This morning, I saw an old friend who I haven’t seen in a while. I was telling him a funny story about my “new” dog Moon Pie when he asked how Winston was doing. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone hadn’t heard about us having to put Winston down in October, and it caught me off guard.
Winston’s loss was so sudden and so hard – and there was also so much going on with Dad – that I never really blogged about it. This morning, I was able to recall a beautiful story involving Winston’s loss, and as I thought about it again tonight, I decided to share it here.
About twelve years ago, I adopted Winston, my black Lab/Alaskan Malamute. We walked in to PetsMart just to get food for Cebu, but when I saw sweet Winnie, it was love at first sight. He was a small tri-colored pup with humungous paws, and he stole my heart right away. He was such a love, and we went through so much together; he meant the world to me.
Fast forward to that fateful October day when I returned home and for one of the first times ever, Winston didn’t meet me at the back gate. I knew something was wrong, and when I went downstairs, I found him on his bed, unable to move his back legs.
Once we finally got him to Four Paws, thanks to two wonderful vets and their vet techs, they told me that he had a spine injury, probably the result of an undetected degenerative problem. Dr. Wales suggested we try to treat it with meds, but let me know that it could be serious. A day passed and we saw no improvements. Dr. Wales said that surgery was an option, but that given his size and his age, she wouldn’t recommend it. I went home with a heavy heart and a hard decision.
That night, I called Mom, and she tried to console me over the phone. At some point, she said that Dad wanted to talk to me. Dad was in the final stages of Lewy body dementia, and while he was in bad shape, we had no way of knowing we would lose him just a few months later. She put him on the phone, and for about five minutes, confusion exited his body. As clear as I’d heard him speak in months, maybe longer, he explained that having a pet like Winston was a privilege, and that it was part of our duty to know when to make that hard decision to say goodbye. He said that Winston was counting on me to make the right decision, and that was part of the special bond we have with our pets. It was so sweet and tender, so thoughtful — everything you want your father to say to you at such a difficult time. And Dad was able to say it despite his condition. When Mom took the phone back, we both marveled at the conversation we’d both heard.
The next day was the sad goodbye, and when Mom pulled up at Four Paws that evening, I was surprised to see Dad get out of the car. I was a little snippy when I saw him — I knew it was going to take a while and I wasn’t sure Dad would be able to wait. But Dad said that he loved Winston, too, and that he wanted to say goodbye. He was such a trouper and stayed with us the entire time. He was tired, and got a little confused, but was there to comfort us during such a rough time. And afterwards, he even suggested that we get something to eat so we could be all be together.
In that sadness of losing Winston, we received an incredible gift from Dad. I’m not overly religious, but I can only credit God; there’s just no other explanation for those moments of clarity so deep into Dad’s dementia. In that horrible sadness, God gave us such a wonderful gift, a gift that meant so much.
Weeks later, Mom had us over for dinner, along with some friends. I pulled up a picture on the phone to show someone, and was startled to see one of Winston. Tears welled up in my eyes, but everyone was so busy talking that no one noticed. No one but Dad. He looked over, so innocently and childlike, and he asked what was wrong. I told him that I saw a picture of Winston and that I was sad, and I apologized for creating a scene. He so gently and kindly told me that “it was okay to cry.” I think that was the last night that Dad sat at the dinner table. Within about a month, he was gone.
Without getting too sappy or too philosophical, I think that whole thing was bigger than just Winston. Looking back, it seems that those words of wisdom were perhaps meant to prepare for Dad’s loss just a couple of months later, to give us perspective and comfort. Whatever they were, I continue to be thankful for Dad’s presence, state of mind and loving care during such a difficult time.