Our beloved golden retriever Riley died yesterday.
He was the nicest living creature I have ever known. Not a mean bone in his body. I don’t even think he ever had a mean thought either. He was, quite simply, a love muffin. His heart was wide open and his spirit joyful- right to the very end.
While the kids took the dogs for runs, I was responsible for the lunchtime walk detail. Riley and his sister MayMay got this walk pretty much every day of their lives. Even on his last legs, Riley went with us yesterday. I have been letting him choose which direction our walks would take for awhile now, and yesterday he choose his favorite route.
He clearly relished the whole thing. While he had stopped eating, he still had to visit all the neighbor’s compost heaps for a deep breath of the wonderful aroma of rotten food . Several times he set up his usual game with MayMay involving him fruitlessly trying to get ahead of her on the road. He rolled in every pile of deer poop in every field we passed. This took some time but how happy I was to watch every roll. At one point, he got himself down in a pothole full of muddy water for a serious submersion. It was the most horrible looking water, and he enjoyed every drop of it.
It’s Jim’s February school “vacation” week, so he had just sanded and refinished all the floors in the downstairs of the house. The varnish was just dry yesterday when Riley returned from his last walk. We all had to laugh that Riley felt called upon to christen each floor with a shake of his muddy coat. We may well leave the spatters there for awhile.
Riley had a very odd little prancing step for such a big guy and he kept that swing going til the last moment, tail wagging as well. It was a particularly warm afternoon for February and after his long walk, he sat out front of the office, sniffing the breeze in the sunshine. Everyone got a chance to go sit with him and tell him thank you and goodbye.
We have all been intent on taking the cue from Riley about how and when he wanted to die. He had outlived our kind vet’s best guess by many months, but we didn’t want to drag him into a life that was about terrible pain. I spent a lot of time connecting with Riley about what he wanted and because I was so close to the situation and therefore not very objective, I leaned on a number of you to check in for me as well. I thank you all for your support and love.
Riley helped me be at peace with our game plan too. One day a few months back, I was out on my lunchtime walk with Riley and MayMay. I was thinking about his health and fretting about whether I would know if or when to put him down. In that moment, I received a clear message that he would be okay until he stopped eating and that would be his signal that it was time to be put down. As I had this thought, Riley stopped right in front of me and turned around and looked me in the eye.
Later in the walk, I began to worry about whether I had heard clearly. As I had this worry, Riley stopped AGAIN and turned to look me in the eye. Riley was not a dog to waste time with long eye contact on walks; walks were for things like mud and deer poop. He saved the romance for evenings on the couch, so his eye contact felt significant and helped me let go of my worries.
From then on, we waited for him to stop eating and when that happened several days ago (no matter what delicacies we offered him or Essences we put in his water), we gave nearby Riley fans the word, and they flocked in for love visits and goodbyes.
Sometimes it is still hard not to second guess ourselves when we have arrived at a decision. The Angels are always so compassionate with us humans in this regard, and they think of inventive ways to reassure. Yesterday as we prepared to put Riley in the car for his last trip to the vet, one of the women in the office came running out with an email that had just arrived from one of you who had no idea Riley was sick. It was a picture of a golden who looked exactly like Riley with a poem about a dog’s last will and testament.
Piled into the car, we all continued to douse ourselves in Transition through what proved to be an incredibly gentle, sweet death. If we sound sympathetic to your losses in the phone when one of your beloveds goes, its because we are having to walk our talk. Today we lift our glasses of pink Flower Essence water to Riley!