Sometimes in that early morning haze between sleep and awakening, I reach out with my feet to touch the warmth of her belly. And when I walk through the door at night, I search for her brown, curled form on the couch and to hear her excited “woof” and the telltale thumping of her eager tail.
Although it’s been several months since our little dog, Sarah, died, I still think I see her from the corner of my eye. I inevitably find something that she once played with or chewed up and it brings back the loss all over again.
It is one of the great imbalances of life that we are only gifted with limited time with those creatures who envelop us with the purest and most unconditional of loves. We had Sarah for 14 years, just enough time for her to wrap her life around our own and leave a profound and cavernous loss upon leaving but not nearly as many moments as we wanted.
From the instant we saw her racing towards us in the adoption yard of Animal Rescue of Fresno, the little brown charmer with the periscope ears stole our hearts. She leaped over two other dogs to get top billing and raced around us like her life depended upon it. We didn’t realize how much she had been abused until we took her home. It took weeks for her to do much else than to grovel on her belly with her head down.
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We knew it would take a lot to love her out of her pain. We didn’t realize that she would pay back our patience tenfold as she also loved us out of our own pain. I wept into the folds of her neck when I lost my mom and dad, and our boys often slept with her when they needed comfort and support.
They named her Sarah at ARF, after the famous jazz singer Sarah Vaughn. She had adapted to it, so we kept it; but she would have been more aptly named Bambi, for her big brown eyes, or Yoda, for her overlarge propeller ears, which seemed to have a force of their own.
She was not the perfect canine child. She barked at everyone who came into her turf, hated car rides, never met another dog she liked and still tried to bite our lifelong friend during his frequent visits. And she was such a beggar, never jumping up to the table but sitting at a short distance with her hound-dog face until someone threw down a treat.
I could never take a nap without her. With her long, skinny, pogo-stick legs, she wasn’t a cuddler but would lie next to me, my hand enfolding her face, her limbs entwined with mine, our breathing synchronized.
Over the past several years, I noticed her gait slowing down, strange growths on her stomach and the whitening of the hairs on her face and I realized we were probably going to outlive her. But we were still stunned by the diagnosis of lymphoma the young veterinarian gave us.
The treatment options included a painful, tedious and expensive round of chemotherapy or to make her as comfortable as possible her last days. At age 15, we knew her time was limited. We brought her home and gave her medications to stimulate her appetite, fed her anything she wanted, and all of us spent as much time as possible lying next to her.
Within two weeks, I knew the time was near. I made an appointment to put her down, but ultimately Sarah chose her time. She took her final breath in my husband’s arms the day before. Only my oldest son and husband were home. My younger son was picked up from work, I was called back from errands, and we spent the next hour stroking her still-warm body.
We sang her the Welsh lullaby that we had sung so many times to our infant sons. Finally, we were ready to take her to the vet for cremation. They made a cast of her paw and I retrieved her ashes a week later. I still haven’t been able to bring them out and put them in the memory basket I bought just for her.
The night she died, my husband posted a picture of our beloved Sarah on his Facebook page with the words from that lullaby beneath.
Sleep my child and peace attend thee, all through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee, all through the night.
You did your job as our guardian angel, Sarah. Now rest in peace, my sweet baby girl. Rest in peace.
Carol Lawson-Swezey is a volunteer coordinator for Hinds Hospice and a freelance writer. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.