My blond-haired, brown-eyed best friend Nestle, has been smuggled into more hotels and public venues than any other dog I know. Long before certain destinations allowed for pets to travel with their owners, I was taking that risk of bringing him everywhere despite regulations that threatened our dismissal. We were asked to leave some motels but it became the excuse to splurge on a fancier venue that offered room service, usually a scrumptious entrée for me that I could share with my traveling companion. It was easier for me to drive than fly because Nestle would sit in the passenger seat and we could pull over to nap in a church parking lot. He was no guard dog, in fact Pomeranians are known for being friendly and only barking when excited for human attention. Our personalities made for many stories throughout life because we met strangers who became our friends everywhere we went.
The hours we spent on the road together far outweigh any time I have driven with any one person. This year seemed to mark significance to me as being one where he and I would settle and find rest in our new residence. I had to adjust my routine, hobbies and spending to accommodate his rising anxiety and avoid him eating bags of m&m’s to punish me because I quarantined him to a designated area in our new home. Much of our time was spent together inside as I wrote about my impressions and experiences outside our humble abode. I was slowing down to acclimate to his needs, almost daily recognizing my love for him grow as I realized his lung capacity was hindering his ability to jump and fetch like he used to. Often times it sounded like he was hacking up a fur ball because of a suspected heart murmur the vets diagnosed years ago. The only remedy was expensive tests that came back inconclusive and recommending steroids which would kill him faster than the condition itself.
My ex-husband gave me our Pomeranian shortly after we were married and within days of being proud dog owners we suffered our first scare with losing him. A clients child threw Nestle on the ground, hitting his head and causing seizures. We were away at a Triathlon when the ER vet said our puppy would probably die on the way back home. We safely transported him but after thousands of dollars for treatments began, I took him to our youth group and laid him on the altar. I asked for all of the kids to lay hands on Nestle so Daddy God would either heal him or take him home. Our Pom proudly trotted off the stage completely healed. And there have been at least a dozen other times where we vowed to pray him through difficulties instead of invest in subjective interpretations of lab results.
The past two weeks really challenged my decision to engage prayer with a vet visit because I had committed to a writers conference and children’s camp earlier in the year when Nestles health was more stable. I was conflicted with pursuing goals to venture into new career opportunities and passions that I had shelved for the past five years, and now the timing had arrived. Following through with these plans was important to me but I longed to take Nestle with me. Exposing him to kids camp wasn’t an option so I found a window of opportunity to retrieve him from a sitter in between that week and heading to Orange Beach Alabama for honing my writing skills.
Working with outbursts from abused children in the foster care system wore me out so I was hardly able to find stamina when confronted with accelerated coughing and congestion from my dog as soon as I got home. He was supposed to be ready for our latest excursion, not escalating the tremor of my nerves. I reluctantly put him in the car and drove toward the Gulf Shores. He was puking up bile almost the entire 6 hours and could not be comforted. I dropped him off at the beach house and tried to focus on the sessions of writing that I had signed up for. Returning with my friends to our overnight getaway was deafening as his bellows and shrieks met us from my bedroom in the foyer. Neither he nor I slept that night.
My concern was growing as I could hear fluid in his lungs when he breathed and his eating had now stopped. During the night I had to get down on the floor with him and make eye contact just to offer some solace. I was angry because I felt so out of control. I was powerless to help him and couldn’t alleviate his pain. I must have stolen some shut-eye because I woke up with my head near his water bowl only to return to my pillow crying because his accelerated breathing scared me. I surfed the net for ER vets and had him up and ready by 7am to bombard the staff of a nearby clinic with my sick friend. One look and they rushed us before all scheduled appointments. It didn’t take long for the animal physician to declare Nestle had 48 hrs left to live. I couldn’t hear his explanation because the sound of my own heart beat reverberated in my head. I saw the man in his scrubs speaking but the sting of my tears were accentuating the heat of terror pulsing through my veins. “What was I going to do without him, how could this have happened so fast”? I paid for some steroids that could ward off any new symptoms and get me back home, a miracle I was praying would repeat itself from the memory of 15 years prior when he was a pup.
I laid him on the floor while I packed up my belongings and found a Bible. I looked up scriptures of the Lord battling for us. I then asked Daddy to forgive me for the ways in which I got angry at my sick buddy for causing me such stress with the constant symptoms that overwhelmed me. I asked for forgiveness of my unbelief and blame toward God for not whisking away this situation. I was reminded to re-direct the accusation back on the enemy and to surrender my feelings and Nestle at the feet of Jesus. In my fear of loss I admitted how lonely I expected to feel once he was really gone. I didn’t want to go through this hardship, but I would, and I wanted to do it gently. I begged for him to go peacefully because I didn’t feel strong enough to put him down, I needed that decision to be made for me should it be the final one. I texted my ex-husband and he responded, “comfort him”. It was the exact phrase I needed to hear. Like a rush, all of my desperation and panic fell away. I laid him on the passenger seat and started home.
I drove silently and let my mind wash with accounts of his growing-up years. I didn’t expect him to live forever but I had been asking this year that Nestle would at least live long enough for my ability to settle in new surroundings. It was June 18th and since the year was 2018 I looked up the Biblical meaning of that number. It was as if Daddy God dropped the entire thought into my spirit because it read, “A Hebrew account of blessing for LONG LIFE over their children”. How could it be that I was being blessed even in a time of hardship? The personal confirmation I gained from heaven that I had enjoyed 15 long years with him made me well up with emotion and gratitude. His life was a gift to me, his energy sustaining, and bracing myself for the loss of his companionship stretched me greatly. Yet interceding for him like I would a child so many times assured me that his spirit was sealed in Christ.
I somehow took the scenic route and for a while witnessed him standing on his hind legs looking out the window like he used to do. Then he gave me his stare of question to crawl into my lap, where he stayed for a tender while. I took a picture of him because I wanted to stay suspended in time, I couldn’t imagine this being our last road trip together. Part of me took these signs as hope of his coming around, the possibility of my taking him to a vet who could extend his life through the prescriptions I knew would cause adverse effects. But by the time I put him on the bed to retire from our trip I was praying for Gods will to be done.
I woke up from a dream where “I was laying in a sleeping bag under the stars with other people who had their dogs with them. The dogs were lit up with bright light as they all rested on the legs of their owners”. As I sat up I saw Nestle was laying on my legs which he has never done before. My hand was on him and I could not decipher if I was still dreaming or not. When I woke again he was laying on my chest and I was holding him. This also was a first time occurrence because he is usually fidgety when I sleep too close. I decided to keep petting him as my dream had directed and it amazed me that each time I drifted off he would struggle with symptoms. I experimented with letting my arm cross over his belly and surprisingly he looked at me and all wheezing stopped. He literally became peaceful and stopped manifesting symptoms every time I touched him. I fell back asleep and awoke in the morning to he and I cuddling with him as quiet as a mouse. It was as if he was healed as long as he was nestled close to me, just like the dream indicated. He had his normal routine and hid under his favorite chair while I called a local vet.
Thankfully they were able to see him within the hour and I was expectant of this new turn of events to bring good news of a turnaround. I spoke softly and was probably the kindest I had ever been to him his whole life. The peace I had and the angst that trembled in my heart at the same time was surreal. The drive was a short 10 minutes in which he shifted once and calmly rode next to me. Once I pulled into the parking lot of the vet I came around his side to collect him. He looked up at me and then I bent forward to pick him up and felt the life go out of him in my arms. I was steps away from crossing the threshold of the vets office and my sadness bellowed out of me in echoes. I couldn’t deal. I just couldn’t control my crying and held his limp body close to me.
The next moments were so fast that all I remember was a team of nurses taking him and ushering me into an office. Just like that, he was gone.
I sat there in physical pain, unable to comprehend the perfect timing, the extra 24 hours we had to finish our last road trip together and sleep soundly in each others arms. I was so grateful for the gift of finishing well, for the borrowed time and the divine orchestration of it all. I must have praised Daddy 100 times in that moment. I had help for a proper cremation and the support of this staff who didn’t even know me yet comforted me in my pain. They brought him into the room and I held him for 10 more minutes. I didn’t want the closeness to end, I kept thinking, “just one more minute”, and kept stroking his fur. I wanted to sear this moment on my brain and dwell in it forever.
I don’t know if I would have been able to say goodbye a minute sooner. It all felt so amazing, so perfect even though he was no longer with me. It was such a remarkable gift, a special impartation that he was leaving me when I could best receive it. He taught me to accommodate pain of another with tenderness. How beautiful was it to have him with me on the weekend that I embarked on solidifying my writing career. In death a new life was birthed and I get to always remember the last weekend we traveled from home in order for me to solidify something new. Before this weekend I would have kept being that vigilante for those who don’t help themselves, a distraction from positive things I can invest in. But giving him my energy and time slowed my reactions so I could focus on what matters most to me. For the first time I chose to see my world from heavens perspective and it was a simple, loving story unfolding. I was living an awakening to journalism and sharing my loss in order to help me truly live.
After I have decided to not vacuum up tufts of Nestle fur from my carpet just yet, I gave myself permission to watch a movie and be solo, just to feel a message instead of think about one. Little did I realize that my wedding song was made into a movie. I rented “I can only imagine” because I wanted to reminisce all that has been a deposit in my life even though the details of my relationships have changed. I could not have been less prepared for the correlation of my life story and the storyline in this film. The pursuit of personal dreams, sacrifice and estrangement that was the result of abuse in childhood, was redeemed through relationship. I cried quietly during moments and clapped my hands while screaming joyously in others because for the first time in my life I commiserate with expansion of ones heart. The ability to forgive, appreciate what a pet or person has to offer in their truest expression of love and how the pain of their loss can make you miss them all the more, made me grateful for a chance to love them in the first place. It is well with my soul. I am so thankful for that Pomeranian given to me from one who knew me best, both holding a big place in my heart for I am forever changed because of loving them.