Saying “Goodbye”…

It has been over a month since my last post and my heart broke in two when I read it. Not arthritis but old age took my Roxy on June 26, 2014. As I type this, I am tortured by the picture pasted on the wall by my computer. It is from the advertisement on PetFinder that started it all. It is a side profile of my beautiful girl, looking at the camera, young and beautifully groomed, the picture of health. I remember how I was not too sure about her because of her age. I was reluctant to face the heartache that I was certain would come within a couple of years. Roxy was 6 years old when I adopted her and her son, Bear. Knowing that the life expectancy of a St. Bernard is 8-10 years, when I drove with a friend to New Milford, Connecticut to pick them up in February of 2006, I never expected that Roxy would be blessing my life for 8 and 1/2 years. I confess, in the beginning, I drew away from her, trying hard not to get too close and maybe that heartache would not be so deep. However, the heartache is bittersweet. I realize what a waste of time such an attitude was and I wish I could get those months, years–however long before that attitude faded away–back. I also realize that she wormed her way so deeply into my heart anyway that she could have lived another 8 and 1/2 years and I would still be mourning her just as deeply and regretting that we did not have more time together.
Of course, there is irony in this; there always is. Despite so many good years together, I do regret that I did not have Roxy or Bear from the start of their lives. Not that it would make any difference as to how much I love them but there were times, especially in the beginning, when my patience with their boisterousness reached a limit and I found myself raising my voice at them. When Roxy left me, a part of me wondered if she was happy to be going home to Jesus and her previous owner, who had to abandon Roxy and Bear due to a fatal illness. I could just imagine her beautiful tail wagging at the sight of her. I wondered if Roxy still loved her. I was jealous and heartbroken, thinking she might have loved her more than me (as though there was some competition for her affection), that maybe I was too harsh at times, or too busy to truly be a good human to my canine friends. Then I remembered the last night that Roxy was here. I had had a call in to the vet, who was supposed to stop by after hours to take a look at her and see if he could help her. Roxy had crippled up pretty bad the last couple of days of her life and I was unable to lift her. The best I could do was to keep clean newspaper under her and try to keep her clean and comfortable until he could arrive. That last evening, I came home from work and my girl sat up, cocked her head to one side in greeting, eyes all full of light and love and happiness that I was home, and then flopped back over. I spent that whole night with her on the floor, stroking her head, praying the doc would arrive and, in some strange way, grateful that he did not so I would not have to make “that” decision. I did not want Roxy to suffer but, having her die in my arms at dawn, with only Bear and the occasional resident feline to comfort her as she left us, is a bittersweet memory I am so grateful for. Knowing how happy she was to see me, knowing she may have been leaving sooner but hung in there until she could see me, and I her, one last time is a gift beyond measure. Tears are pouring down my cheeks as I type this; I do not know what I did to deserve such a gift but my heart knows how much she loved me. If she also loved another human who took exceptional care of her in her puppy and young adulthood, then I pray they are together again and that they will both be there on that Rainbow Bridge waiting to greet me again when it is my turn. Roxy had enough love in her heart for both of us and I know she will not forget me anymore than I will her.
Another irony in this is Bear. I have always thought of Bear as her “baby.” He was only 2 years old when I picked them up at New Milford Animal Shelter. He was bouncy and boisterous–they both were–and he has remained “Roxy’s baby” in my mind for these 8 and 1/2 years. Now that Roxy is gone, I look at Bear and I see grey hairs growing in around his eyes. He does not jump into the backseat of the car as easily as he once did. I realize he is going to be 11 years old his next birthday. How in the world did he get old? Will he survive as long as his Mama did? Or will he leave me sooner? I do not wish to dwell upon it either way. That bitter-sweetness of Roxy’s passing has made me realize that I have to enjoy every possible moment with Bear, while he is here, and not rob us of precious time worrying about what may or may not happen, and when or how.
Bear is mourning, too. And his mourning makes my own mourning more difficult at times. I wonder how much he understands–probably more than I do. For the first couple of weeks, Bear would not go outside unless I gave him the drill sergeant act: “Come on, Bear, outside!” He carefully avoided Roxy’s grave (it was the biggest hole I have ever dug!) and he refused to sleep on the dog bed that they shared, haunted by whatever scent still lingered there. Instead, yet another irony, he chose to sleep in the exact same spot where she died. At first, he looked for her everywhere and, even today, the life seems to have gone out of him a bit. Maybe that’s why he suddenly looks old to me; he’s not my happy-go-lucky Bear anymore without his Roxy. He’s still just as sweet as can be but, where he was always friendly and eager to greet new people, he now shies away from strangers. Rides in the car have become more comfortable recently but, at first, going out without Roxy made him anxious. He whimpered a lot, laid his head on the back of the seat, eyes pools of sadness. Other dogs held no interest–even the Great Dane next door to Tractor Supply where we shop for dog food and treats. Dog biscuits did not interest him either. We went through the drive-up window at the bank and the teller gave him a couple of Milk Bones; he turned his nose up at them. Same thing happened at Tractor Supply at checkout. Bear usually inhales everything.
The saddest encounter was only 3 weeks after Roxy’s passing. Bear and I were taking our morning walk up Route 6 when a woman pulled into the parking lot at the liquor store almost across the street from our house. She had a St. Bernard puppy in the car. I say “puppy” because she truly was a puppy but, at 5-6 months old, she had a considerable amount of growth to her…and she looked a bit too much like Roxy. Bear went running over, all excited, began sniffing her over, and then I watched the..tail…slow-ly….droop…..down-ward. She wasn’t his Roxy. The puppy continued to lick his face all over. He bore her friendly overtures patiently but the sigh he gave in his disappointment was too human in its depth. I explained to the woman about Roxy and she understood but, I confess, even my heart lifted for a split second…and then fell.
I see Roxy everywhere. I miss her daily barking at the menagerie of kitties that grace our home–even during her last evening here on earth, she made one last, valiant attempt to chase a passing cat who had wandered into the living room with us. I miss the tilt of her head that said so clearly: “Look at me…you know I’m cute!” I miss watching Bear and Roxy washing each other up, cuddling together on the dog bed. When we walk each morning, I see her skipping along beside us.
I made popcorn one night and shared a bowl with Bear. As I tossed a few kernels onto the floor for him, he reached out his paw and grabbed it the same way Roxy used to when her arthritis kept her from jumping up and down after the kernels like Bear. For a moment, she was sitting right there beside me watching, panting, secretly laughing at her boy’s antics, eyes shining with love and pride.
I love you, Roxy, always have, always will. Rest in peace…