A year ago today, we lost our Lucas.
I couldn’t write about it then–except to let you, our kind friends, know he was gone. I didn’t think I could write about it now either. See, the thing is, I felt like we failed him. We lost him too soon, so it had to be our fault.
I know this is irrational. I’m very, logically, rationally aware that these are irrational feelings, but here’s how it went: Emmett was given a 6-month prognosis. He’s surpassed that so profoundly that he’s routinely declared a miracle. So, of course, when they told us that Lukey’s protocol–amputation plus four chemo treatments–would statistically likely give him another one to two years–a normal lifespan, really, for a shepherd at that point–the six month decline felt like we did something wrong. Or, more accurately, it’s the overarching sense of guilt about all of it.
Again, I realize all that’s irrational. I do. It’s just been a long, intense grief process. And it’s been hard to write. Oh-so-hard. And I’m forever grateful to those of you who reached out, who noticed.
Here’s the thing that I haven’t yet overcome:
I’m a storyteller. I want to be open and authentic and transparent. But I found myself unable to tell Lukey’s story, at least his final story, and so I found myself unable to tell ANY story. So, I stopped writing. Mostly, anyway.
And that felt like a failure. Writers are supposed to write. The good ones write through blocks. But, I just couldn’t do it.
And, so, here is a bit of that untold story, the one that has clogged my heart and my hands… and it’s simple, really.
We knew it was coming. We knew, but we kept hoping.
Then, the oncologist showed us his lung X-rays. “I’m sorry,” he said.
But, still, we hoped.
Then we noticed a bit of swelling in his back legs. And he coughed a smidge. Cady stayed with us for the weekend, and the two stayed in the garden, side-by-side. Waiting. Then Cady went home and his legs were swollen more and his coughing was getting more pronounced, so we took him to our local vet, just to see if there was anything, anything at all.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
She wrote her cell phone number on a slip of paper. She told us to call her, day or night, even on her days off, and she’d come over. We cried. She cried.
We took him home. We slept on the living room floor. We ordered him pizza and a Jimmy John’s Gargantuan sub. We rubbed his ears and massaged his swollen legs. We told him we loved him over and over.
Some of his favorite people came by. They said “to visit,” which we appreciated so very much, but everyone knew. He was saying his goodbyes. And even though he couldn’t, he kept trying to jump up, to greet his friends with howls and wags and those big amber-brown eyes. They still shined with happiness those last few days, those final few hours. He had such a happy life.
Then the day came. He couldn’t get up. No, that’s not even it. He didn’t want to get up. We knew it was coming, but it was such a shock. Today’s the day. How can that be? How can any of this be?
Our lovely vet did come over. She brought a sweet tech from the animal hospital. We sat with him. We hugged him and told him how much we loved him. We let him go.
After he was gone, Cooper curled up against his stomach and just nestled. It shattered us all, the tenderness of that gesture, the knowing.
They left, and we were left with that emptiness, that space Lucas filled… physically in his giant, bouncy, perma-puppy body, and emotionally, too, the years of worrying about him and for him.
That emptiness is still there, but it feels different now. It’s not about the habits or the routines or the daily Lucas-less-ness of our days. Instead, it’s an ache for a presence that is somehow there but not there. A ghost heart.
Not a day goes by that we don’t put him in the context of what’s going on now. “Lucas would have LOVED this,” or “OMG, can you imagine if we had Lucas in this scenario?” We pretend him into being regularly. We joke that he haunts Newt.
And a year? This milestone? It is both forever and a blink.
His loss left a hole. That hole is still there. It’s just changed shape a bit, the sides and edges are a little softer, a little lighter. Oh, but what I wouldn’t give to bury my face his his thick, fuzzy neck and breathe him in.
I remember in the first few days after he died doing things… normal things, like stand in line at the grocery checkout or put gas in my car. I remember looking around at all the people swirling around me and thinking how amazing it was. Here I was, looking like a totally normal person doing person things, swiping my card, getting my reusable shopping bags out of my purse, and all those people around me had absolutely no idea that my world had crumbled only days ago.
Imagine, of course, how many people around us all the time have only just had their worlds crumbled, too.
Great loss is a great reminder to be kind.
So, that is where I am one year later. I miss him like crazy. I feel the space he used to take up. But I’m astonished at my luck that I got to take care of him in the first place. That he was my special little guy for eight wonderful, difficult, funny, frustrating years. He struggled and overcame so much, while staying true to himself. My life is richer forever because I got to bear witness to his evolution.
It’s been one year since we lost Lucas, but he’s left me with a lifetime of a deeper love and patience and gratitude and kindness. He was so special and fought so hard. He taught me so much about bravery and about joy, and his life–and, it turns out, his death–serve as a reminder to be kind. You never know what someone else, person or dog, is going through, so just be kind.
And, I think, that’s his legacy. And it fits him so well. I’ll miss him forever, but I carry him with me. So, it’ll be OK.
Thanks for your patience during this unpredictable past year. I’m so grateful for you and for everyone who shares your pets with this community. Give them all some extra hugs and scritches this weekend. Lots of love!