It’s official. I’m not doing well. I’ve been holding it together for a few days. Praying hard. Trusting in the amazing medical team that’s surrounding Truman. Monday night I even went out with friends and saw a show and laughed.
On my way home I thought I’d call the hospital. I just needed to hear someone tell me that he was doing okay. That is not what I heard. The vet tech who got on the phone told me that there’d been no improvement. That he was looking at Truman’s records from the day and Truman was the same as he had been that morning, which wasn’t good. That Truman had been panting heavily all night. That he wasn’t eating.
The man on the phone showed no compassion. He showed no warmth or concern for how this news might be hitting me. I had no words. I tried asking questions but he didn’t really seem to want to answer.
So I thanked him for his time and hung up. And promptly disintegrated into tears. I looked at my phone, realizing the hour and not wanting to wake anyone up. Feeling utterly alone and like I had no one to call. I’m surrounded by friends and caring people, and felt entirely alone. I’m surprised I was able to make it home.
Pulling into my driveway, I sat in my car sobbing for about 20 minutes. And then into the house, where I crumpled to the floor of the kitchen. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like I was being eviscerated with a really big, knife. The kind with a jagged blade.
When I wrote the words above, late on Monday night, Truman was not dead. But he didn’t seem to be getting well. And I was scared. Scared he’d never come home. Scared I’d never see him standing with that look of sheer joy on his face when I walk through the door. Scared that I failed him. Mostly I was scared that Truman was leaving me and that the joy he showed when I arrived to visit on Monday, and the way in which he leaned into me and looked at me was his saying goodbye.
I was right.
Tuesday at 5:59am my phone rang. It was the hospital. Though he’d rested through the night he suddenly was having a hard time breathing. They intubated. They began CPR. They were working on him when she called me and she said the words I knew were coming, “We are going to try, but his heart has stopped beating and I do not think we will get him back.”
Numb. White noise. The gut-wrenching eviscerating pain shearing my heart in half.
Not sure how I got there. In fact, when I first started driving it was a few minutes before I realized I’d gone in the wrong direction. Reached the hospital by about 6:35am and they put me immediately into a room where, a few minutes later, a vet tech wheeled in a gurney carrying my dear, beloved Truman. They’d brushed his hair out and arranged him. He looked so peaceful. He looked so sweet.
I don’t remember the next two hours much. Weeping. Holding him. Feeling his body, still warm, and wanting him to open his eyes, just one more time for me to see that wisdom, the calm serenity that guided me for 12 years. One thing I do remember is reading to him. On Monday’s visit I had brought my favorite volume of Mary Oliver poetry and read him several poems. His breathing had been jagged and as I read to him, he laid into my lap, sighed and his breathing smoothed, he slept. Weeping over his body on Tuesday morning I didn’t have the book with me, but I knew precisely which poem I wanted to read. I have it saved on my phone. So I read to him, words jamming in my throat, sticky and thick and mixed with sobs.
From the moment we met in the cargo arrival terminal at San Francisco International Airport in October 2006, I knew him. He knew me. It was a locked gaze that said, “Oh, hey. Nice to see you again. Where you been?”
The next several years would bring personal challenges like none I’d ever experienced. My life would appear on the outside to be just fine. In fact by most people’s estimations, my life probably looked really fucking awesome.
It wasn’t. On the inside I was dying. The kind of slow, decaying death that is sinister in its invisibility. On more than one occasion I teetered on the edge of a dark abyss, looking over and thinking in all seriousness about what it would be like just to fall … or jump.
Truman’s presence held me back … gave me strength. It is not overstating to say that it is almost entirely due to him that I am alive today. When things became bleak in my more current life and the edge of that abyss beckoned again, there he was. Steady. Constant. A true-man, though in this life he took the form of a dog. In these last years his strength grew three-fold more with the additions of Bridger, Harlow and Inigo Montoya. They are as broken right now as I am. Especially Inigo, Truman’s little shadow. Wherever Truman went, there went Inigo. They slept on the same bed. If Truman moved to the hallway, so did Inigo. If Truman went for a drink of water, so did his little brother.
There have been so many important lessons in these last several days — practical and tactical things like pet insurance, emergency/critical veterinary care, end of life decisions; and deeper, more profound learning about inner strength, grief, and mourning. For now, though, I must turn inward. My remaining pups need me and they need the entirety of my attention. They grieve too and we will share this together and get through it.
In the mean time, here is the poem that I read to Truman as the last thing for his spirit to hear from me:
When Death Comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
— Mary Oliver
You didn’t just visit the world, Truman. You made it a better place. There is a palpable hole in the universe that will never be filled. You were my touchstone. You were my guide and guardian. I shall endeavor to be the woman who I know you saw me to be.