I wonder if it will be raining… should I pack a dress? Does this outfit go together? is black too cliche? As I attempted to piece together outfits to shove into my duffle bag I asked myself what I wanted to be wearing when I said goodbye to my best friend.
It was 2:30 on Thursday when my dad called me, from somewhere along the northbound I-5. He was speaking slowly, calmly, trying not to let the sound of sadness escape with his words. “Sierra is sick. I think this is the end.” I choked on my words as I tried to find an appropriate response. Scrambling to find an appropriate response I finally said “I’ll be home tonight” before calling Chris to give him the news.
After quickly disinfecting my work desk and shutting down my computer I jumped in my Subaru and drove to the boatyard where Avocet has been residing on stilts as we prepare to paint her bottom and topsides. Chris had been working hard all day on the boat, and it showed. Dust from the blue bottom paint freckled his cheeks making him look like a large smurf or a rejected member of the blue man group. Regardless of the boat residue that coated him, I buried my head into his chest and opened the floodgate of tears. He held me while I sobbed, then led me up the ladder to inside the boat so I could pack for our trip north.
If you have made it this far you have probably realized that this entry has virtually nothing to do with Avocet itself but instead, it’s crew. Writing has always been a cathartic way for me to work through my thoughts and emotions while also documenting pivotal points in my life. Maybe someday my great-grandchildren (if I should be so fortunate) will read my work and realize that not only was great-grandma pretty freakin’ cool, but she was a human with thoughts and emotions, maybe even similar to their own. I’ll put the hypothetical grand kiddos away now as we get back to the purpose of this blog entry: saying goodbye to my best friend.
The 4-hour drive north to Santa Cruz was quiet despite Chris’s attempts to comfort me. We pulled into the driveway of my childhood home and knocked on the door where I braced myself for an onslaught of emotions. Before my dad could finish opening the door, two golden noses pocked through the crack with wiggling butts behind them. My dad had to pull our 4-year-old Golden Retriever named Stormy to the side so Sierra could greet us. Barely able to stand, Sierra, wiggled her frail body towards us then collapsed at our feet doing her best to roll over so we could pet her belly. “That is the most we have seen her move in a few days,” my dad said, again trying to hold back his tears.
Now I know that everyone says that they have “the best dog in the world” and to be honest, they are all right. Every dog is special, but if you ever had the pleasure of meeting our sweet Sierra Sue you would know just how special she truly is. At nearly 11 years old, my sweet girl watched me grow up. She was there waiting for me after the worst days of elementary school, she was a constant during my confusing high school years, and she was even there when I settled into my college dorm in Lake Tahoe. After all the stages of schooling, Sierra took her place as the “Dog of Honor” at me and Chris’s wedding in 2018.
While writing this (trying to decide what my next paragraph should be) I am stuck on memory lane. I remember when we picked Sierra up from Red Tail Goldens where we met her littermates and mama before taking her home to her new life at the beach. She grew up to love the beach and her tennis balls (especially when paired together) and could last body surfing the waves longer than the average human surfer. At the end of the day when we were tired of throwing the ball, she would always give us the look of just one more? before playing one of her other favorite games catch me if you can, I’m not leaving this beach.
When the last day came we were together again as a family to give our Sierra one last super fun day before helping her over the rainbow bridge. As happy as she was to see Chris and me, she was 5 times as happy to see the beach. Despite being thin and frail from malnutrition (she stopped eating and drinking due to her aggressive cancer) she rallied and pranced down the beach – her beach – all the way to the water where she waited for us to throw the ball. Although disappointed in our weak “throws” she chased after her beloved tennis ball and brought it back. She stopped, flopped, and tried to burry her ball when I decided to sit beside her and watch the waves. All down the beach there were dogs and their doting owners running and walking just as we had for 11 years with our sweet Sierra. Chris, being the incredible husband he is, snapped a few photos of our family as we huddled around her and poured all of our love out to her, there on the cold sand.
As much as it broke our hearts to say “let’s go home” we knew it was time. Sierra reluctantly trotted by us, ball in mouth, and my parents helped her back into the truck. The next 4 hours (her final 4 hours) she laid next to the couch where I stayed by her petting her and telling her how much she meant to me. We all took turns adoring our sweet golden girl and she used all her energy to reciprocate the love with nudges and occasional paw-5’s. At 5:00 p.m. the vet (Mark) texted my dad to let us know he was on his way. Emotions once again flooded over us and my brother was the first to say his goodbyes. I couldn’t keep myself from crying as he held her precious head in his hands and said a prayer that “God watches over [his] buddy” … I was a mess and so was everyone else. Stormy came and sniffed “goodbye” to her big sister then joined my brother for a drive while the rest of us waited for Mark to arrive which would lead to the peak of my emotional distraught.
“It’s just something new guys,” Mark said as Sierra ate 8 treats out of his hand “I promise, it’s just because it’s something new” he continued to ensure us as we exchanged looks of confusion and shock with each other. Sierra hadn’t eaten in days, so watching her eat was like a spark of hope inside, but was soon smothered when Mark’s words proved true. Just as Chris went to give her a treat she took one sniff, and laid back down completely uninterested and seemingly defeated. Her spine and hip bones protruded like sharp peaks under her golden feathered coat. Although I had just met Mark I could tell he was a very caring vet. He was gentle about the whole process, being very transparent and sympathetic during our time of grief. Chris and I helped Mark apply the sedative before I looked Sierra in the eyes and told her I loved her as she melted onto the floor. We spent the next 5 minutes petting, hugging, and telling Sierra what she meant to us.
In all my life I have only seen my dad cry twice; once when my great grandmother passed away and second when Sierra passed. After the euthanasia was given I held Sierra’s paw even after Mark had softly said: “she’s passed on, guys”. We assisted Mark in moving Sierra’s delicate body to the cloth gurney before Chris and Mark carried her down the stairs. My mom and I stood in our living room, holding each other and trying to process what had just happened. Soon, Stormy ran full speed up the stairs knocking over everything in sight, just as usual. My brother followed shortly behind her. Sadness hung over our family as we were together again, but missing a very important piece.
A knock at the door broke the silence of mourning and our dear friend Henry and his fiance Ella walked inside. Of course, they came with edible gifts (the best kind) and plenty of love to comfort our family in a time of need. Henry and Ella’s presence lightened the mood as we began to laugh and talk about their upcoming wedding. As the hours went by the pain still sat uncomfortably in my stomach; a sadness so deep it replaced the feeling of butterflies that once flew.
That night as I laid in bed, Chris held me tight and combed my hair with his fingers helping empty my mind so I could sleep. Eventually, I did drift into a light sleep, only to be awoken by the dim morning light. It seemed so fitting that it was raining, it matched my mood to a T. After Chris and I packed up our car we as a family drove to Nisene Marks State Park (located 5 minutes from my house) to get some fresh air and find some sort of comfort in the coastal redwood trees. Stormy tugged on her fair lead leash, again trying to desperately prove she was alpha, except she had no competition. When the rain became uncomfortable, we turned back and said our goodbyes. Once again parting ways my family drove home and so did we.
It was a long drive back to Avocet, quieter than the last. Chris managed to get my input regarding our upcoming projects which were a pleasant distraction from the pain. We arrived home at 3:00 p.m. and didn’t hesitate to grab sanders as we got to work where we left off. Our friends The Howell’s stopped by a few hours later with their handsome service pup in training named Dempsey who just so happens to go give wonderful dog hugs. They shared their condolences as I tried to keep my brain and hands busy. Impressed by our work they wished us the best of luck and continued on their walk.
The dark encompassed me, provoking emotions of sorrow. I sat at the edge of our bed biting my lip in an attempt to keep my tears from overpowering me but eventually gave in as waterfalls of tears streamed down my face. Chris, who is no stranger to loss himself, was quick to scoop me up and comfort me. This became a pattern for the following week. Eventually, the tears stopped one night, and I don’t even remember when. What I do know is that I received an outpour of love and support from friends and family which did bring a warm blanket of comfort. One message from a total stranger on (Reddit of all places) stood above the rest:
“Dogs never die. They don’t know how to. They get tired, and very old, and their bones hurt. Of course they don’t die. If they did they would not want to always go for a walk, even long after their old bones say: ‘No, no, not a good idea. Let’s not go for a walk.’ Nope, dogs always want to go for a walk. They might get one step before their aging tendons collapse them into a heap on the floor, but that’s what dogs are. They walk.
However, dogs get very very sleepy. That’s the thing, you see. They don’t teach you that at the fancy university where they explain about quarks, gluons, and Keynesian economics. They know so much they forget that dogs never die. It’s a shame, really. Dogs have so much to offer, and people just talk a lot.
When you think your dog has died, it has just fallen asleep in your heart. And by the way, it is wagging its tail madly, you see, and that’s why your chest hurts so much and you cry all the time. Who would not cry with a happy dog wagging its tail in their chest. Ouch! Wap wap wap wap wap, that hurts. But they only wag when they wake up. That’s when they say: ‘Thanks Boss! Thanks for a warm place to sleep and always next to your heart, the best place.’
When they first fall asleep, they wake up all the time, and that’s why, of course, you cry all the time. Wap, wap, wap. After a while they sleep more. (remember, a dog while is not a human while. You take your dog for walk, it’s a day full of adventure in an hour. Then you come home and it’s a week, well one of your days, but a week, really, before the dog gets another walk. No WONDER they love walks.)
Anyway, like I was saying, they fall asleep in your heart, and when they wake up, they wag their tail. After a few dog years, they sleep for longer naps, and you would too. They were a GOOD DOG all their life, and you both know it. It gets tiring being a good dog all the time, particularly when you get old and your bones hurt and you fall on your face and don’t want to go outside to pee when it is raining but do anyway, because you are a good dog. So understand, after they have been sleeping in your heart, they will sleep longer and longer
But don’t get fooled. They are not ‘dead.’ There’s no such thing, really. They are sleeping in your heart, and they will wake up, usually when you’re not expecting it. It’s just who they are.
Do you need a tissue? Because as comforting as that read was, it made me ball like a baby and I am not afraid to admit it. As hard it is to love something that death can touch, I will continue to love every day knowing that my sweet Sierra is asleep in my heart.
Thank you for reading my cathartic word vomit, it was difficult to write this and took me the better half of two and a half weeks to work through finding the right words to stick to the page. Chris and I have been working on Avocet while dealing with the curse of rain and of course the novel that is COVID-19. On a positive note: we have new videos coming your way soon! Here is a teaser of what’s to come: https://youtu.be/uG5DJoZ4sjAIMG_1637.jpg