As much as I knew this was happening, I’m in a bit of a state of shock. I can’t believe she’s gone. It seems surreal, to be honest. It feels as if she’s just being boarded or is sleeping quietly in the other room, but the pain of this morning reminds me that she is gone. It’s as if my brain can’t process the concept of Olive’s dying and that my heart won’t accept her absence. I suppose death has the worst way of doing that — of sitting on the surface so that it doesn’t fully sink in right away, doesn’t seem real, until a moment comes when you’ve successfully convinced yourself that it was all an awful nightmare. And then it happens. I think I can hear her snoring at my feet, but I look down and see…nothing. Then it sinks in deep, deeper than you ever knew existed within you. And it hurts. The pain seems unbearable, and in a way it is. And then you beg for that feeling of surreality again, of not having fully accepted their death in the first place. But you can’t turn back once it’s sunken in. And you can’t change things that are already done.
All these years later I can still remember vividly what Olive looked like the exact moment we first saw her. Ryan and I had driven to South Georgia to pick her up. A few months earlier we had heard that a friend’s dog was pregnant with potential show dogs, miniature schnauzers, and we had been looking for a forever friend for our then-puppy, Oscar, who was also a miniature schnauzer. We didn’t want a fancy dog, but the timing seemed all-too perfect, so we asked if we could take one of the puppies. They agreed and asked if we wanted a girl or a boy. “The runt,” we replied. I wanted the scrawniest, most unwanted dog to call part of our family, boy or girl. I’m pretty sure they thought we were crazy for having such an odd preference. When Olive was born we hadn’t told the owners what we were planning on calling her yet, so they nicknamed her, the runt, Little Bit. Almost a decade later, and I laugh at that now because Olive turned out to be the roundest little dog you ever did see.
Raised around dogs my whole life, I firmly believe that puppies should stay with their mother for eight weeks before going to their new homes, which is a long time compared to most eager owners. So, when we pulled up to the house to pick Olive up, she was the lone puppy hanging around. We walked to the backyard where she and her parents were playing. This tiny ball of gray fur came bounding down the stairs, chasing an even tinier leopard-print tennis ball. She had a fire and a gusto unlike any other puppy I’ve ever seen. Ryan and I laughed at the sight; our other dog, Oscar, was almost six months old and had just gotten up the courage to walk himself down the staircase. I suppose in many ways that was the foretelling of our pups — opposite in so many ways, but a pair nonetheless. Oscar was tall with straight, light gray fur; Olive was short and rotund with curly dark gray fur. He was a scaredy cat; she feared nothing. He loved without discretion; she made you earn her affection. Olive was always standoffish to Oscar, while he doted on her endlessly, the typical love story I suppose. Oscar was head-over-heels for Olive the moment they met, but Olive ran straight under the couch at the sight of him. He sniffed and sniffed and sniffed under that couch as she tried to evade him, only eventually coming out to retrieve a treat we used to coax her. However, over the years they became brother and sister in the truest sense, and wherever one went, the other followed. They barely spent a moment alone during her life.
When we packed Little Bit up to drive the long road home, something faltered in her confidence. I sobbed as we drove away from her first home because in an instant she turned from a confident, boisterous ball of energy to a timid, frightened creature. She was terrified, and I felt so guilty from taking her away from her parents. While we drove, I calmed her and myself by telling her all about what was to come — the house she’d grow up in, the best friend waiting for her to arrive, the dog park down the street. By the time we made it home, the sky was dark, and we were all exhausted. Until that night we had a “no dogs in the bed” policy, but Olive and I looked up at Ryan with our big, sad puppy dog eyes and begged, “Just this one night. Think of all she’s been through…” He agreed, and Olive spent that night curled up into a little ball under the covers at my belly while I spooned her. And the dogs have spent every night in our bed ever since.
When I was pregnant with Emma Vance, Olive was my protector. I would refer to her as “Little Mama” because she always wanted to lay on my belly and became very fierce toward strangers. It’s always fascinated me how animals can sense so many things in this world, and I knew she knew what was about to happen. Looking back, though, I had supposed that the “what” was “we’re having a baby,” but in hindsight I think she knew the “what” was “things are going to change in our relationship dramatically and permanently.” In those early days of new motherhood, filled with exhaustion and hormones, I would lament at not being able to love on our dogs as much as we had before Emma Vance arrived. But with time things normalized, and as the girls grew, the dogs got more than their share of attention. Olive loved the girls in a motherly way, but never quite accepted that babies and toddlers are handsy and boisterous themselves. She would protect those children with her life, but clearly merely tolerated the doting and dress-up that comes with being the dog of young girls. ;) I had always dreamed about the days when the girls would understand how to best play with and love on Olive, and I regret that she never got to see those days.
In December 2015, our always-overweight Olive began to shed pounds easily and without explanation. It was deceiving because for the first time in years she was like a puppy again — bounding all over the place, wanting to chase tennis balls, not harumphing as she jumped down from the bed. But we knew something was wrong. I prayed that it wouldn’t be cancer, and it wasn’t. Instead they discovered that Olive had severe diabetes; her numbers were literally off the chart, well above 700. The vet was regretful about the condition but hopeful that we could manage it. We began giving her insulin shots twice a day. She was in and out of the vet constantly, spending a week there once to try and get her blood sugar to regulate. In the two months that followed her diagnosis, she began to deteriorate and age. All of a sudden she just seemed, well, old. And it happened fast. Terrifyingly fast.
As time progressed, I started to notice odd behavior from her, but I couldn’t describe exactly what I thought was wrong. Plagued by trying to place my finger on what was going on, I spent an afternoon observing her in order to draw my own conclusions. At the end of my observation, I broke off a piece of ham and placed it on the ground in front of her. She didn’t move. I told her to get the ham, and she began to sniff around. I placed my fingers a few inches away from the food on the floor, and Olive gently sniffed them before trying to pick my fingers up with her teeth. Choked up, I pushed her snout over to the real treat. She’s blind. With one thought all the odd behaviors made sense — the staring off into space, the standing still in the center of a room for lengths of time, urinating in odd spots, refusing to go up and down stairs. We were all devastated. And from there her quality of life began to drop. She had a fall. She ran into things. She would bark at the wall. She wanted to sleep all day and all night. It was awful.
So Ryan and I had the hardest conversation we’ve ever had in 14 years of being together. It, too, was awful. More awful than you can imagine. I never prepared myself to decide when and how Olive would pass, and even though we are trying to believe that we made the merciful decision to let her go before she became an invalid, I will always feel a lurch in my stomach upon reliving the choice. Although I want to believe we chose mercy over pain, the decision felt like we were choosing selfishness no matter the outcome. It would have been selfish of me to choose to let her live a few more months until she truly decayed into a miserable state simply to have more time with her; it was selfish of me to choose to let her go before deteriorating so that I didn’t have to see her suffer. I will forever be scarred by having to set the exact day and time of Olive’s death.
But once the decision was made and the minutes started ticking down, I decided that we would honor Olive in life. We declared March 9th Olive’s Best Day Ever, reminding ourselves that “Today we celebrate; tomorrow we mourn.” Ryan and I cancelled everything on our calendars to spend the day with our precious girl. In preparation, the day before OBDE I cleaned the house, made a run to the pet store for all of Olive’s favorite things and told the girls that we were going to have a spend-the-night in Mommy and Daddy’s room with the dogs. That evening, Olive took her usual spot at the foot of the bed, and all of us girl settled in for slumber. Over the past few months since Emma Vance has been in her big girl bed, Olive has spent a few nights and nap times at her feet, and it warmed my heart to see my three girls flailed all about and peacefully asleep. I cried that night, knowing how wonderfully tough OBDE would be.
The morning of Olive’s Best Day Ever, the two of us awoke earlier than the rest of the house. I gave her an insulin shot and laid out two more syringes. Her last two. I took her into the front yard to potty and then served her duck stew for breakfast. I knew it was going to be a great day as I watched her scarf down that bowlful with gusto. Once everyone was up, we called a family meeting. I told the girls that today was a special day, that we were celebrating our best friend with Olive’s Best Day Ever. The girls were excited, and we ended our meeting with a “1-2-3 Team Olive!” instead of the usual Team Shove. Emma Vance was carted off to preschool while Ryan and Cricket snuggled Olive back in bed, truthfully her favorite activities. ;)
Ryan, Cricket and I took the dogs to a local dog-friendly patio for lunch where the waitress brought them cheese and water, i.e. a dog’s favorite things. We let them bark their hearts out without giving a damn who was annoyed. (You only get one last lunch out in life, after all.) Once our plates were cleared we picked E.V. up from school, and our sweet friend, Carrie Tabb was kind enough to take a few family photos of all of us. (I’ll share the lot of them in another post; they’re beautiful.) At the end, Ryan and Olive gave us girls a parting gift, something to remember Olive by — necklaces we will cherish forever. A chevron of strength for E.V., the reminder “Be Brave” for Cricket, and a circle for me, the prefect little representation of my rotund puppy.
On the way home Olive fell asleep, and Cricket did, too. We spent a few hours snuggling and sleeping, and when everyone was awake again, we headed to the dog park, her favorite spot. I have to say, it was hard to watch Olive during this, her last visit, there. Being blind is a heavy burden to bear, and when she ran into things, fell down a few times and refused to play with her beloved tennis ball, I was a bit of a wreck. We left as the sun set, saying goodbye to the place with her one last time.
Once again our weary, worn dog was asleep in my lap before we got home, and the rest of the evening we hung around in our master bed, even bringing her ground steak dinner upstairs. I had intended on a normal bedtime routine for the girls, but when they begged to sleep with us again, I couldn’t say no. So we huddled all together around Ryan’s laptop and enjoyed a few calming episodes of “Stella and Sam.” When sleep was ready to overtake them, without instruction both Emma Vance and Cricket crawled over to Olive, curled up at her feet and passed out. I suppose humans have instincts, too. I wept at the sight, reminded of sweet, protective Olive snuggled up against each of my newborn babies in bed. And the weeping didn’t stop for hours.
On her last night, Olive curled up into a little ball under the covers at my belly while I spooned her. Just like her first night. It was beautiful and emotional, and I will never forget her warm body peacefully slumbering next to mine, the occasional harumph in her dreams.
As the sun rose, she and I were up. I had slept perhaps and hour or two in those last moments of night, but awoke alert and saddened. She and I whispered a bit through the sadness until everyone else began to rouse. Ryan asked if I had given Olive her insulin shot, and I squeaked out that I couldn’t. But I was wrong. Olive needed me, and when I shuffled downstairs to get everyone’s breakfast ready, her final dose was sitting on the counter, reminding me that her comfort was more important than my emotions. So I gave her that last injection, telling her that they were finally over, and served her the remaining duck stew.
We all snuggled and cried this morning as one complete family. Emma Vance asked why Ryan and I were in tears, and all I could say was, “Sometimes people feel sad, and that’s okay.” I hadn’t intended on going with Ryan to the vet, but in at the last minute I changed my mind. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering if she wondered where I was in her final moments. I had cried and begged and pleaded with God so much over the past few days, lamenting that I would happily take on any amount of pain and suffering necessary to heal her. Then today it hit me — if I truly was willing to do anything to save her, then I was willing to take on the pain of being with her as she passed. So we called the girls and Oscar to one last family meeting with all six of us, said our goodbyes to Olive as a family and sent them to Ryan’s mom’s house for the day.
In those final few hours, I told Olive everything I had ever wanted to say to her, things written here and things unsaid. I held her and sobbed and prayed. It’s so funny that in all of these years she’s been at my side during all circumstances, comforting me with her presence, and once again, in my hour of need, there she was once last time.
Ryan and I took Olive out into our yard to sunbathe for a few minutes before leaving, our sweet Sun Bear. The weather has been so wonderful these past few days, and I was thankful that the sun was shining and warm for her this morning. But the clouds were dark against the blue sky and moving quickly. “The rain is rolling in,” I murmured to Ryan. Seems about right.
And then it was time. We loaded into our car, and just like that day so many years ago as we drove away with Little Bit in my lap, Olive rode her last trip snuggled up with me in my seat. Only this time I was the terrified one in need of comfort. So while we drove, I calmed her and myself by telling her all about what was to come — the new earth in all its sunny glory, her health restored, the best friends waiting for her to arrive, the dog park down every street. It was perfect and made for a beautiful memory, the appropriate way to bookend her story.
Our veterinarian was kind and understanding, and I was able to hold my precious girl as she fell asleep. Ryan and I were with her until the very last moments of life, until her last breath, reminding her that we were there, that she was going to be okay.
And then she was gone, asleep for the last time, finally at peace. I’m not sure what the correct theology for the situation is, but in my heart I have to believe that our good and merciful Father spares and values all life. And so we told her as she drifted away that we were happy for her to awaken to new life, to being able to see, to being able to run, to being able to chase tennis balls and to bask in the sun. And we asked her to get everything ready for us, that we’d be with her again one day.
Right before we decided to adopt Olive, I remember praying and asking God to bring me “someone with skin on” (something some preacher had mentioned that resonated with me) to talk through life with, someone other than Ryan whom I could trust, who loved me unconditionally. At that time in my life, my 20s, there was so much change and so many questions begging for answers. God answered my prayer in giving me Olive, and over the years I joked with Ryan that Olive knew me better than he did. After all, he traveled so much, but she was always waiting for me at home each night. She became my little confidant and sidekick, and I have many times thanked God for bringing me someone with skin (and fur) on. I am beyond devastated that she’s gone, scarred that we were the ones who had to actually decide that it was time. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ll ever get over having to make that decision. There is an emptiness in our home, and I’m saddened that it will never be filled with anything other than her memory. I’m so thankful to have called her a part of our family for nearly a decade, and to say I will miss her doesn’t do justice the loneliness that her absence will bring. We will always love you, Olive.