Category Archives: Obi

#NaBloPoMo: A Funny, Awkward Sort of Comfortable

Obi died 10 years ago today. Even now, I just noticed myself resisting the memory of it, some part of me saying, “don’t go there, it’s too painful.” Obi was diagnosed with lymphoma at just seven years old. Lymphoma is one of the most curable cancers in humans, but in dogs, while it is treatable it’s ultimately fatal. Obi’s initial prognosis was somewhere between two weeks to two months if we did nothing, and because he had T-cell multicentric lymphoma, his chances were even worse. We did chemotherapy, (he was our first dog and other than a barely swollen lymph node in his chest, he was perfectly healthy, AND we had the money so we felt like we should). He went into remission for six months, but the cancer came back before he finished his protocol. Since we knew we were fighting a losing battle, and any extra time was really for us not him, we spent the next three months spoiling him and watching him really close to be sure he still wanted to be here.

He had been feeling worse for a few days. When you have a dog with a terminal illness, one bad day isn’t enough to end it, but two days in a row when you already know you are at the end is absolutely more than enough. He’d been drinking too much water, couldn’t seem to stop himself. Eating was making him nauseous and he was so gaunt, slow, and tired. Looking in his eyes made it clear. He really wanted to stay, to be here with us, but he was just so tired, so done. I had told him all along that he needed to let me know when it was too much, and he did.

My camera broke the night before we let him go. This was back when I only had one camera, and no cameras on our phones. I’d dropped it face down on our concrete patio, the lens was bent so it couldn’t close and it wouldn’t turn on. I panicked and immediately made a plan to go to Target and get a new one, then had a moment of clarity — rather than waste my time and energy on getting a new camera, taking more pictures, I could just be with him.

The last picture I took of Obi and Dexter before my camera broke on that last day

We still miss you Big Dude, but now it’s more happy that we got to love you than sad we had to lose you. This kind of grief never really goes away though, you just wear it and carry it for so long that it gets a funny, awkward sort of comfortable.

The day we adopted Obi, April 20, 2002

Remembering Obi

obihewlettgulch

He had such a great smile.

Obi was my first dog. His name was of course a nod to the Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise Jedi master, but it also translates to mean “heart” in Igbo, a Western African language. It’s the most perfect dog name ever, and perfectly fit this dog, who was all heart.

Obi died six years ago, today. He had multicentric lymphoma, which in dogs is treatable but not curable. He was diagnosed only a month after he turned seven years old, and died just a few months before he would turn eight. It seemed incredibly unfair, as these things always do.

I’ve written a lot about Obi, lots that I haven’t published anywhere yet. Probably because the anniversary of his death is approaching, I wrote about him in my Wild Writing class a few weeks ago, and thought I’d share it here today — in honor of Obi, one of the best dogs ever, and in honor of the rest of us, opening our hearts and loving each other like crazy even though we know it’s going to end badly, every time, no matter what we do.

The day we adopted Obi, April 20, 2002

The day we adopted Obi, April 20, 2002

Poem prompt: Unforced Error by Meghan O’Rourke.

I used to think pressing forward was the point of life. Last night in the kitchen with Eric, we got to talking about Obi, our first dog. It’s coming up on the 6th anniversary of his death, and I keep getting notifications from the Facebook “memories” feature and my Timehop app on my phone about things I was posting six years ago. Yesterday it was a status update about how one of Obi’s tumors (he had multicentric lymphoma, so every node was a potential tumor), one of his tumors was growing close to his throat, so I was listening to him breathe, knew we didn’t have much time, and I was right, we only had 13 days left. And in the kitchen last night with Eric, he told me that was the moment he became an adult. That experience was the end of innocence for him, a moment when he realized bad shit happens to everyone, and everyone you love will die. He grew up in a military family, his dad was in the Army, so it was just him and his sister and his parents. Relatives were people he only heard about, saw once every two or three years, strangers really, and no one in his family had yet died when Obi was diagnosed, not anyone close, not anyone he really knew. So when Obi got sick, and the diagnosis was “treatable but not curable,” it hit Eric hard. It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry, 16 years in and I’d never seen him that upset about anything. Before that, he was rarely even unhappy. A life can be a lucky streak, and up to that point, his was. It wasn’t that he believed he was special somehow, that bad things wouldn’t happen, just that the reality was so distant to him, unreal. And then it knocked on his front door, moved in, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.

obisyard

Still a puppy

Poem prompt: The Future by Billy Collins.

It was like this, when we first found the lump it was so tiny we didn’t think it was anything to worry about, like a grain of rice buried just beneath his shoulder, a spot where I didn’t even know dogs had lymph nodes. Eric noticed it first one day when he was petting him, told me about it a few days later, couldn’t even find it when he tried to show it to me. A few days after that, I was petting him and found it, and as soon as my fingers pressed around it, Obi gave me the weirdest look. I’d come back to that look days later, when we knew, and wonder if Obi knew what was happening to him before we did. And still, we didn’t make a special trip to the vet, just reminded ourselves to mention it when we took him in for his next checkup a few weeks later. We even joked about how obsessive we were, that other people wouldn’t have even noticed it, teased each other that Dr. Mulnix would just tell us to “keep an eye on it” just like he did about every other worry we brought to him. But he didn’t say that. Instead he wanted to do a biopsy right then and there, put in a long needle and get a sample, send it to the lab. Later, after the shock of the diagnosis — cancer — wore off, Eric and I realized that Dr. Mulnix had known as soon as he felt the lump, had seen the same too many times in his 40+ years of practice, wanted to be wrong, sure, but was pretty certain that was what it was. When he called later to confirm, I didn’t understand. Lymphoma is one of the most treatable cancers in humans, and Dr. Mulnix only gave me the name of the thing, no details and certainly not a prognosis, just told me to call and make an appointment with Oncology at CSU. It wasn’t until later, home alone waiting for Eric to get back, waiting to tell him the news, that I Googled it and kept seeing the same thing, site after site, link after link, “treatable but not curable.”

obi

Poem prompt: Want by Carrie Fountain

This is the heart’s constant project, trying to understand how we can love so much, so deeply, so intensely that it eclipses everything else and we think we’ll die without it, when the reality is every relationship ends badly — if we don’t beat it to the punch with a break-up it eventually finds one of us involved gone, gone gone, the big gone, forever gone, and it ends that way. And we know this, even someone like Eric, so removed from it for so long, so distracted by the lucky streak of his life and disconnected from the reality of it, even he knows this is how it will end. And sure, some of us try to avoid it by not loving, not letting anyone get to close, but I don’t think it even works for those people. I see them working so hard to distance everyone, classifying every human on the planet as either an asshole or a jerk, but it doesn’t even work. I watch my dad feeding a stray cat, acting like he doesn’t care, but it’s a lie, he does care, even if it’s “just a cat,” he can’t help it. We can’t help it. So this is the heart’s constant project, learning to hold hope and hopelessness together, knowing that love is impossible without the loss. I was telling my friend this the other day, after we’d shared a blog post from a person whose dog had just died, and I told her that even though I don’t ever want to experience it again, I keep getting another dog. I know how it will end, how much it hurts, and yet I do it again. And then I saw a video later about pet loss and one of the people said that she knew it was hard to get another pet when you know how it will end, how hard it will be and how much it will hurt, but the inbetween is so good.

The inbetween is so good.

obilastday

This picture is hard for me to look at, and yet it’s so precious to me. It was taken the day before Obi died, and you can see so clearly — he loved us so much, didn’t want to leave, but he was so ready to go. Good boy, Obi.

He’s been gone for six years, and it still wrecks me. I know that some people totally understand, and others think it’s a sign that something is wrong with me. I agree with both perspectives. There is something deeply and profoundly wrong with me, but if we are honest, it’s the same thing we all suffer from — we all have hearts, and they are breakable. We love and what we love will eventually be lost.

But the inbetween is so good.

#augustbreak2015: Two

twoTwo. We’ve had just one dog at various times — the long year and a half when our first dog Obi was just a puppy and before we got Dexter, the four months after Obi died before we were ready to get Sam, the six months it took to decide if we would even EVER get another dog after we lost Dexter and Sam was sick but we didn’t know why. Even though we’ve had just one at times — and it’s so easy, so much less work — just one never seems quite right. Maybe it has something to do with Obi having such bad separation anxiety. We did everything we could for him and finally realized the only thing left to try was to get him his own dog, and it was so perfect, exactly what he needed. He was so much happier that we wished we hadn’t waited so long, although I suppose we had to wait for Dexter to be born, the dog that was the perfect fit for him. That set in my mind that dogs automatically are happier if they live with another dog, is where I got the idea that two is always the right number.

That’s not to say two is necessarily easier. It’s way harder to train two dogs, feed two dogs, groom two dogs, bathe two dogs, transport two dogs, calm two dogs, walk two dogs. Sometimes it simply doubles the effort, but there are times when two dogs are three dogs worth of work because you attend to each dog individually but there’s also a third dog, the shadow dog they form together as a team.

One time having two dogs is easier is when you lose one. In your grief, that well of sadness and loneliness, nothing can soothe you like another dog. Some days it’s the only reason to get out of bed, the only thing that keeps you going.

My experience with two dogs has had a strange twist. As much as Sam and Ringo are distinct, they are echos of Obi and Dexter. Sam’s sensitive, sweet nature is so much like Obi’s, and they are similar in shape and color. Obi broke one of his canine teeth in the months before he died, and Sam had a broken canine puppy tooth when we got him, so weird because that’s not a common injury. They are both afraid of loud noises, although Obi was more afraid of storms and Sam thinks it’s the washing machine that’s out to get him. Ringo has the same goofy high energy, the same happy good nature as Dexter did, the same athleticism, and the same body type, which someone once described as a “brick shit house.” Ringo has almost the exact same coloring as Dexter’s favorite toy, a small stuffed cattle dog we called Little D. Sam is content to be lazy, just hang out like Obi was, where Ringo and Dexter were always up for doing something, were either playing or asleep, only have two speeds. Our two dogs now are echos of the first pair, and it makes me think if I keep getting two, they will always be echos of those originals.

Three Truths and One Wish

bigboyharness1. Sometimes having a puppy is boring. You have to watch them constantly when they are awake and loose, and even though they sleep a lot it’s in short bursts so you can’t really get a lot done. You are cautioned by your vet to not take them anywhere until they are 16 weeks and have had all their shots, so even if you cheat on that so you can socialize them, you are more isolated than usual. You get cabin fever, go stir crazy, and this particular puppy came in the middle of winter, so there was even more of that. After weeks and weeks of this, you kinda wish they’d grow up already. They are impossibly cute and loveable and sometimes hilarious when they are small and you know you’ll miss it when they get big, but at the same time they are making you crazy and boring you to tears.

Spend as much as you want on toys, an empty plastic jug wins every time

Spend as much as you want on toys, an empty plastic jug wins every time

Danielle LaPorte posted last week about being so sick she’d had to cancel lots of important things, stuff she’d really wanted to do. She said about it, “Sometimes life will bind you so you can feel how free and loved you are.” I feel the same about this moment in my life, this brief moment that I keep wishing away even as I work so hard to be here, to stay present.

Ringo's first bath

Ringo’s first bath

2. “The days are long, but the years are short.” I’m not sure who to attribute that to, as I’ve seen it assigned various authors. Whoever said it, it’s so true. These puppy days feel like they’ve gone on forever and might never end, but the almost eight years we had with Obi and the barely ten we had with Dexter felt impossibly short. I still have trouble believing they are really gone, struggle to understand how that could even be possible.

theboysbig3. You have to be a particular kind of crazy to raise a dog. It’s so much work and your time with them is so short. And the love sneaks up on you. One day you are fantasizing about running away from home or giving them back, and the next you are hopelessly and irrevocably bonded to them. There’s nothing else in my life I put so much effort toward only to have my heart broken in the end, knowing that’s the only possible outcome.

brothersparttwoOne wish (okay, more like many wishes): To keep my heart open and stay present no matter what arises. To not give up, no matter how hard it gets. To lean into love and joy as an antidote to suffering. To be gentle and forgive myself when I make a mistake. To know I am doing the best I can. To relax and stop trying so hard.

I am wishing the same for you, kind and gentle reader, in whatever way you need that in your life.

#smallstone: As Is

adoptioncontractsGoing through old files, I find your adoption contracts. I smile when I read the part that says, “By adopting the above-described for ownership, adopter is accepting the dog ‘as is,’ with all defects, known or unknown and assumes all risk for this dog. Adopter assumes full responsibility to properly provide for the dog’s care, maintenance, training and companionship.”

I didn’t fully understand the promise, the vow I was making, the full measure of that commitment. And yet even now, knowing how hard those “defects, known or unknown” would land, how much the risk would end up costing me, how loving you would eventually break my heart, I would do it again.

Obi and Dexter