I knew the day would come, but it came too fast. If only we had two weeks, two days, or even two hour notice on deaths, so we could begin a countdown. And yet really, the day came too slow. He was so old and fragile, and his health had been declining this last year. But then he would have extra pep in his step every once in a while, like the other day I was laying on the floor with him and he was attacking my hand playfully and wanting me to throw his beloved dodo toy. And he never really slept with us anymore but last Saturday he came to the edge of the bed and scratched at the side which meant he wanted to curl up with one of us for an hour or two. Those were always really special Saturday mornings when he chose us.
Our precious Diesel took his last breath on September 10. It was very unexpected. That evening Brett looked down at him and Diesel looked at him as if trying to tell him something. I tried to get Diesel’s attention and his head lolled over to my direction and he stared at me as if he was pleading, but something in his eyes was off. I panicked and rushed towards him to lift him out of his bed. Brett carefully took him out of my hands and took him over to the couch. Brett’s whole hand fits over Diesel’s body and when he holds him against his chest it has always soothed Diesel to sleep:
He hadn’t eaten anything so I pureed a tiny bit of chicken. Brett held the dish to Diesel’s mouth and he was able to take a few bites and then laid his head down. I thought it might just be one of his bad spells and he’d be okay once he ate. He’d had bad spells for years and they usually only lasted a few hours.
Brett held Diesel to his heart and whispered to him like he always does to calm him down. Then suddenly Diesel arched his neck unnaturally back along Brett’s chest to look up at him. Their noses touched. Brett kissed him. I will never forget that moment and the look in Diesel’s eyes: confusion yet total trust and love. At that moment we knew he was dying. A few seconds later, Brett said, “I think he’s gone.” Diesel had quietly slipped away, and Brett’s hands had felt the final beats.
Boo was in the shower when Diesel died. We could hear her singing and we both sat with Diesel crying over his tiny 2-pound body not wanting to tell her. Of course she was devastated when she finally found out. I told her I had been praying and praying over a few months for God to please let Diesel die at home with us, peacefully. And I had been praying. And every day I asked Diesel if he still wanted to be here with us and he always answered yes with his actions and sweet personality. He always wanted to be included in everything even though he couldn’t quite keep up. We included him any way that we could.
I guess you could say that September 10 was the day that Diesel finally said no. We had been dreading that day and it started out as any other day. Earlier that day Diesel had garnered up enough energy to venture outside when Brett came home for lunch to lay in the sun. We are so thankful for the last few minutes we had with him. I think he waited for us to come home, and when we did he waited for us to pay attention and notice his struggle. I hope he didn’t struggle long. I just couldn’t bear it.
That first night without Diesel was the roughest of sleeps. There was no pitter patter through the night like I was used to hearing.
Waking up the next morning reality set in. I went and looked in the round wooded box Diesel was resting in. As I was making coffee Boo walked in sleepily and looked into the box then turned and headed back to her room. I could hear her sobbing and when I went to check on her she said, “I prayed all night that God would bring Diesel back to life, but he didn’t.”
While Boo was at school Brett and I went to a nearby nursery to pick out a small Japanese Maple for Diesel’s grave. At home Brett dug the biggest hole I’d ever seen. We had all decided we didn’t want to bury Diesel out anywhere by himself. We wanted him close by. We chose the sunny spot right next to the back door, by the woodshed, where he used to often stand in the sun and sniff the air before heading back inside.
Finally at home as a family we said goodbye to Diesel for the last time. Boo gave him one of her old blankies and packed his toys in with him. We lowered him into his final resting place and it took us a very long time to have the courage to cover him up:
Our house seems half empty now. Because of Diesel’s arthritis we had a dog bed in every room for him. Max wouldn’t dare try to sleep in any of them, he still won’t. So I got rid of them. In the last few years Diesel had to go to the bathroom with increasing frequency, every 2 or 3 hours, so we had little mats everywhere for him. Those are all gone now. Because all of his teeth were gone a lot of preparation went into his food each morning and evening. Sometimes if my mind was elsewhere I would make his food and accidentally leave it on the counter and he would stand there patiently and prance a little as if to say, “I’m still here waiting patiently Mom!” He was so forgiving.
Last night Boo and I were cleaning out the dishes from the dishwasher. She was handing me the dishes for me to put away and then she paused for a second. When I looked down to see what she was looking at she was holding the small white soy sauce dishes we used for Diesel’s food. I started crying and just couldn’t stop.
Then I was cutting red peppers for dinner I started crying again. Diesel would always come running when I cut peppers, watermelon or cucumbers. He was so quirky and loved those three. He never begged for any food except for those and he knew the sound of knife slicing through.
I still look for him during the day when I walk by where his bed sat in the living room. He would lay there all day watching me go back and forth and I would have conversations with him each time I passed.
I still look for him at night after everyone is in bed, when I get back up to get water and say goodnight. I would lean over his little sheepskin bed and whisper goodnight to him. I would scratch his ear and he would lean into my hand to tell me how good it felt.
Today was our first day that felt like fall and all I could think all day was: Diesel would have loved this day outside. And there are reminders of him everywhere, like the little stairs and handicap ramps we had to aid him around the house. Even the front porch is a reminder, where he would hobble out to sit and bask in the sun. And each time we went back in he would pause and wait for Max to enter first because if he didn’t Max would dart in so fast that he would flip poor Diesel over. But Diesel was just happy to have sat in the sun just a few minutes warming those old cold bones, because dogs don’t think about death or sickness or that they feel bad…they just think about the small earthly moments of bliss…the ones that we humans don’t even recognize most of the time:
He never really asked for anything but a little sunshine.
Our house has these wonderful little square stone cutouts by Diesel’s resting place. Boo has used the cutouts to leave him little gifts (just like her namesake). At sunset the light shines through the stone windows highlighting and casting a glow around him. We didn’t plan that but I like it:
I think it is possible to die from a broken heart. I can’t believe how much we’ve all cried over Diesel’s absence. I can’t stop thinking about how small and fragile he was. Anyone who’d ever met him swore he must have been the smallest dog in the world. Once I gave him a piece of dry dog food and it literally got stuck in the roof of his mouth because his mouth was smaller than dog food. His little skull was the exact size of a golf ball. His heart, having seen it once on an x-ray, was the size of a grape. A grape. And it beat for almost 14 years. I slept next to him for a while the night he died because I couldn’t get his eyes to close. I thought maybe, just maybe, he would take another breath. Maybe his heart had just slowed and we couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to leave him alone. For a while my eyes keep playing tricks on me and it looked like maybe he’d taken a breath, maybe the blanket had moved a little. But then I’d stroke his fur and whisper to him and he grew colder and colder and I knew it was final. Final. I hate that word. And I hate that the dead grow cold, especially when you just want to grab them and hug them close but you can’t because they are frozen like statues. It’s a mean part of nature I tell you, but it’s also a compassionate part of nature because otherwise I’d still have Diesel’s body with me and, well, we all felt better once he was put to rest. But it still kills me that he’s under that dirt now. And then how Max reacted, he ran all over Diesel’s body like it wasn’t even there. It made me mad that he was acting like a sociopath and I was a little resentful at first but then decided that maybe Max is part of our learning to move forward. He moved on the moment Diesel’s spirit left, his attention moved to: hey! walk! bone! throw the duck! hey! walk! what’s up?! can I see? squirrel!
To heal we have to crawl towards a place where the grief can slowly settle into place like sand between the good stuff. Max moved on immediately because dogs only see the good stuff. Dogs don’t even know how to think about bad stuff. That’s why I saw a little dog running down the middle of the road the other day having the most epic day ever in his mind, with no regard for safety. His tongue was hanging out and his nose was in the air and he was like: best. day. ever. Because dogs just live for the moment and they love the air, and the grass, and worn out tennis balls, and sticks, and eye contact, and a quick pet of the ears. Humans should be more like dogs. Yesterday I was collecting teeny tiny rocks in the back yard and I found this every so tiny heart shaped rock. It was the size of my thumbnail and it was embedded in the dirt so tight it took me a minute to wedge it free:
And maybe it was a little sign from above and I hope it was because there is a big empty void right now…he’s been my little trusty sidekick for so long, spending most of the last 14 years in my lap through study, work and leisure. He was even my trusty little sidekick through cancer. This is Brett’s favorite photo of him, standing guard while I was trying to recuperate from the emergency hysterectomy / chemotherapy I had at Loma Linda a few years ago:
This is probably my favorite photo of him, as we were moving cross-country:
Because we had just recently almost lost him and I was so happy just to have him safe and secure with us. God gave us another year and a half with him. I should be thankful for all those answers to prayer and that huge big answer, but what I would give to be able to hold him one last time.
On Instagram a few of you had been asking where he was the past few months, because most of my dog photos were of Max, our newest addition to the family:
Max is a quirky one but I do think he extended Diesel’s life…putting a little pep back in his step. I think Max reminded Diesel that he was a dog again. Diesel chased Max around the house and tormented him to no end. Their antics made us laugh so much that we wondered if we should intervene. But I thought Diesel wouldn’t want to be remembered as so old and frail. He would want us to remember him like this:
Last weekend Boo had a bad dream and couldn’t get back to sleep. Brett ended up sleeping with her for the rest of the night. The next day she said she had a dream about death but she refused to share anything else. About an hour after Diesel had taken his last breath Boo said, “Remember that dream I had the other night? The one where I said someone died and I didn’t want to say who?” Then she added, “The who was Diesel. Diesel was the one who died in my dream.” Maybe this was our notice.
I desperately try to believe all the things that I am telling my daughter as we move forward. Like how awful it would have been for Diesel to die at the vet, in such a sterile environment with poking and prodding and scary, fearful noises. Like how grateful we should be that Diesel had such a loving family because some dogs never even get a chance to feel such a love. And how wonderful it was to die in his Daddy’s hands, against his Daddy’s heart, every heart beat accounted for by both Diesel and Brett (I will forever be grateful to my husband for his tender moments with our dog).
I tell her that Diesel is in heaven even though some people insist that animals don’t go to heaven. And sometimes I do wonder, because often I wonder just how so many humans spanning hundreds of thousands of years fit into my idea of heaven let alone the animals, but any doubt just leads to overwhelming despair. And my heart begins to crack in a way that cannot be repaired and I feel like I might actually die like they say you can but then I think: what kind of a God would banish such a sweet fragile soul to nothingness?! So yes, Diesel is in Heaven, riding around in a bicycle basket with my father like he used to years ago. And he has teeth. And his vision has been restored. And there’s no more scar tissue in his tiny little bowels. And his arthritis is gone. There is no pain anymore.
Our neighbor’s daughters came over yesterday and the first thing they asked was: where’s Diesel? Boo told them: he’s dead. Natalie, the 4 year old, had a wave of sadness come over her and she said quietly: ohhh, Diesel. Holding back tears I took her to his grave and I told her all these things that I have told Boo, and I told her with “know” in my heart. She nodded and knelt down to pat Diesel’s grave whispering: goodbye Diesel. And then I said: gosh, he could be kind of mean sometimes right? And we all laughed because he really did like to bite the ankles of any child that ventured into his path. (And he did like to attack the mail man and the UPS or Fedex drivers. Not that he could hurt anyone because he didn’t have any teeth and he was half blind, but maybe when you are that old and frail you just want to prove you still have the fire in you.) And then the girls made flowers for his grave:
I know it will get easier. But getting easier means we are leaving part of him behind. And there’s the guilt of moving on. He was so old and fragile for so long that our entire lives were patterned around his needs so I feel like we are embarking into unknown territory. It’s both freeing and sad. And maybe that’s the hardest part, to know that he will slowly fade.
And this is why I write: to remember.
Rest in peace sweet little itty bitty. In Heaven.
There are things I need to tell you, but would you listen if I told you how quickly time passes?
I know you are unable to imagine this.
Nevertheless, I can tell you that you will awake someday to find that your life has rushed by at a speed at once impossible and cruel. The most intense moments will seem to have occurred only yesterday and nothing will have erased the pain and pleasure, the impossible intensity of love and its dog-leaping happiness, the bleak blackness of passions unrequited, or unexpressed, or unresolved.
-Meg Rosoff, What I Was
Thank you all for reading about Diesel over the years and sharing in his life. Give your pet an extra hug and kiss from our family today.