It’s 3 am on Tuesday morning, and I’m exhausted. I haven’t been to bed. Monday night bleeds into early Tuesday morning. And I’m emotionally, mentally, and physically spent. The house is still and quiet. Finally. Rufus had fluids coming out of every orifice; excessive slobber from his nose and mouth — which the vet said could mean excessive abdomen pain, large puddles of pee and a peppering of loose poo.
I can tell Rufus feels bad; he looks ashamed that he continues to be betrayed by his little frail body. He tries to make it to the door, but always seems to fall a little short. He simply can’t control himself, and we ache for him. Watching him like this is heartbreaking. I still see glimpses of the dog I know, but his appearances are much rarer than I’d prefer.
As the second and final load of laundry is set to dry; all towels from project Rufus cleanup, we’re forced to have that conservation we’ve dreaded.
For us, we knew we were down to the last few days; maybe a week, if we were lucky and determined. We just survived an exhausting weekend. We initially were optimistic that when we removed the catheter, he’d miraculously do better. Looking back, I’m confused what we were thinking; did we believe the removal of the catheter was going to be something magical and his health instantly improved?! Naïve. Wishful.
Monday evening was a rude awakening; the reality that we have an old, aging, and ailing dog was coming into clear focus.
Talking with my spouse, we fast forwarded to the days ahead and concluded that the next several days would probably look a lot like tonight. And we had to ask ourselves is that something Rufus wants? Is that something we want? I had to check my personal vanity and ego. I wanted Rufus to make one more road trip with us; I wanted Rufus to celebrate his 17th birthday this August, I wanted Rufus to stay with us a little longer. But is that what is best for Rufus? I think we all know where we landed.
D day, July 6, 2021
For the third consecutive day I slept on the floor next to Rufus in the master bedroom while my spouse and two girls (Emily & Lily) slept on the bed. I just wanted to be near him, and he seemed more comfortable on his posh, soft blanket floor level than on the high bed above.
Rufus slept through the night; or at least from 2 am through 7 am. He didn’t wake up once. In the last few weeks, he had been sleeping harder and more sound than normal. I found myself checking periodically to make sure he was still with us.
Part of last night’s late-night decision was I wanted to say goodbye early morning. Rufus was generally more alert and aware in the mornings, and I wanted us to end on a good note before he vomited or soiled himself. I also worried, if I waited too long, I’d lose my courage to do what was right for Rufus.
I have been with this being since he was 10 weeks old, and now after nearly 17 years (16 years and 11 months) it was time take our last drive together.
Rufus and I first bonded on our drive home as puppy, and now he sits on my lap one last time. I breathe deeply as I try to breathe him in. I want to remember everything I can about my boy. His smell. His soft coat. That look of recognition in his eyes. All the little details that make up our Rufus, I strive to commit them to memory.
Years earlier, I expressed what I wanted for Rufus when the time came. I wanted to be there. I wanted our girls to be there (Emily & Lily) and I wanted him to be surrounded by love. It was my last gift to him.
Rufus was my first dog as an adult. He was a series of firsts for me, and this last act of love and compassion was a first for me. I can read about euthanasia online, but I must experience it to have a complete understanding of it. I learn by doing. And I can tell you friends it was a beautiful and peaceful transition. Rufus all on his own came to me and rested his head on my leg for his last breath, and I’m so grateful to have been there for him.
Day 1, July 7, 2021
The morning after.
It’s a new and strange and unfamiliar day for me. I feel like, what I imagine, an amputee might feel like (according to all the movies I’ve watched); a part of me is missing. I can still feel where he is supposed to be. Rufus always slept on my right side, and we laid skin to fur. His warm body touching me was a great comfort; his presence was my security blanket.
My right leg still feels him. But I can’t see him. He’s truly gone. My little four-legged, furry shadow. I feel lost. Unsure how to act without my tether keeping me grounded to our regular routine. There’s a void. And sadness washes over me like big oceanic waves; each one knocks me over, takes away my breathe and bathes me in bittersweet memories of my lost friend. I do feel lighter; unweighted. Instead of feeling free, I feel like I might just float away. I have a newfound liberation, I don’t want. The morning after has been the hardest. What a rude awakening, waking up to this new reality. I don’t want it.
Day 2; new normal
For the last 2 years, perhaps 3, I would wake up every 5 hours to let Rufus outside to pee. This practice helped to curtail accidents. My body is trained. I still wake up, but now I just lie there in bed wide awake and confused what to do now.
Rufus’ last gifts.
One of the great gifts Rufus has left my spouse and me, is the bond of love, grief and loss. To experience the pain together has been fortifying. It’s beautiful, and I’m grateful for the experience. It’s something he and I can share, and I’m thankful I’m taking this journey with him. Rufus is famous for bringing people together, and none were more important or influenced by him than us.
Life goes on
In the grand scheme of things, we didn’t plan it this way, but I’m grateful we had a work trip to distract us. Coming home and leaving immediately for Arizona was good fortune. It didn’t stop the pain or grieving, but it was good to be busy.
Taking our first road trip without Rufus was tough. He loved road tripping. We have so many fond memories in the car together listening to Fleetwood Mac, and when a familiar song would come on our playlist, tears would often flow.
I’m normally a guy that tries to hide my feelings from the world. But this process has had me embrace the tears publicly and privately. Not only did I love Rufus, but I also really liked him. I enjoyed him being part of my everyday life these last 17 years. In all the years we were together, Rufus and I were never separated for more than two weeks at a time; ever. His absence leaves a great void in my life.
I wonder how long I will mourn. As I’ve said, loving and caring for Rufus provided me with a series of firsts. He’s the first dog I’ve loved and lost so I’m in uncharted waters. Some days I feel like a blubbering mess unable to function, and other days I feel more productive. I suspect it’ll get easier with time, but I do believe the next year will be tough as I now experience a series of firsts sans Rufus. His birthday next month. Our first Monthly Meetup without him. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. More road trips and travels.
But it’s not just the big holidays. I miss our daily routine. Driving together to get lunch or dinner to go. He was my ride and die buddy, constant sidekick, perpetual passenger, and now running simple errands seem less inviting. I’m a little depressed, and I can only hope tomorrow will be easier.
On my iPhone my featured memories often include highlights of Rufus and our many adventures together. They’re beautiful to see and I often smile big at his memory, and in truth I also get a little sad at the same time. Sad that there will no more memories to be made.
Saturday, July 10th, Day 4 of our life without Rufus (in the physical) — is my first day not crying. I note the milestone because I felt it was significant. And I remember thinking briefly, perhaps I’m making progress. I felt good, but it was naturally short lived. The tears return, and I do my best to embrace them while trying to be productive.
July 14; eight days later driving home
Anticipation. Returning home with no Rufus. We’re going home. After eight nights away, it’s time to return and face the music (or more accurately the silence).
The first night sleeping in our bed without Rufus was tough. But bearable. I think I already had that experience of him not being there that first morning after. So, I feel confident I might not cry today.
Waking up and racing out the door to run a quick errand, because I’m often running late, I get to the garage door and look down and around and see no one. And the tears come like a waterfall.
Rufus and the girls are very different. The girls always offer a very loud and warm welcome when we return from an outing; but Rufus always walked me to the door in the hopes that he might get to go with me. His absence today was gut wrenching. A total sucker punch.
Even now, I’m in bed writing and being with my feelings and the girls are content snuggled with each other on the couch. I’m alone in here and they’re together in there. For me. There simply will never be another Rufus. The connection we had was special, unique, and unparalleled.
The hardest days for me to date have been…
1) Tuesday, July 6th saying goodbye
2) Wednesday, July 7th the first morning
3) Thursday, July 15th our first morning / day home without Rufus here.
I don’t know what the future holds. I am blessed and luckier than many in lots of ways. I’m so grateful to have known and loved Rufus. I’m sad for all the people who will never know him like we did, but he’ll live on forever in our pictures and memories. And I plan to celebrate him every day for the rest of my life. I don’t plan to remove any photos or put him in drawer. Nope. I will look at each photo of him with great love and appreciation for the rest of my days and remember a friendship that was life changing.
Emily and Lily are doing well. Emily had a clear and visible recognition and reaction to Rufus’ passing. I’m grateful she was there to say goodbye to her friend. Lily appeared to be present and aware, but also a little distant.
I want the girls to be who they are; whatever is true to their nature and personality. They are not Rufus, and I don’t expect them to act like him (not now nor ever). I’m eager to see how our lives change without Rufus (our little Napoleon, dictator alpha, pack leader). Rufus was the pack boss, and without his influence, I’m curious how things will change around here.
I noticed this morning, Emily, Lily, and Milo were all piled on the couch cuddling together. In Rufus’ absence there is more space for everyone to occupy. The girls have been a considerable comfort.
Thank you, friends, for all your comments and personal shares. To know Rufus touched your lives as much as he did ours, is a precious, priceless testament to a life well lived and a dog well loved. His presence and personality in this world were so much bigger than his little 11-pound body. And now he’s leaves an indelible mark in our hearts, minds, and souls.
We will continue to celebrate him and his pack till our end days. So, stay tuned. I’m sure this won’t be the last entry about Rufus and his legacy.