Torrey (my eldest stepson and a superlative gentleman) and I took Buddy for his final visit to the vet. I couldn’t have done it without him. Torrey is one of those exceptional people who knows how to be there in just the right ways, at just the right times. This was one of those times. During the car ride I sniffled quietly, as Torrey made just enough small talk to take the edge off the moment. I was petting Buddy, who had moved up to stick his face between the driver and passenger seats. He wanted to have one last gaze through the Durango windshield at the world he had celebrated for nearly eleven years. I looked deeply into Buddy’s eyes one more time to make sure I was doing the right thing. Unfortunately, I was.
Torrey carried our 85-pound Yellow Lab into the waiting room, where we held vigil. I stroked the full length of Buddy’s blond coat, and talked to him as I always had, pretending he understood my many questions about philosophy and the meaning of life. Forever the Zen master, Buddy chose to remain silent in his knowing way, as I prattled on. I suppose I was hoping that the familiarity of my voice would heal him in some small way. And I suppose I was actually comforting myself, as much as I was comforting him. After the vet assistant administered a shot, and Buddy was drifting off to sleep, my last words to him were, “Thank you.”
Strange and remarkable how history reverses and repeats itself. Buddy, as much as anyone, was part of my illness and part of my recovery. I used to take Buddy on a 2-3 mile walk every day. Then, as IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) slowly hijacked my lungs, our walks became shorter and shorter, until eventually they stopped altogether. It became difficult for me to even sit without oxygen pumping through my nostrils. I apologized to Buddy daily for my inactivity.
After my double lung transplant, my body was wracked with exhaustion. My muscles had withered, and my spirit struggled to keep up with my doctor’s orders to exercise. “Get up off the mat,” I would chant to myself. It was the only way I was going to fully return to my life. But it was Buddy who got me up and moving once more. He saw me walking again and I could see the hope in his eyes. He would look at me as if to say, “Well? How would you like to take those new lungs for a spin?”
My comeback was slow and steady, with a leashed Buddy marching me down our old path. We established a new routine to celebrate our return. We would walk a little over a mile until we reached the corner, where I would touch the street sign before turning around to head home. Ritual to the rescue. It kept us moving. We were back walking our old route. And I was beginning to feel human once again.
A few months after we had resumed our daily trek, Buddy started to tell me that he just couldn’t walk as far as he used to. I saw it coming. Something in his gait, his attitude, the way he panted. I had learned his language, and I listened to him tell me he needed to turn around and go home, a little closer to home each day. During the last few weeks of his life he had a hard time walking a few blocks. By the final week, it was difficult for him to wander around our back yard. Then he simply stopped walking, stopped eating, and waited. I had been there. I understood.
But before Buddy stopped walking, he got me walking again. Thanks to his persistence, we had once more begun celebrating each morning as we always had, two small creatures moving through a vast desert landscape that stretched to mountains many miles away in all directions. My lungs were filled once again with the deep breaths of a brisk walk. My muscles were coming back to life. And I was beginning to step through the world much as I used to do.
So, thank you, Buddy, for my speedy recovery, and for helping me get back on my feet. You were a wonderful, uncomplicated celebration of life. You were a Buddy in the truest sense- warm, caring and always there. I hope you enjoyed your days at Terri and Jason’s Kennel and B&B. We sure loved having you. Say hi to Lassie for me, and be sure to leave your comments on Yelp. We will miss you something awful.