I’ve been trying to write a post about Alex for months. But when you’re living in the midst of inevitable decline, it’s hard to put the experience into words.
After a short fight with lymphoma, Alex passed away in early September. I was with him when he passed, which was both a blessing and… incredibly difficult. The memory of his last moments will haunt me forever. And I’m still not over it. Not sure I ever will be.
Alex was my beloved golden retriever we adopted in 2010. He was 2 years old at the time; a family a couple hours south of us couldn’t keep him anymore. It was very serendipitous the way Alex came to us, and he was an integral part of our family. For seven years, Alex was my best friend and my near-constant companion. He was primarily Max’s dog, but also very devoted all of us.
This was the first photo we took of Alex when he came home to us. He was 2.
He made fast friends with Riley, our neighbor’s golden retriever, and for four spectacular years, Alex and Riley were the core of my pack. When Riley passed away three years ago, Alex lost his very best friend. He was never really the same after that. I debated getting another dog for him, but he was so growly at younger dogs. I opted not to. In retrospect, I wish I had. I think he would have been happier with another friend, even if it wasn’t Riley.
Earlier this year, I noticed Alex losing weight. He’s always been a skinny pup, but it became more noticeable. He also started drinking a lot more water. I wondered if maybe he had diabetes and started feeding him more protein. He was starting to have intestinal issues. The first vet diagnosed him with renal failure/kidney disease and recommended a lot of rice and veggies, less protein. He got worse. A lot worse.
More tests led to the more accurate diagnosis: lymphoma. These are two very different rabbit holes for a dog mama to dive down, but they are both deep dark holes that are confusing and heart wrenching.
Cancer. It’s so loaded and weighed down with generations of fear and pain. A strong intuition guided me to stay away from thinking about Alex’s condition with those heavy weights. Instead, why not let Alex show me what he needed?
He had good days and not so good days. We went for a lot of car rides, he ate the best foods, slept on Claire’s old twin bed. Until the end, he would not give up his morning walk around the neighborhood. He loved his friends here, human and canine.
We treated him with as much good stuff as we could. We tried CBD oil, a raw food diet, immune system support. But during our car rides around the neighborhood, I’d play Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album and I could see it in his eyes. He was staying because of me, but he knew it was time to move on.
There was one point in late July where I was certain it was time for him to go. I contacted a friend who is a vet and asked if he’d help me. Later that day, Alex perked up and came alive. He almost seemed happy for a bit.
During this timeframe, I stopped fighting for him. Really, I stopped fighting him. Getting his medication into him was stressful, and he wouldn’t take food from me because he knew it had something in it. After a while, I just let him be. I would put out a smorgasbord of delectable treats for him: sardines, raw meat, cooked meat. Chicken, lamb, beef… whatever. Sometimes he would turn his nose up at all of it. Sometimes he would eat.
Alex had a good August, and I started to get very hopeful he would get better. His lymph nodes decreased in size, but he still wasn’t eating like he should have been. I let up on some of the CBD oil and for a while, I felt like I had our dog back, though much more frail than he had ever been.
Then, the wildfires started and we were socked in with smoke. We had three HEPA filters going all day long, but we still had a rough time. Alex started coughing up blood and stopped eating and was really having issues. A couple of days later, he ate! Finally! But eating that food seemed to make things much worse.
I slept next to him that night, but he didn’t sleep much. Around 5:30 am, I woke up and he had moved away from me and was suffering quite a bit and was unable to walk. I had spent so much time and energy helping him heal and try to feel better, but this time it was obvious he wasn’t going to get better. It was just getting worse. I told him it was okay to go. Then, a few hours later, I insisted that he go. A few minutes after I changed my tone to insistence, he passed away.
I haven’t wanted to write or talk about Alex’s illness and yet it has been the primary defining event of my 2017. I was silenced by a fear of being overly optimistic or overly pessimistic. I tried very hard to distract myself from the soul crushing sadness of an event over which I had no control.
So much of my life here in Mount Shasta was surrounded by running around forests and meadows with Alex and our friends. The weeks following Alex’s departure left me in a daze. I’m not entirely sure I’m out of it.
But life goes on. Just much emptier than before.