Monday, October 7, 2019

To Jax

It was two days before we flew back from Germany that we got the email.

"Please call when you can, son. It's about Jax."

Due to the time difference there was no answer when we called. We spent the day thinking the worst, but felt relieved when we finally were able to get in touch later that evening. Jax was having trouble walking, but, honestly that is something we've seen before and it's usually just that he sleeps directly on the tile rather than on his bed. He has arthritis in one of his hips but, even still, when it's too hot he prefers the cool tile to a soft bed. 

I told my mom to convince him to sleep on the bed and to turn down the AC a bit, and I bet he'd be walking fine in a day or two.

But then we got another email the day before we were getting on a plane. Jax wasn't eating now.

I left a voicemail for our vet, but that was all we could do. The time difference made taking any steps much slower than it should, and being trapped on airplanes for 18 hours wasn't going to speed anything up.

When we finally were able to speak to our vet on Thursday, she recommended my mom take him in for evaluation that day. With a fourteen year old dog, any sign of not eating is a red flag.

Late that night, the emergency clinic vet gave us the bad news. Jax had cancer, with a tumor the size of a youth football that was pressing against his stomach, so that's why he couldn't eat, and his spine, that's why he couldn't walk. The doctor wasn't ambiguous on the next step: at fourteen, Jax was far too old to recommend surgery. The best thing to do now would be to limit his suffering.

We talked most of the night on what to do. Should all of us drive up there? Should we bring him back here to Arizona and get a second opinion from our vet? Since we were all jetlagged and our car is small, should I go by myself and get him home? What if he didn't make it back and Mrs. Done by Forty never got to say goodbye?

In the end, we decided I would drive up and bring him back home, invite Mrs. Done by Forty's sister who is like a parent to Jax, and we'd see if he could make it to the next morning, when we had an appointment with our vet. Maybe surgery would be an option. If there was even a chance, wouldn't that be worth it?

So after already being away from work for nearly four weeks, I told my boss I'd be missing one more day, got in the car for the six hour ride to Southern CA, hugged my mom and stepdad, and loaded Jax and Pepper into the back of our Matrix.

The six hour drive back was pretty rough, as Jax started wheezing with every breath, and occasionally letting out a yelp. I could tell he was suffering and struggling just to breathe, but I didn't know what to do. Should I pull over and try to help? What could I even do to help once I pulled over?

We made it home Friday night and Jax at least could notice Mrs. Done by Forty and her sister; we could tell he was excited to see them. But we knew he was suffering, too. His breathing got worse. He couldn't stand up to get outside to use the bathroom.

After a lot of crying, we decided to take him to an emergency clinic late that night and say goodbye.

Jax was Mrs. Done by Forty's first dog. She got him in her sophomore year of undergrad, and moved out of the dorms mid year just to get him. I came along a year and a half later and he's been living with us ever since.

Jax was there on our very first date, when we went to dog beach in OB and then went back to Mrs. Done by Forty's house to watch This is Spinal Tap, with Jax right there on the couch as chaperone. He came with us on our first camping trip; he was there when we moved in together, and when bought our first home. Jax drove up with us to Bodega Bay when we got married.

He slept in our queen bed for years, until he got too old to jump up and down every night. When working at home, he'd force his way underneath my desk to lay on my feet, just to be close to me.

When he got too old to go on walks, he'd still find the energy to fetch a ball with us in the backyard, at least for a few throws. When the vet said we should take it easy on that because of his hips, he switched to swimming in our pool with a little vest to help him float.

Jax made it fourteen years, which should make us feel good. We tell ourselves we gave him a good life. That we were playing with house money at this point: Jax was never supposed to make it this long.

Even as I tell myself these things, the bad feelings don't go away. I'm feeling a lot of guilt that we were off seeing sights in Europe when Jax needed us those last few days. Our vet called and said there was nothing she could have done, even if we had made it to her for the appointment. She says that she would have done the same thing if it were her pet: that she wouldn't have made her pet suffer another day just to get a second opinion.

But maybe that's what you're supposed to say after the pet is gone. Maybe we did everything wrong and she's just being nice to us. Maybe if I were home, like I was supposed to be, then we would have noticed some sign, that we could have caught things earlier.

As always, I am beating myself up. My therapist says I have issues with control: that I think I can and should control every outcome, so that anytime something bad happens, it is my fault. That this is an unrealistic worldview, one wrapped up in perfectionism and that inevitably puts stress and pressure on me unnecessarily.

Still, I keep feeling like I did mess up. That I shouldn't have left my buddy for almost a month when he was so old. That I should have gotten on an earlier flight: maybe that extra day would have made a difference. I keep feeling deep down that it's my fault and find myself crying, then listening to a more rational self that this is just something that happens, that there was nothing we could do, but then going back to feeling guilty again, that I fucked up. I think the cycle will continue a while.

When we were dealing with the same feelings with Pepper, my therapist told me to write out a letter.


I am so sorry we weren't there for you, buddy. We didn't know you were sick and if we did, we would have done everything differently. We would have stayed. I hope you weren't scared and I hope you weren't in too much pain, buddy. I'm so sorry this happened to you -- that we couldn't stop this from happening.

I hope you know how much we love you, Jax. You are always so sweet and gentle, even when that dang baby that showed up was clinging to you and being too rough. 

We can't tell you how much happiness and comfort you've given us.

Thank you for always getting up and moving into the same room as us, even after your hips got bad and it got hard to get up and down. 

Thank you for laying on my feet under my desk. Whenever I was having a hard day at work, you made me realize it was just work and it was nothing a little time in the back yard couldn't fix.

Most of all, thank you for always being there for Allisen. Thank you for letting her know you were hers: that she was your person. She's going to miss you more than any of us. 

I want you to try to find Pepper up there, buddy. She's going to be so happy that you're able to hang out again. Mom and I are going to miss you for a while, bud, but we'll see you again soon. You're going to find a nice family who will let you sleep on the bed and will give you carrots whenever you want, okay? And before you know it, we'll be right there again, bud.

We love you, our sweet Jax. See you soon.

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  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Jax was lucky beyond measure to have you as his People, and you were so lucky to have him.


    1. Thanks so much for that comment, Penny, and sorry for the long delay in replying. I have been kind of lost this past week and am just getting back into a routine now.

      You're right: we were very lucky to have each other.

  2. I adopted a rescue terrier mix in 2005, Curry, and she was the best dog I've ever had the pleasure of taking care of. She was with me through some very dark days during the recession when I thought I might lose my business. When my son was in the hospital for months, and my wife slept at the hospital with him, I would come home and cry with my dog. When Curry passed last year, it hurt so bad, and I still find myself thinking about her all the time. I decided the best thing I could do was give it some time, and go to the shelter and rescue another terrier mix, so I did. My new pup, Miss Pickles, fills our house with joy, and I think I honor Curry's memory by helping another dog that just wants to be loved and have a place to call home.

    1. I'm sorry to hear that Curry passed, Erik. She sounds like a wonderful dog and, yeah, they really do help us through the tough times, don't they?

      I'm glad that Miss Pickles is filling your house with joy again and that you've found a way to honor Curry's memory. All the best and thanks so much for commenting.

  3. Oh, this is such a good tribute to such a good pup. Beating yourself up after is absolutely natural, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less to know that. Lots of love and light to you all while you adjust to him residing in your hearts these days.

    1. Thanks for writing, Angela. You're one of the few people from the blog who got to meet Jax, and I'm glad you were able to.

      I'm starting to be a little kinder to myself and get a better perspective. One day at a time.

  4. Oh I'm so sorry he's gone, DbF. So very sorry.

    I hope that in the coming days, you will find forgiveness for yourself. We lost our Doggle when we were on a trip too. I was devastated and guilt-ridden for years so I empathize ever so strongly with your guilt. Even though it was an acute situation and he had no health problems when we left, I blamed myself for not being there for him because maybe I would have caught it or saved him, and it took years to let go of that guilt. So I'll share from one hurt heart to another: You didn't do anything wrong here. At his age and how quickly he went downhill, you couldn't have saved him from the cancer even if you had discovered it earlier. He was in pain and uncomfortable - making him wait in hopes of saving him for a few more painful days would have been one of those things that we humans do that's more for us than for them. Being held onto when you're struggling to breath has to be so scary and uncomfortable. You gave him the gift of peacefully going on surrounded by people who loved him and he loved while he could still recognize them.

    I've gone through this several times and it never gets easier to do, no matter how much you're "preparing" for the loss, and I hope you will find it possible to extend yourself some grace as time goes by. You did your best by him, for as long as he was with you, and he was loved. One can't ask for more than that.

    1. Thanks so much for that comment and for sharing your story about Doggle. There's definitely a lot of guilt still from being away when he needed us, though I tell myself at least he was with family who was there 24/7 and, like you and the vets have told me, there was nothing to be done. He was fine up until the last days of our trip. I couldn't have caught it.

      I agree this doesn't seem to get easier each time, but I suppose that is just the rub with having a pet. They go before we do.

  5. Oh man, I was ugly crying when I read this. As you may or may not know, I just lost my cat Pepe. There was a lot of guilt involved in my decision because he was not really, really bad like a lot of pets are at the end of life, but was having a lot of accidents, not eating as much, and just generally wasn't doing all the things he used to enjoy doing. Saying good-bye to him was literally the worst day of my life, so I really feel your pain. Our pets are our kids...our family. They mean more to us than most people who don't have pets realize. It's truly a heartbreaking loss. I'm so sorry!

  6. Thank you for that comment, friend, and I'm so sorry to hear about Pepe. You're right: our pets are our family, the ones who need us the most. It's really rough when we have to say goodbye.

    We both had to say goodbye to our old pets around the same time. Maybe they'll hang out a bit up there.

    Sending love your way, Tonya.

  7. I'm so sorry to hear this. It's absolutely not your fault.

    My dad lost his job in 2011 and my parents didn't take our dog to her routine vet visit during that time. In 2012 we found out our 10 year old, 67 pound golden had a 7 pound tumor. We said goodbye to her that night and brought her into the vet the next morning (the vet attempted surgery but we knew there was less than a 1% chance of success, especially since the tumor was intertwined with major arteries). I felt guilty for not noticing she had a huge growth in her stomach, even though I was away at college at the time (luckily at home on break when we found out so I could say goodbye too). I'm sure my parents and younger siblings felt/still feel somewhat guilty for not noticing/not taking her in for her routine visit. But it wasn't their fault either.

    Fourteen years is amazing for a golden retriever--only one of the three goldens we've said goodbye to in my lifetime lived that long. But that doesn't make this any easier to go through. I'm glad you got to say goodbye.