summer up in the High Sierra so what a better time to have a companion! I wasn’t really expecting to find a dog I’d fall in love with at the very first shelter I went to. I wanted to find the right one that I really connected with. But lo and behold I see him curled up in a ball in the very back corner. He made himself so small that I barely even noticed him back there and almost walked right on by. But something made me do a double take and I asked if they could bring him out.
He was a bit shy at first and you could tell depression had set in from being at the shelter a few weeks. But once he started feeling comfortable he was all play all day. I didn’t realize just how much energy he would have though, as it didn’t become known until he was fully in his comfort zone, when I finally brought him home. But I must have known on some level because the first name that came to me was Loki, the name of the Norse God of Mischief. And boy, was that a fitting name for him.
Up in the Sierras, I don’t think Loki had ever been outside of Fresno. He was in awe of his surroundings, chasing butterflies and bugs, or rather, he was chasing the shadows most of the time. It was a pretty funny site to see the butterfly above his head while he looked at the dirt chasing after it’s shadow. I loved seeing him happy and curious of everything. I loved observing him and his awe of the world. It reminded me of my own view of the world and to constantly see the beauty in everything, no matter how seemly insignificant. We’d go deep into the back country and he would run around probably doing triple the amount of miles I was and his tail was wagging the whole time. At night we’d lay next to each other and no matter how hard I tried to avoid it (okay, a couple times I didn’t try that hard) he would always end up in my sleeping bag by morning, curled up next to me. After we left the Sierras we had an amazing year traveling mostly around the West Coast and Southwest. We had traveled as far north as Oregon, hanging out in Bend for a van gathering, then all the way down near the Mexico border in a place called Slab City where he got to roam around and play with other dogs and learned how to be a good guard dog. When the Slabs got too hot we went all the way up to Idaho, spending time in the Sawtooth National forest, then traveled down to New Mexico to visit family. He loved being in the van and would be in the passenger seat most of the time, looking out the window at all the scenery from place to place. Finally, we ended up in San Francisco, CA and there he had a whole new type of terrain to get used to with it’s many vehicles and people. But the weekends and most evenings I took him to the beach where we could both pretend we were out of the city for awhile, exploring like usual.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Lymphoma about two weeks before he passed. And let me tell you, I have never had to deal with a cancer that was so aggressive. In a matter of a couple weeks, yes a couple WEEKS!, he had went from a playful energetic dog, to a dog that could hardly get a full breath and barely able to walk. It had all started with a small wheezing, seeming to be a minor respiratory infection. I didn’t expect much from the vet visit but thought I’d get him checked out. Make sure he wasn’t choking. That one visit opened my eyes to something that I had no idea had been festering. Through X-ray and Ultrasound they found that Loki, had a tumor the size of a fist growing inside his lungs. This tumor was pushing against his heart, pushing it back a few centimeters. His lymph nodes were swollen in his chest and abdomen and fluid filled his lungs. That of which I had tapped to help his breathing, pulling out around 2 1/2 cups of fluid. The fluid tap helped a ton and partnered with a steroid injection and continued steroid pills I gave him twice a day he almost seemed himself again. But that boost in health was temporary and there was no option to save him from the cancer. Only ways of delaying the inevitable and with not much guarantee that he would feel good throughout that time. Luckily, Thanksgiving was getting close and the urge to go south kept calling me. So we had one last van adventure together down to Parker, AZ where there was a gathering of travelers.
He had a great few days there. Running around exploring, sniffing everything. For a moment I, and I think even he, forgot he was dying. His tail wagging, chasing butterfly shadows on our morning walks in the desert. But as the days passed he ventured less and less, staying closer to me, not even running around. Just a growing struggle to breathe. The night before Thanksgiving, was rough. He couldn’t get comfortable and his breath was fast paced, heart racing all night. In the early morning, we went outside. Getting out of the van was a struggle and he immediately laid down, desperate for a full breath. We sat there together, his head on my lap, watching the sunrise. For that moment together his breathing was still rough, but seemed to ease up a bit. Slightly smoother.
Our morning walk he stayed close to me and had to stop a few times to lay down and catch his ever elusive breath. By mid day, as we were getting ready to do our Thanksgiving lunch with friends, I had to help him up to walk to the table. He could barely take a few steps at a time before having to lay down again and again and again. In my heart, I knew I couldn’t let this go on any longer.
At the pet hospital it was quiet. But his breathing was frantic. I was able to be with him and comfort him and cuddle him. When they came in to inject him, I was there holding him close to me, his head nestled into my cupped hands. As they began, I kept his attention on me. We looked into each others’ eyes. I could see the distress in his gaze. And I hoped, through my tears that he could see the love in mine. “I love you Loki butt. I love you so much.” Slowly, his breathing got more and more relaxed, like he was finally able to breath. “I love you so so much.” The distress fading from his gaze. “Such a good boy. So strong.” His breath stopped. His eyes were still staring into mine, but now there was no distress, no pain. “I love you…” He seemed so at peace now. So calm. Everyone left the room and I laid with him for awhile, just the two of us. Like when we were in the van and it was early morning and he would hop up on my bed and cuddle me. I longed for him to play with my hair like he did in the mornings and stretch his legs out as if to push me off my own bed. Then proceed to paw at me in an effort to get me up. “I love you, Loki.”
Loki’s passing was a huge reminder to me about the nature of life. It’s easy to fall into routine and feel secure in our day to day actions. We become accustomed to what is familiar to us and we gain that attitude of “that will never happen to me.” But then something happens that shakes our world and we’re bluntly faced with that fact that as much as we’d like to be, we’re really not in control. You can plan and plan and plan some more but at the end of the day, something will happen that you never expected. That you never planned for. And as someone who has a tendency to worry about, well, pretty much everything, it’s important to keep in mind this idea of impermanence. The faster we can accept this fact of life the easier it will be to move with the flow of life. Smoothly moving with ebbs and winding flow of the river instead of abruptly crashing against rocks all the way down. Yes, this is an end of a monumental and life changing era. My time with Loki meant so much to me and that relationship has helped me grow in so many ways. But it is also a new beginning of possibilities! And it’s important to remember that other side of the spectrum.
This isn’t to say that we cannot grieve or be sad in these moments of big change, especially ones like this. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We need to feel those feelings to the fullest. Grieve, cry, be upset, heck, through a tantrum. Feel It ALL. But once you’ve gotten it all out there….. take a deep breath…. and keep… moving… forward…
My mother has told me throughout my life in moments where I’ve felt like my my world was falling in on itself, “Well what are you gonna do? Just lay down and die?” And my internal reply had always been, “Well, I guess that’s not really, logistically speaking, a doable option so… what’s next?” Though, I’m sure my external response has always been more tears. But the words always stuck. What are you going to do? The world doesn’t stop just because your world feels like it’s imploding. You may not have control over what is happening to you, but you do have control over how you react and respond.
So when you’ve gotten out the feelings and emotions that you need to get out (and you’ll still have those moments from time to time), come back to a place of love. As hokey as that may sound, it’s true. For me, I still think about Loki a lot. I still feel the pain and I’ll even admit that I still cry sometimes about him being gone. I cried writing this post. But I don’t let that sadness envelop and overpower me. If anything I use it as power to keep moving forward. How he went from healthy and happy to sick and in pain was so quick. I was lucky to get that last trip in with him when I did. But we’re not always given that luxury of having one last trip, one last conversation with a loved one, one last meaningful experience. Sometimes it’s abrupt and messy and unfair. So knowing that, and really really understanding that. That’s power! Have those experiences. Now. Do those things you’ve been putting off. Now. Stop procrastinating (this one is a big one for me). NOW. Bring those ideas intro fruition. Because if you never get around to doing these things now, they will never exist. And no one else will do them quite like you will.