"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Saying Goodbye to Bear

It has taken me two weeks to get the courage to try and pull words from my heart about Bear. No matter what I write, I feel I won’t do him justice, nor will I be able to express how special he was, or the relationship that I had with him, and that my husband Shea had with him. But, I will try my very best, it’s all I can do.


Bear came into my life by chance, on a whim, just by sheer luck. One day I saw him and made a decision to adopt him. It made no sense at that moment for me to adopt a puppy—my life was honestly a mess. But something in my heart and my gut wouldn’t let me walk away from him. I signed the papers, and he was mine. I found out right after signing that I had just saved his life. If he hadn’t been adopted that day, he would have been put down. He was 12 weeks old. He had an hour and a half left. I had gotten there just in time.

That day, as I got into my car and looked at that sweet, beautiful puppy staring at me in the passenger seat, I thought for a moment, what have I done? I go back to that moment in my mind a lot. I think to myself—you don’t know how lucky you are right now. You just made the best decision. Be so grateful, be so thankful.

What that little being didn’t know was that the person looking back at him was struggling. My whole life had cracked wide open months before, and the pieces were shattered around me. Everything was wrong and broken. I was just starting to deal with issues from my childhood that were deeply affecting my life. Then, I found out that the man I had been seeing (long distance), whom I had known for years, and was just about to move cross country to live with, had betrayed me. All the time we had been seeing each other, he was in fact, living with someone else.

Everything hit me at once. I was lost and adrift, and in that weakened part of rock bottom that you hopefully only hit once in your life. I was deeply depressed, and I knew that everyone around me, everyone in my life that was worried about me, was going to think that adopting this puppy wasn’t a good decision. Maybe it wasn’t. But that drumbeat of hope inside me just kept telling me it was the right thing to do.

I was nervous to call my friend Debby, who is my second mother, afraid she would be so worried that she wouldn’t see what I saw in the new puppy. But I needn’t have worried. She immediately told me to bring him over and she fell in love with him on the spot. She and her husband Joe helped me go through a list of names I was thinking about, until Joe let me know in no uncertain terms that his name was Bear.

He was so right.

He always was Bear.

Bear worked his magic from day one. If you have ever battled depression, or know someone who has, you know that the hardest thing is getting out of bed or off the couch and getting OUT. It is a battle in itself, and before Bear, it was a battle I lost all the time. My friends would try and I would make excuses. I had taken leave from work, so I had nowhere to be.

But Bear had to be walked, he had to be taken outside. He needed me constantly. I couldn’t stay in bed or under the covers. He was constantly chewing on things, getting into things—he was keeping me busy.

I took him on walks and met neighbors I had never talked to in two years of living in my neighborhood. We went to dog parks, and I met new people who expected to see me and Bear daily. My life began to change. My outlook began to change.

I didn’t know what breed Bear was when I adopted him. I knew he was a mix of something, and that he was incredibly cute. Otherwise, I had no idea. He was extremely stubborn and independent. House training him was so frustrating and at times, seemed to be impossible.

We went to puppy training classes three separate times, and each time he was just too wild to participate. The last time I tried, the trainer was talking and Bear excitedly jumped on other dogs and then on the trainer, splitting open her fanny pack full of treats, spilling them everywhere. The treats rolled all over the floor and Bear and the other puppies were gobbling them up. The trainer looked at me with a mix of expressions—frustration, but also holding back laughter. I knew that mix well, I had been wearing it for many weeks myself.

I finally figured out what breed of dog Bear was when seeing a random blog post one day about a great pyrenees. Bear was almost certainly a great pyr, though I never knew what he was mixed with. But once I looked up all of the traits of the breed, it all made sense. Great pyrs are bred to be guardians for livestock. They need to be independent to handle themselves on a farm and be alone for long periods of time, but they also need to be sweet and gentle enough not to harm the animals they care for. All of these things added up to Bear: independent, strong-willed, stubborn, but sweet, loving, and with a huge heart.

He was wild and at times, and yes, frustrating, but he was also sweet. And gorgeous. He also smiled all the time. When I walked him in my neighborhood, people would literally stop their cars to ask me what kind of dog he was, or where I got such a beautiful pup. He always seemed to know how gorgeous he was. He never hesitated to walk right up to anyone and demand to be petted. He loved belly rubs the best.

I always got a kick out of watching Bear enter the dog park. He had so much confidence. He swaggered in like a rock star, waiting for the other dogs to run up and admire him, which they did. He would then saunter over and let all the humans pet him and give him compliments. Then he would run and play. Everyone knew me as Bear’s mom, and I loved every minute of it. We went to the dog park daily, and I learned how to laugh again, standing on the sidelines, watching him run like the wind, while I was talking to strangers who became friends—all who loved and cared about me and Bear.

One thing he did always amazed me. On days when I still felt a little blue, somehow, he would sense it. I could never figure out how he knew. I would be standing with other people at the dog park, chatting away in my usual spot near the picnic table, watching him from a distance. Then, suddenly, our eyes would meet from across the park where he was playing. For a moment, he would hold my gaze, and then, he would start running. He wouldn’t take his eyes off of me the whole time. I would tear up watching him coming towards me, his little ears blown back, a big smile on his face, running to me as fast as he could. I would kneel down and he would run into my arms and shower me with kisses and then sit back and smile and let me hug him and thank him for sensing that I needed him, just at that moment.

He always knew.

Bear pulled me out of the worst part of my life and led me into the next. His unconditional love let me open my heart again, something I couldn’t imagine doing at the time, and before Bear was a year old, I had met the man I would marry. Shea has admitted that seeing Bear’s pictures on Facebook had left him as excited to meet Bear as he was to see me. (I can’t say I blamed him).

The first time Shea and Bear met, there was an instant connection. Bear was always protective of me, and didn’t let anyone come into the house easily, but he let Shea right in, and he loved him from the moment he met him. As we continued dating, Bear grew to absolutely adore Shea, and would become distressed when Shea would leave, so much so that we had to figure out ways for Shea to sneak out.

Once we were married, Shea and Bear were inseparable, and Bear became Shea’s shadow. If Shea sneezed, Bear would jolt violently and run to his side to check on him. If Shea sniffled, Bear had to quickly check on him. Bear slept in the bed with us, and every noise Shea made at night, Bear had to make sure he was ok. Bear would literally lose sleep worrying about Shea.

Some of the funniest moments were when I would sneeze, and Bear would still check on Shea. Or when Shea was in the shower and would sneeze and Bear would burst into the bathroom and have to check on Shea, shower or not.

I loved watching Shea and Bear together, and it always warmed my heart how much they loved each other. They had a special bond, all their own, from day one.

I have always made a big deal over Bear’s birthday, baking him a doggie cake and giving him cheeseburgers with his birthday number on them, taking pictures and videos. Christmas was a huge deal, with Santa coming to visit and leaving a ridiculous amount of toys and treats.

It all might seem silly, but I am so thankful for every picture and video now.

Everything changed on April 7, when I left for several days for a work conference in San Francisco, just about an hour from our house. Bear had seemed a little tired, but nothing that either Shea or I was really worried terribly about. I always overthink things, so I had it in my head to ask Shea about him while I was gone. And I did. Every day.

Shea let me know that Bear was running and playing, eating everything he could get, which was normal, and being his usual self.

When I got home on Thursday night, Bear was so happy to see me, even moreso than usual, he jumped on me, and snuggled up next to me, and gave me kisses. That night, we gave him so many treats, and were laughing as he barked for more, no matter how many he got. He seemed a little sluggish to me, and I made an appointment to take him to the vet the next day. I really thought he had stomach issues or something minor.

The next day was a whole different story. Bear was not himself, and around mid-morning, I saw him struggle to get up. My worry shifted into high gear. I rushed him to our vet, and after some blood work and xrays, they sent us to the emergency vet for an ultrasound.

Bear had hopped right into the car and otherwise seemed ok, so I was trying to soothe myself, talking out loud to myself and him in the car, everything’s going to be ok, everything’s going to be ok.

We got the emergency vet and being his usual friendly self, Bear greeted everyone in the waiting room, wagging his tail, waiting to be petted, and soaking up the compliments. I was shaking at the other end of his leash, trying to talk to the woman behind the reception desk. Still saying things to myself, willing him to be ok.

He had to be sedated for the ultrasound, and I paced around the waiting room, made all kinds of deals with the universe, and texted and called my husband and best friend…and waited.

The doctor finally called me in.

She cried as she told me that Bear had cancer, and that it had spread everywhere.
I blinked back at her in disbelief. This had never entered my realm of possibility. I wasn’t even thinking about cancer.

There was nothing I could have done, she had reassured me, but there was also nothing that could be done.

It was an awful moment. I sobbed as I asked what we needed to do for Bear. I was astonished to learn that we had so little time. He was going to start deteriorating so fast. Within hours. I could take him home for one more night, but he was not well, and any time after that would be difficult.

She let me know that he wasn’t in pain, just that he probably felt sick, like he had the flu. I asked if they could give him some medicine to make him comfortable. They gave him some anti-nausea meds.

I waited out in the waiting room for Bear to be brought to me. And when they did, there, in front of everyone, I fell to my knees and sobbed. I buried my head in his neck and told him I was so sorry and how much I loved him. I leaned back, and sweet Bear licked away my tears.

We made our way home. I had kept Shea updated, and I knew he was in shock. We were both sobbing as Bear made his way into the house for the last time. We couldn’t believe how fast he had deteriorated. We had both dreamed of giving Bear one last amazing day of everything he had ever wanted—endless cheeseburgers, a walk on the beach, all his favorite treats—but it was clear that none of that was going to happen. He laid on the couch and we told him over and over that we loved him, and we just loved on him as he rested. When we went to bed, he came into the bedroom and jumped onto the bed, and slept between us, one last time.

Taking him to the vet to let him go was absolutely hardest thing I have ever had to do. However, the one thing that gave me and Shea any peace about it was that it was clearly time. Bear had deteriorated so fast, it was unbelievable. He was able to walk into the vet, I was thankful for that. He would have hated to be carried. And he was still aware, and knew we were there. But, he was not well. We would not let him get to the point of suffering.

Those last moments are oursin our three hearts, shared just between us. But I will tell you that Bear wagged his tail and loved us until the end, and that we held him as he took his last breath. He left this earth with words of love and gratefulness for how wonderful he made our lives.

In the days since we lost him, I have been lost. I should keep a list of the places I have fallen apart in public. I wish I knew the names of the people who have comforted me, once they knew the reason, crying with me in the aisles of Safeway, Target, and Sam’s.

Bear was not just a dog. As my therapist recently said, Bear was a being of such importance in my life—animal or human—that this is a huge loss. Because for me, Bear was never a pet. He was the heart I tied my hope to, a life preserver, a confidante that led me back to the living. As dramatic as it sounds, I can tell you without an ounce of hesitation that there is a very good chance that I would not be here without Bear. In the months leading up to the day I adopted Bear, I was losing my battle with depression. So many things kept happening, one after the other. It was more than any one person should take. More than I could take. Everyone around me saw it, too. They were worried.

The tide changed with Bear.

How do you repay that debt?

Yes, I saved his life the day I adopted him. But he went on to save mine, and then fill my life and Shea’s life with so much joy.

I still think I see him coming around the corner in the kitchen when I am cooking, or beside me when I roll over in bed. I swear I have heard his little sigh when he would lay down when the house is quiet.

I have felt that I have failed him, that I should have caught his illness sooner. It is all part of grief, I guess.

I know that Bear had a good life, and all the birthdays, and holidays, and all the days at the beach, all added up to a really spoiled dog by anyone’s standards. I am so grateful for all of that. Every silly thing I did, every over-the-top thing.

In my heart I know I did the best I could to love him, and give him everything.

Every day as I try to get through this grief, when I am struggling because I miss him so much, I close my eyes and imagine our eyes meeting from afar. I see him recognizing how much I need him—and he is running to me, as fast as he can. He doesn’t take his eyes off of me for a second, and he is smiling the whole time.

I love you, Bear.

Ten years just wasn’t long enough.


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