As a life-long traveler and around the world sailor, I love to say 'see you later' instead of goodbye - knowing, of course, that the former could very well be the latter. Down deep, that truth always settles in a peace beyond words.
Last week, my hiking buddy, my 'best man', our Border Collie 'Chase' had a spinal cord stroke and left the planet. He was twelve, so we had started this year to talk about his aging - noting the couple of gray hairs on his muzzle, the first soft cloud in his eyes, the oh-so-slight slowing down as he chose to nap a little longer in the sun. But he was still 'very young for his age' we beamed, pointing out his strong bones, gorgeous coat, intact teeth and fitness (as we puffed along behind him on hikes).
Up to the end, he was chasing deer out of our yard at break-neck pace upon command and eagerly leaping into whatever vehicle was going anywhere at anytime. He went on a brisk last hike in Oklahoma, several on our road trip stop in Santa Cruz, and up and down all the stairs at Fort Worden the day after we arrived back in Port Townsend. When I left again on business, assuring him "I'd be back," he gave me that look of trust mingled with disappointment. In the rear view mirror, I could see the border collie stare. He knew I'd be back, but when I did, he was the one gone.
The first mini-stroke incident had been sudden, a ten-minute lie down in the grass ten days before. His eyes that day reflected confusion or that intimidated look of fear from 'Jeep,' the feline who'd recently shaken his cat-chasing confidence. After a few minutes, he got up and followed me to the house like normal. A few days later it happened again, but this time, he stayed down longer. There was no shaking, no spasm, no cry of pain. He just didn't want to get up on his feet, or eat, or go out and potty. I slept beside him on the floor all night, wondering if he was near the end. But, the next morning he followed me to the kitchen and had breakfast like normal while Jan and I had coffee.
When I got the text in Oklahoma to say he had another incident, I knew things were different. Jan and her daughter were here with him and as we talked on the phone, he cried out in pain. Being a visual dog and one that was used to our family being in other parts of the world sometimes, we switched to Facetime so I could see and talk to him, too. Sure enough, this stroke was different. Bigger. We needed the vet's opinion and help. While I waited, watching and talking to him through the phone, Jan called.
An hour and a half later, surrounded by people who loved him - holding him in our arms, with our voices in his ears, and our hearts connected, he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. In his wake he left love and a gentle spirit we'll never forget, but hope to find again when the time is right for another dog to be in our lives.
As if to prove and remind us that his spirit remains - we found a feather on the path to the garden where his frisbee usually lay. A reminder that dog spirits never die.