It's an unspoken understanding that when you get a dog, you know someday you'll have to say goodbye. I don't know why dog years are so much shorter than human years, but I didn't make the rules. We knew the day was coming... we had hoped you would get better and stay with us a little longer, but we couldn't watch you hurting anymore. I don't think I ever would've been ready to say goodbye to you, buddy. But we knew you were ready. I remember sitting with you at the bottom of the stairs a few days before when you were breathing so rapidly. Through tears I asked you to tell us when you were ready to go home.
All that weekend I kept asking your daddy, "do you think he knows how much we love him?" I hope you knew how big our hearts were for you, buddy. I always say that doggies are one of the most tangible glimpses of God's unconditional love for us. (In a sweet, furry package.) And you were the epitome of that... you loved us so hard and wanted nothing more than to be with us. The days that followed your last were a constant reminder of that. With you gone, I became acutely aware of how much you had been a part of my daily routine.
You were always the first to wake us up in the mornings. Always so eager to get outside and do your "lap" back and forth across the yard, you'd stand by my bedside and stare at me with that goofy face of yours, whimpering slightly till one of us got up. Sometimes Belly would join you, but the girls usually would just roll over and sleep in a little more. Whether I was taking a shower, cutting up fruit, unloading the washer, or blow-drying my hair, you were right by my side. The house just felt very, very still without you. Very quiet. I guess I never realized how independent our girls were... but I found myself doing all my normal daily things without anyone at my heels. And that was heartbreaking. Coming home from work for the first time, knowing you wouldn't be there to greet me, felt so weird. Going through that first 24-hour period without you was really tough. It just felt wrong.
But that's just something your daddy and I have to go through. We miss you so much and it hurts. Your funny little face brought us such joy and endless laughter. We only had 6 1/2 years with you, but what sweet years they were. We always joke about how silly and goofy you were... you would come and sit before us and just look at us with this look of anticipation, as if to say, "OK, what's next?!" You were absolutely terrified of water. Whenever we'd go to the lake, you'd hide behind me as if Daddy couldn't see you. He was always trying to get you to face your fear, but that never really worked, did it?! We laughed that your little corner of Heaven must have NO pools, rivers or lakes anywhere (because those are so scary!!!)... only a big bowl of drinking water for you to vigorously gulp and dribble everywhere. And oh, I bet there's a feast fit for a king for you up there... you did love to eat. You were the sweetest of boys till someone messed with your food! (I think you got that from me.)
The days leading up to our goodbye were precious. Despite you not feeling well most days, you were able to perk up a bit on Father's Day. What a good day you had! We all went out for ice cream - our last little family outing with all three of you. And you got lots of love from Grandma and Grandpa that day too during our Father's Day dinner... what a treat! It was a great day full of family. We didn't know it was your last full day with us, but it was a great last day, wasn't it, buddy?
Your daddy and I had discussed a while back how we would say goodbye to you when the time came. It's something we hated talking about, but we wanted to have a plan in place. We wanted to be ready when you were. And just like I asked you, you told us that Monday morning that you were ready to go. All that fun you had on Father's Day caught back up with you... you were so pitiful and weak. I hate that I had to go on in to work and leave you for a few hours. You should know I was fighting back tears all morning long and all my thoughts were on you. I was so glad to see you feeling a little better when I got home that afternoon. We were able to enjoy a little sunshine together in the backyard. It was so surreal following you up the deck stairs, and then watching you nose open the back door... for the last time. I knew at that moment that I'd never see you do that again. Something I've seen you do a million times before.
We had your vet come to the house to help us say goodbye. We knew how much you hated going to the doctor... we didn't want your last moments to be at the vet's office. It was important for you to be here, at your home, surrounded by your family - even your silly sisters. We wanted you to be as comfortable as you could be, and I think you were. I hope you were. Daddy just kept giving you peanut butter and you just kept licking away. You still had peanut butter on your tongue when you finally fell asleep. So if you still have the taste of your favorite treat in your mouth, that's why.
I keep replaying the image of us laying down your sweet head... we were holding it together as you passed away. The bitter sweetness of that moment makes me smile but also haunts me. Running my hands over your beautiful coat one last time and kissing your sweet head... it'll never be enough. I hate that you're not here with us. I hate it. I miss every part of you... the lines on your face, your mysterious missing tooth, your floofy bent tail... all of it. I miss spooning with you at night. I miss watching you dart across the yard yelping at each corner because you can't pee fast enough to dart back to the other side. I miss your grunts and sighs. I miss your goofy stare - how intently you'd look at us. You were such a sweet little man... so stately. You had such a kind spirit.
Later that same week, we took your ashes and spread them along your path in the backyard - did you hear us yelping and barking as we did it? I'm sure the neighbors thought we had lost it! As painful as saying goodbye was, you know I wouldn't change our time with you for a second. I can still remember standing behind your daddy at the computer in our first apartment, looking at your puppy picture on the rescue agency's website. It was love at first sight. There was never much discussion when we got married... your daddy and I knew we'd have to have a dog. We adopted your sister, Belly, very soon after we got married. And we fell in love with you and brought you home later that same year. What a joy you were to us, buddy. Both your sisters loved you (even if Belly won't admit it) and we can tell they miss you. Belly is just now getting back to her old self. You were her security blanket. And I know Gertie really misses her wrestling partner. We all are missing a little piece of our heart because you took it with you when you left us. But we are so glad that you are in a better place, feeling good and running free of any pain or discomfort.
People have asked me if we're going to get another doggie. And I just smile... because, buddy, you know we never really intended to have three dogs. Life just kind of happened that way. So we're just going to stick with the two girls. It's amazing how different the atmosphere is without you... we're learning to adjust. But new dog or not, there's just no replacing you, buddy. You were something very special and we'll love you and miss you forever. I hope you know that. I find myself grabbing your collar every once in a while... closing my eyes and holding it up to my nose. It's the only thing we have left that is full of your sweet smell. To most people, it smells like a dirty dog. But to me, it's Charlie.
All of the above photos were taken on the day we said goodbye to Charlie. He passed away in our home on Monday, June 21, 2010, licking peanut butter from the hub's fingers until his last breath.