Tron was a lovable Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepperd mix who loved jumping fences, cuddling with baby rabbits, and getting belly rubs. He taught me how to yell like a crazy girl, run barefoot through the woods, and find a gentleness and appreciation for the depth in animals which I would've never found without him.
He was more than a dog to me. He was my best friend.
Over the course of about three months in the fall of 2019, Tron started down a very slow, almost unnoticeable change in health. He hadn't been acting himself. He slept more, was slowly losing weight, and started obtaining these stains and sores on his back where he kept itching himself. My family and I were very busy and emotionally taxed with other events that were going on at the same time and were unable to devote the attention to his condition that we wanted to. It crept up on us, unknown for a long time. Those months were spent in a slow decline that wasn't apparent until the last few weeks in November. That was when we discovered he had, what seemed like benign, tumors on his stomach.
The next week was a whirl of panic and denial. Surely, surely the bumps were just benign. He was a healthy, active dog. He had nearly 3 or 4 acres to run, animals to protect, four other dogs to play with, fresh milk and eggs to eat, and a warm couch to flop on along with plenty of belly rubs. There was no way he could be sick. But he only got worse. He developed tumors on his chest as well. We took him into the vet.
It was all so sickening, sitting there in the waiting room, trying to keep my sweet, nervous dog calm and comfortable. I wanted to know right away what was wrong, even if it was terminal. The wait for a diagnosis was the most excruciating. As I sat with my mom in the waiting room after they took him back for examination, she told me that she didn't want to lie to me. She believed the tumors were actually swollen lymph nodes. It was most likely cancer, she said. She didn't want me to be shocked, or overly optimistic when the doctor came in.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the vet came back with my precious baby and delivered the verdict as gently as possible.
My mom had been right. It was most likely cancer.
The veterinarians could run tests to know for sure, but there were only a few things which caused swollen lymph nodes in a dog; the most common of which was lymphoma—a form of cancer, untreatable for dogs. I wanted to scream and cry—to throw something across the room, but I was too shocked to do anything. So I petted Tron, who could only wag his tail and look up at me with those sweet, beautiful, oblivious eyes. I nodded as the vet talked, doing my best to be in control of myself. I needed to be strong for Tron. I needed to bear this burden. It was the least I could do for all the things he had done for me. The last thing I needed to do was lose composure or act with irrational emotion.
The vet said we had about 2-3 months left. They could perform chemo on him but it would only elongate the time to maybe six months. And we would have to bring him back into the vets an ungodly amount of times. She appreciated our attention and how we handled the news. She said I had acted very maturely. But oh I wasn't handling it well. I only knew how to lie was all.
We left the facility, the rest of the visit feeling like a sickening replay of life—moving through motions I had done before, but something being so off, so wrong. It felt as if I had bitten out of an apple, only to find that everything which had once tasted sweet, tasted like poison. I had walked out of that side, glass door of the vet's office many many times, but never like I had that day. I smiled at the nurses and cheerfully pulled Tron out of the office and into the cold air. It was all the same, and yet, everything was different. Everything had changed.
My mom helped me load him into the car. He sat stoically in the seat next to me, as if he were a person riding along. He was nervous from the vet visit, but excited because he knew it was over and we were going home soon. I pet him and hugged him, but something snapped in me.
Suddenly, inexplicably, I didn't want to look at him, or touch him. I didn't want to be in the car, especially with him. I wanted to scream, but didn't want to say a word. My mom asked me if I wanted to talk about it. I coldly said there was nothing to be said, that there was nothing to be done.
She was quiet for a while before she asked if I wanted to go through the blood tests to see if it really was lymphoma, and then chemo to lengthen his time.
I didn't need the tests to know what it was, just like my mom and the vet knew. It was cancer, and there was no cure. All the blood tests and chemo could do would drag my beautiful boy back to the vet's office for unnecessary trips to a place that smelled like death to him and caused him to shake with anxiety. It was a cruel thought. How could I torture the one creature I loved more than anything else with such horrible trips? And for what gain? So I could prolong his suffering against this disease because I was too selfish and weak to let him go?
In my mind, he was already dead. There was nothing we could do for him. He was a walking corpse—a ticking clock which could never be run backwards—a one-sided hourglass with his life instead of sand, pouring to the bottom. But he wasn't dead. Oh no. He wasn't. Not just yet. He still sat beside me, tongue lolling out of his mouth, his eyes darting from side to side.
I grabbed my phone and snapped two quick, silly looking pictures of him. I would want them, I thought, when he was gone. I smiled at the pictures and my mom caught my eye knowingly.
But then I was horrified at myself. He was still alive and all I could think about was what I would want after he was dead. I put my phone away and sobbed into his shoulder. He moved away, too anxious to sit still. I resented that one movement, but how could he know he was dying? How could he know that every hug, every kiss, every pet could be the last? I still had two to three months with him, didn't I? But for some reason, I didn't want those extra months. I didn't want to wake up every morning wondering if he had passed on in the night. I didn't want to have to say an extra goodbye every time we left the house just in case he was gone when we came back. I wanted it to be done with. I didn't want to suffer through this. I wished he had just passed away already. I wished I wasn't waking up to a living hell.
He was only four years old. I'd only had a few short years with him. And he would be taken from me. I had been robbed. I hated everything. I was angry at … what? What could I be angry at? The vet for the diagnosis? Tron for being sick? Myself? The cancer? There was no release for the anger and it festered.
We were supposed to have years together. Years to grow closer, years to have fun, have fights, for him to grow old. But then it all faded away into what it had become. I would never have those beautiful years with him. Instead, I was given a measly two months to watch him die.
I cried the entire way home, dreading what I would have to tell my family and everyone I knew. I was going to lose my best friend. No. I had already lost him.
And that was when the nightmare began.
(These were the two pictures I took after we left the Veterinary's office.)
Thank you so much for reading the first *official* installment of my writing advice series "On Writing Grief!" I hope it helps you, whether its for research purposes or for healing in your own life.
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May the suns smile upon your presence.
-Effie J. Stock