Friday, September 09, 2011

Goodbye, Serena

I think I’ll miss our evening walks the most.

The time could vary -- it could be 10p, it could be midnight, or if I was watching a late-night degenerate special on ESPN, it could be much later. Serena would wait patiently until I said, “c’mon Sweet Pea, time to go walking.” Then she would scamper out from whatever spot in the bedroom she was in and head for the door.

Our younger dog, Bernice, hates the late-night walk as much as Serena looked forward to it. I’m fairly certain Bernice taught herself tremendous bladder control to avoid stepping out into the dreaded Manhattan night.

Bernice knows something’s wrong. It probably doesn’t help that I’m still crying like a fool, more than 24 hours since Serena died.

She was getting up in age, but otherwise in good decent health. Our old girl’s body simply betrayed her.

In less than two weeks, paralyzing seizures robbed Serena of most of her bodily functions. As the accidents increased, the look on her eyes would seem to be saying, ‘I’m sorry for the mess, daddy. I can’t control it.’

I knew she was in trouble when she was too weak to muster the slightest bit of excitement when I walked through the door Wednesday.

That’s one of the 84,567 reasons why dogs rule. Their purpose in life is to make your life better. They live to give you a hero’s welcome. And Serena’s Welcome Home’s were epic.

I could be gone an hour or a week, and Serena would greet me the same way: with unrestrained joy and slobber knocker kisses. Seriously, the dog’s tongue was a force of nature. It was like a red carpet.

Serena was with me through a half-dozen job changes (some less voluntary than others), and many other trying times. As well as all the great moments. It’s impossible for me to remember my life without Serena in it.

She was born two days before Cindi and I were married. We got her six weeks later, the first of many great decisions my wife has made for us the past dozen years.

She was there for so many life-changing moments; our all-in move to NYC a few weeks after 9/11; getting her a sister – Bernice, which Serena struggled to adjust to for awhile, to be honest; And the biggest moment: The birth of Baby Alexia last year.

Serena was there for all of it. She was the rock-steady backbeat in our life song.

Through all our dinners and parties, she was always there – usually at one of our friends’ feet, hoping to use that impossibly cute face to score some snacks (it usually worked).

We desperately wanted Alexia to have enough time with Serena to form memories of her. As we sat in the vet’s office, the realization that pictures would be all that Alexia would have of our beautiful little Bum…. well, it crushed me.

[Side note: Bum was one of Serena’s many nicknames, because she never met a nap she couldn’t take.]

We made the only decision left to make.

We were there with Alexia because we had to rush her to the vet, and there was no way Cindi wasn’t going to be there for Serena. She loved her as much as I did. We sat in the room with her, shared a few memories of this wonderful, quirky, cantankerous dog that brought us so much joy. But mostly we just cried.

Then something incredible happened.

Serena and Alexia haven’t had much interaction. At her age, Serena just wasn’t up for getting manhandled by an infant. But as Cindi said goodbye, Alexia reached out and put her tiny hand on Serena’s head. It was a beautiful moment, and I’m grateful that I held it together long enough to take a picture.

Then it was time.

I sat there and stared at my loyal companion. I kissed her cheek like I’d done countless times before. I did what I imagine most people do at the death beds of their loved ones; I said I was sorry, for those times I lost my temper with her, for not giving her as much attention as I could have.

Our vet, who’s cared for Serena for years, administered the injection.

I told Serena I loved her one last time. I wish I could say that she gave me a sign that those words registered, but the truth is, I saw nothing in those big, soulful eyes. The illness had taken its toll.

Then she was gone.

As I stared at her lifeless body, the tears flowed uncontrollably. I found myself hoping that somehow, my words had registered at some level.

I’m not an idiot, and I’m not insane. I know the mental capacity of dogs. I’m also not very spiritual.

But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t praying that somehow, Serena understood how much she meant to me. That she knew that she will always carry a piece of my heart, from this life, into whatever comes next.

So long, Sweet Pea.


divemaster said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. They are our perpetual children and it is so hard to say goodbye. Thank you for this post.

Mary said...

Oh my goodness how sad and touching this essay is. I am standing her in my company's booth at the Italian Festival in Hoboken fighting back tears. I agree that there are probably millions of reasons dogs are awesome. Their only flaw is a short life span. As a dog owner myself, I know what a mess I will be when I have to say goodbye to my dog. They deserve the tribute our tears attempt to give, and then some. The post you've written is an eloquent expression of what dogs do for us. Thanks for sharing.