The Golden Years: love, time, and loss

The idea of time is one that I always trip on and stumble into like someone erected an instant wall. All the nonlinear wibbly wobbliness of it sticks in my craw. There of course is the idea that we live in a perpetual now, because tomorrow never really happens and we always find ourselves exactly where and when we are. We can’t reminisce about the future. Hope and dream and plan maybe, but the pictures we conjure in our heads are as fleeting and faint as an alternate timeline that may or may not happen. But what about yesterday? Yesterday exists in a similarly fleeting and faint way but instead leaving the joys and wonder, the pain and scars that can only be branded upon you by experience.

13 years is an awfully short amount of time. I’ve come to feel that to be 90 is to be young, but that’s for another day. My years with Eli went by in a blink and left an odd emptiness that makes me sometimes wonder if they happened, much like all the memories of travels and places and people I have seen and left behind in all my yesterdays. Yet a year seems to fly by. Baffling.

I first saw Eli on an adoption website as I was considering getting a puppy to keep me company while pursuing one of those tomorrow dreams in music in Nashville, Tennessee. Ever so responsible, I opted to go with a slightly more grown puppy as I was living in an apartment, no yard, and working most of the time. Potty training was not something I would have time for. And as much as those beautifully bred puppies at the stores and breeders appeal to me, I couldn’t NOT get a rescue. I mean, who abandons a puppy golden retriever in their right mind??? Lunatics! Anyway…

I scrolled through the site and stopped immediately knowing Eli was mine. I just knew. From a little tiny headshot and blurb that I honestly can’t remember, “something about him called out to me and said you are mine and I am yours. Come get me!!”

My mom was visiting and we drove to Knoxville to meet the one and a half year old dark red golden retriever who stole my heart, hoping we would like each other in person enough to make another trip to come take him home. We met at a PetSmart and the minute he saw me, he was locked on to me and attached to my side. He knew once he saw me much the way I knew from his picture. We were each other’s. There was no next time, no second drive. He came home with us that day.

The entire drive back, my poor mom was forced to sit with this 65 pound golden on her lap because he refused to stay in the back. He had to either be touching me with his paw or licking my arm or he’d try to get into MY lap while I was driving.

Eli

full copy Eli pup

For the beginning of our relationship, he had bad separation anxiety – understandable when you’ve been abandoned as a pup, tied up in a trailer park with no food or water and left to die. I had to crate train him to keep him from ripping apart the apartment, and had to slowly work on his separation issues. It took some time but he realized I was always coming home for him. We never did get him over his food focus, though. He would pounce on his food like the starving as if he’d never been fed. That never went away. Even once he settled in and realized I wasn’t giving him up and starting putting on weight, he couldn’t get over that worry of when he might be fed next.

He fell in love with the guy that I was dating. And he even found his own girlfriend.

Eli & JonEli & Lizzy

About 6 months to a year after adopting him, another addition joined the family when I came across a little black kitten and his sister in a field. They were smaller than Eli’s head at the time and we nursed them back to health and suddenly had adopted 2 kittens into the brood.

full-1 The kitten grew and became extremely attached to our golden boy.

A few years later, we (minus the boyfriend and the calico kitten) moved back to my hometown in Southern California where I’ve been ever since.

Eli fell in love with the ocean, the beach, camping trips, and continued to be glued to my side. I started working as a veterinary technician and he was able to come to work with me every once in a while. I didn’t realize at the time just how helpful this would be in later years – he never feared the vet or car rides, he actually liked going in and seeing everyone.

Eli Ocean Eli Tidepool

Eli Camping Eli Truck Camping

Eli couldn’t be happier. He was a big part of the family and had lots of people to love and care for him. No crates anymore, no chewing, no abandonment issues. He had a big backyard, activities, outings and lots of love.

As our old friend mister time ticked on, Eli started to develop random little issues. Skin problems or allergies… nothing ever truly major that couldn’t be handled with food adjustments or medicine here and there and occasional visits to the vet. But with time came age and less movement. So he couldn’t jump into the truck like he used to, or run and play and keep up with my friends’ puppies like he once could. Oh would he try!!

Then a couple years ago, we noticed some lumps. At first they seemed like little fat deposits which can be pretty common, but we started to notice them more and more. His lymph nodes had started to swell as well, so he had surgery to remove and biopsy. Ever so “lucky” that he didn’t mind the vets office. He was always a champ and a pro at going in and allowing me to leave him there for the day. A few cries or barks when he realized he wasn’t coming away with me, but his tail never stopped wagging and he never stopped grinning that silly golden grin.

Lymphoma.

I found out on my birthday. Eli and I went to the beach that day and while I hoped it wasn’t true, a small part of me knew it would be our last beach day together. I convinced him to come into the water and play as much as he could but he was already on the tired side and his energy never really lasted too long anymore. At 13, it is to be a bit expected but if not for the cancer he’d have probably been loping through the water hunting seagulls. Instead, we watched the surfers and the gulls and other dogs run around like mad. We even saw a few whales go by.

CountyLineEliCountyLineWithEli

EliCountyLine beachsmileEli

Then began what felt like a very long and treacherous journey through the realm of cancer. It was different when we had to deal with my grandmother’s cancer and treatment – taking her to the hospital for radiation and nursing her at home. Humans can tell you what hurts, what’s wrong, and what they need. And ultimately, they can hopefully make their own decisions. I imagine in some ways, that responsibility of choosing for your pet is similar to when you have children. I don’t know. Even kids can tell you what’s wrong if they’re old enough. But here was Eli, wagging and smiling and still alive and not seeming to be suffering too drastically.

We had another surgery to remove one of his extremely enlarged lymph nodes for more diagnostics and to confirm the diagnosis and treatment plan. I used to have pet insurance but it lapsed. Isn’t that the way it always happens?

So we had a consult with an oncologist at ACCESS (Advanced Critical Care, Emergency & Specialty Services) in the Valley.

Waiting so patiently #goodboy #puppylove #lovemygolden #cancersucks

A post shared by Dani (@dkdesio) on

My turn?? #lovemygolden #puppylove #cancersucks

A post shared by Dani (@dkdesio) on

They were wonderful and helpful and kind. I was extremely emotional, but managed to absorb everything out of sheer willpower. Financially I was NOT ready but I also was not ready to lose this beautiful boy. Because of his age, I was told that even with full remission we would be maybe getting a couple more years and at this point it came down to a choice between the longevity and quality of life. I looked at his face, still so happy and full of joy. I’d have done all of it if I could.

I decided that the thousand of dollars wasn’t something I could afford and not out of any thoughts on worth. Eli was worth every penny I had to make him happy and healthy and whole. But remission wasn’t a definite, it was a maybe. An if. I opted to do a single treatment to see how he did and go from there. They gave him some iv meds and his injection that day and came back out from the treatment room as happy and smiling and tail wagging as ever. He had a great day and I was hopeful there wouldn’t be any major adverse effects from the drugs. We did a lot of cuddling and he even laid in the backyard with me and soaked up the sun and smells. That next day and night it was like the chemo just hit him like a truck. He whimpered and cried and ran over to me, laid on the floor and didn’t want to budge. We had a living room campout because I didn’t dare move him in the pain he was in.

We got some pain meds for him the next day and eventually both of us managed to get some sleep. After that initial hurdle and downswing reacting to the first chemo injection, he was reinvigorated! He was playing and running in the yard with me, eating like a champ, sleeping through the night and generally pain free. It was such a weight to be lifted. It lasted about a month before we had to go back for more. It was about midway through June of last year when we had the second round of chemo with not as hopeful results. He was starting to have more recurring pain and whimpering through the night when I couldn’t get him to sleep. My favorite sound became silence. When there was no heavy labored breathing, no crying or whimpering, not snoring… nothing. It was a rare occurrence that I found a cocktail that finally had Eli sleeping deep and quiet. I was learning to sleep when he did and I would wake at the tiniest disturbance or distress from him…

The final spiral was pretty quick and I couldn’t bear doing much other than spend time with him. It made me think how all those 13 years I’d spent with him, I never took him on enough walks. We didn’t go to the beach enough, or camp enough. We should have done more, seen more together. I began to regret every single time I had to snap at him for any “wrongdoing” he did, and just generally felt awful about any remotely negative interaction I had with him as if I was a terrible person. It became a waiting game of “When is the right time to let go?” and waiting for him to tell me when he was ready. Selfishly, I knew I’d never be ready and I desperately wanted, needed him to hang on as long as he could.

As we approached the long weekend for the 4th of July, it became obvious. Time was up. On the 2nd of July, I decided he just couldn’t continue as he was and there wasn’t a way back anymore. He had a burger that night. And whatever else he wanted. My mom was flying home just out of sheer luck of timing and spent the next day she got home sitting on the floor with him, Eli’s head in her lap while I struggled to get through my day at work. When I got home, I knew it was the right choice. He smiled, he wagged his tail, he tried desperately to get up to greet me when I came in the door, but he just couldn’t. He could barely stand at this point even to go outside to go to the bathroom. It would only get worse. The cat never left his side.

Eli and Mao

We spent some time in the backyard, laying with him and loving on him. He was happy and quiet. We cooked him a prime ribeye steak and bacon. He was crazy about ruffles potato chips so he had some of those as well. He could barely even sit up so I held him in my lap so he could eat. The veterinary office I worked at those many years ago sent a vet and technician, a pair I used to work with, to my house. It was quiet, and it was fast and peaceful. He simply went to sleep under the purple jacaranda where he used to try and catch the squirrels that taunted him. InstagramEli

It wasn’t until later that night when I went to call him to bed that my legs gave out and I sat bawling in a heap on the floor.

Even now I will sometimes come in the house and swear I hear the sound of him running to greet me, or the jingle of his collar. I’m mostly past the loss of him as much as you can be, but I still feel as though I lost that true companion that simply loves you because you love him, and brings you joy and purpose. An article from HelloGiggles popped up in my news feed a couple days later stating exactly how I felt and would continue to feel for some time: “I had no purpose. There is no one who needs me, no one who depends on me for his care. No reason to come home, and no one to come home to.”

I’ll never be a supremely succinct person (that article does a much better job at it than I could!). And I could talk about my pup for days on end. He was wonderful. For days and weeks my news feed on social media seemed to post nothing but dogs and golden retrievers for me to mourn over. Life had changed, would continue to change, and yet it felt like I’d just gotten him as a puppy and all those 13 years had never happened. Days would hit me hard where I’d panic that I might forget what he looked or smelled or felt like to touch. It got easier. Eventually.

And then a year goes by in a flash and you wonder how in the hell that happened. Just another year. Time really doesn’t make sense to me. The feel of it. The weight of it. I feel it spinning by and turning constantly, and yet it blinks past in an instant just the same. So every once in a while, a day comes along where that missing and mourning hits a little bit harder than others. And on those days, missing a golden retriever from your life or any true companion just hits home.

goldenhome

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