This Goodbye Makes Everything Else About Downsizing Seem Easy

downsizing Jan 24, 2019

The lunar eclipse took Rosie.

I felt so sure that what was before the eclipse would stay in the past, and what came after would be on the other side of some chasm, with no going back. Now we’re doing life without our beloved dog, with the excruciating understanding that change takes many forms.

It’s like living in an altered state, the first days after one you love dies.

The last time the sun was just over there sinking behind the winter trees, Rosie was still alive.

The day before, I left a half-filled glass of water on the counter and said a casual goodbye to the dog. The glass is still here, and she’s not.

I feel like all this work sorting for the move has been set back two months. I’m back to wandering this place with no idea what to pick up and what to leave.

Yesterday, the day after she died, the kids and I took Rosie’s wooden body to the vet and laid her on the floor, wrapped in a white blanket and placed in a blue canvas bag with double stitched handles and a paw print decal on the side; the bag in which the young vets-in-training put Rosie’s body before hauling her out to the car the night before.

We had decided not to bury her in the yard since we were moving anyway, and because the buzzards’ job is to find and dine on things like this. We settled on mass cremation, and paid an extra $15 for her paw print pressed into clay.

We placed our hands on the cool flat side of the bag and patted it. We wouldn’t cut any fur from her body. Not the same, fur detached from her warm hum. We refused the cherry box of ashes, too. Because, how could that ever replace her? And besides… the downsizing thing.

I mumbled our thanks and drove home half blind with tears.

This house was her house. She was its heart, always beating. Rosie filled every room with ubiquitous joviality or subdued awareness, depending on her people’s vibe.

Our dog was a witness without judgment, rolling with the pace of each day. Where there was a crowd, she bustled in the center, and when the house was quiet, she rested her snout on her windowsill and watched the yard. She sniffed out contractors. She hung out in the kitchen when I cooked, roving the floor for fallen treasure. When I stood she stood. When I sat down, she sighed at my feet.

This has been a terrible surprise. Unexpected, unfair. I wake in the morning and think for a minute. It’s too quiet. No Rosie.

“I have to do this day without Rosie” is my first coherent thought.

I had told my friends that night of the lunar eclipse moon-viewing party, that there was something up with Rosie. Probably indigestion, since her diet includes weird things found in the woods.

I came home to find our sweet dog suffering on the floor of my closet, her eyes squeezed shut, and her belly rising and falling in swift, shallow breaths. She stood up when I greeted her but did not look up at me. She took one or two wavering steps into the bathroom, then slumped down again on the tile.

I called my friend Charles.

“Can you come over?” I needed a second opinion. Ten minutes later, when he said her name, Rosie’s tail swished against the floor, twice.

It was the last time I saw her wag.

After a brief discussion, I decided to take her to the after-hours vet. I called Willie and Henry to come and say goodbye to Rosie, and her eyes grew wide then as if fixing her gaze on some distant thing made all the difference. It looked like bravery to me, or resignation, although she never made contact with our eyes.

I thought if I could just get her to look in my eyes, she might rally. I willed it to be a bad case of indigestion. Dead things in the woods were her culinary delights. It had to have been something she ate. She was fine that morning.

We wrapped her in a white blanket and lay her in the hatchback. I hoped with all my might for good news, a quick recovery, something we’d laugh about later.

Willie kept watch from the back seat. The drive to the north Austin animal emergency room couldn’t have been more than a half hour away, but it felt like forever.

When we arrived, the doctor came out and immediately checked Rosie’s gums. Noting they were cold, she and another worker picked her up and whisked her to the back room.

It was Pericardial Effusion. She was in shock. We drained the fluid that had filled the sac around her heart, to give her some relief. The doctor told us the fluid pressing on her heart would fill back in; there’s not much you can do, etc.

We put Rosie to sleep then, petting her and talking to her through it on the floor of the hospital. I lay next to her and put my nose to hers. “You’re such a good dog. You’re the best dog.” She did not lick. She did not move. Her eyes were already gone. I lay there for a while after the doctor checked her heart.

Will stood and swayed in the corner.

“She really was the best dog,” I got up.

When presented with the options for what to do with her body, I thought for a long time. No good options. Why was I having to make this decision when two hours earlier my dog was just fine?

I could have sworn she was just fine.

I’m still trying to recreate that last day.

It was a Sunday. I let her out that morning and when I called her in for breakfast she was in such a hurry that she skidded on the garage floor. She wolfed down her food like it was her last meal. (Turns out it was.) She busied herself as I got ready for church, lay in her bed when I left.

She was behind the sofa when I returned hours later. I had stopped to visit a friend on the way home from church so I was gone longer than I expected. Behind the sofa was an odd place for her.

I remember a small wheeze or a cough. I rubbed her tummy and put some oils on her belly, assuming she had eaten something funky earlier. I wasn’t worried in the least. She was fine, I thought.

When I left that evening for the moon-viewing, I looked around and found her against the wall next to the toilet in the bathroom. I should have known then, but I still thought she was just battling a stomach ache. I assumed she’d be OK. She lifted her head; I patted it and left for the eclipse party.

Six hours later we were taking her body home. The young people who worked at the all-night hospital may as well have been loading mulch, the way they lay the bag in the back and shut the hatch. The way they smiled and said to be safe as if it were just another night. They obviously did not grasp what just happened.

There’s nothing more to say about that day, the worst day.

The day before, the handyman was here to install trim below a windowsill and hang the door upstairs. Rosie shadowed us so closely, I thought “she’s getting older.” Her need to be so close to me was sweet, but a bit of a nuisance, so I told her to sit in her kennel, which she did. She got the hint. I never had to shut the door. She was a good, smart dog.

The day before that, she finally chewed through the squeaker from the toy she got for Christmas. Rosie had surgically removed it with her teeth and kept the sound going for weeks with just a soft bite. Something got the better of her and she lost her self control and chewed it into a hard crinkled, plastic nugget, which I found in her dog bed.

Her tags are still on the bathroom counter. Everything is the same, yet nothing’s the same.

I wish we could leave right now. Forget about the piles of stuff, and the home staging, and the final window cleaning. I’m done.

Now that we’re leaving, I tell myself it’s because Rosie’s no longer here. No point in staying now. That’s for real. No point in laboring over all the stupid boxes of stuff: which plants to take, and which Christmas wreath to keep.

Most of this stuff is meaningless, compared to her.

We deposited the soul of this whole house in a room a few miles down Highway 71 and left it to be incinerated. If I can walk away from that, then I can say goodbye to anything. Our dog’s friendship was the best thing about this whole stupid place. If I had to, I could leave everything behind now. This house is not a home.


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