Saying Goodbye to Farley… A Diary of His Last Days

farley portrait.jpg

Friday, December 5, 2008

I walked down to the meadow with our dog, Farley, for the last time this morning.

It was particularly poignant because that's where my mom's bench is… the one that has "Wendy Lou" lovingly carved in curly letters by one of her best friends. This is the spot where, seven and a half years ago, a beautiful memorial shrine was created the day she died- with wind chimes, notes on the fence, letters and candles, and more flowers than I could water. This is where I go when I feel sad or upset, talking to her as I sit on her bench and look out across the meadow at her favorite tree, a gnarly old cedar standing sentinel on the edge of the forest. This is the spot where, on any given day, you can still see a car parked by the gate, and a figure walking through the meadow or sitting on the bench. It's such a reassuring spot, like a sanctuary for anyone who needs to connect with the spirit of the woman who was the matriarch of our little community.

Farley was actually my mom's dog before we welcomed him into our family. Having rescued him as a pup, she loved and cared for him better than anyone ever could have; as a matter of fact, she doted on him. The kids were 12 and 7 when we moved up here and adopted 6-year-old Farley, so he's been a part of our family for over half of my daughter's life and he was my son's companion on many an adventure in the woods. After my mom died and we moved here into her house, it felt so natural that Farley was back in the home in which he had grown up. He saw us through living back and forth between here and the bay area, and a divorce where he shared time between my ex, John, and myself, and finally the last six months of his 16 years back here. Through it all, though, he was ever eager, expectant as my daughter said, and happy to be part of our many adventures.

I wonder if he's lost his sense of what it was like to be a puppy, or even a younger dog, running free and easy through the meadow or down the trails. Maybe he's lost his memory of having a fully functioning body or what he used to bark about, or what it was like to swim in the lake and fruitlessly chase the mallards that live there. But I don't think so; I like to think he remembers it all. I like to think he remembers every wonderful moment of his long, long life, and that he is looking forward to being free of this old, tired body so he can run and romp again. I like to think that he's looking forward to shedding the pain, the inabilities and limitations of that ancient body so he can reclaim his vibrant spirit in the next part of his soul's journey.

Farley and I made our way very slowly down the long, steep driveway, my hands gently nudging his frail old body to one side or the other to keep him from wandering off over the edge or into the bear clover. As we neared the gate in the meadow, he got as excited as he could given his arthritic condition and started sniffing around in the piles of oak leaves lying on the ground. I let him wander around a bit, and then he headed toward the barn. So we walked down the trail for a bit. Then he paused, we turned around and headed back for the house. It was such a simple ritual, something we'd done every day for years, but we hadn't done this for the last few months, as it had become so painful for him to walk long distances. I could tell, though, that he really appreciated this little journey.

Saturday, December 6, 2008, 6:00am

This morning, Farley and I arose at our usual 5:30, walked carefully down the stairs, my hand on his collar to keep him from falling. I opened the door and gently guided him off the small porch to go "do his business," then began to prepare his breakfast as I have every day for a long time. This was the last time I would perform this ritual; fixing the food and pain medicines, opening the door where he is patiently waiting, gently guiding him into the kitchen and his waiting bowl of food.

The entire time I was preparing his breakfast, I was thinking (as I was crying and smiling), "This is his last breakfast. This is the last time we'll do this. This is the last can of dog food. This is the last time I'll carry that bowl into the pantry. I can't believe we're here; today will be his last day in this body." It was so incredibly sad. And then he didn't eat- which is very unusual for Farley. It's almost as if he knew he didn't need to eat where he's going.

There is such a bittersweet feeling- the tears and the smiles come at the same time. The tears are only for how much I will miss him, his sweet presence in our home and the joy and love he brings to everyone who meets him. The smiles are for the thousands of memories of him, especially the everyday memories- the way he puts his paw on you when you pat him, like an acknowledgement of your loving touch. The way he stands right next to me when I am cooking, following me around- not so much for a hopeful scrap, but just to be nearby. And lately, the way he waits patiently at the back door for someone to let him in the house, his head in the corner, staring at who knows what. The way he bumps into things more and more, but never seems to be phased by it at all.

And the memories of him as a younger dog, running through the meadow, nose to the ground, sniffing for gophers or who knows what, and then, finding something satisfying, digging with all his might at least a foot into the soft, loamy earth with the greatest of abandon and glee. The way his ears used to flap, like Dumbo the Elephant, when he rode in the back seat, head out the window, nose twitching, catching the smells on the breeze. The times he would bark incessantly when we let him outside, often we thought, just because he liked the sound of his own voice. Or the way he would find the biggest rock he could possibly find, carry it around proudly for a while, then go and bury it in some secret place.

He doesn't do those things anymore; he barks to be let in if we don't see him standing in the corner, but he's too deaf to go out and protect us from all the bad things out there. He's too arthritic to run; he stumbles when he shakes his sweet little head these days. His body is in pain, he sleeps most of the time and when he's not sleeping, he sort of wanders around as if he's looking for something he lost.

It has been such a long road, and he has been so incredibly good to our family- so loving, loyal, playful and present. He's been a steady companion, even through all the times when I was impatient with him, frustrated with cleaning up his messes in the house, scolding him for getting into the garbage again. He's been there, the rock of our family, the steady force, connecting us to this place, reminding me of how easily unconditional kindness and love are to give. He's been one of the best teachers I've ever had, and for that and so much more I will always be grateful.

We will miss you, Farley, and will always hold you in our hearts as a treasured friend, loyal companion and trusted member of our family. You have given so much to us, more than you'll ever know. Thank you. We know it's time for you to go; you're old, 112 in dog years - that's a full life… a full life.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The candle we lit for him on Thanksgiving Day, which has been lit almost every day since, is burning down to its last bit of small, fragile wick as I write, reminding me of the last week of Farley's life. Like the flame, his spirit was so incredibly bright; as we remarked during his ceremony, "Everyone loved Farley!" And, yet, like the wick, his body, small and fragile was finite and ready to let go. This last week, he slept most of the time, only getting up occasionally, and when he did, he tended to wander about the house, looking confused and bumping into the furniture. It was so sad to see him like this; but, as we all agreed, he felt very peaceful. It was as if he knew it was time.

The ceremony was so lovely. We laid out a sheet and several blankets, one of them the small coverlet that I had used in the last month to cover him in these early winter nights. That was one of my mom's favorite blankets, and I think she'd be glad to know we wrapped it around Farley's sweet body as we laid him in the ground below the house. As we waited for the vet to arrive, we sat, my son, daughter, ex-husband, Farley and myself, on the blankets, sharing memories, feeding Farley slices of apple and stroking his long, black fur. From time to time, we would pause, and a tender silence would fill the air.

The vets arrived (the most compassionate husband and wife team- we are so blessed to have them in our community, and I can never thank them enough for coming to our home today) to give Farley the overdose of anesthesia that would send him to his final sleep. Before Kathy did so, though, Tanner read a passage from the Baghavad Gita about death and the lack of need to mourn for the dying or dead. It was so perfect. Then, we helped Farley lay down, speaking words of love and continuing to pet him, Kathy gave him the injection, and he began to get sleepy.

Soon, as we continued to stroke and talk to him, he fell into a very deep sleep, his breathing deep and slow, and he began to snore. We all had a wonderful release of sweet laughter, remembering how many times we had heard that sound in the last ten years. Our tears were flowing, and, as I looked around at the kids, John, and Kathy, I felt such love and appreciation for all of them, who had each, in their own way, loved and cared so much for Farley. Later, Tanner said he saw Farley's spirit leap from his body with joyous puppy energy, and I heard a distinct, "I’m free!" shortly after.

After his breathing diminished, and then stopped, Kathy checked his heartbeat and pronounced him as having made his transition fully. It was such a profound moment, and honestly, it brought me right back to that hospital room in March of 2001, where a small group of loved ones sat in the wee hours of the morning with my mom as she let go of her body. It was so similar, so beautiful, so hard and so final.

As we sat in silence, the sun streamed in through the trees, in perfect alignment with Farley's body, as if it was welcoming him to the spirit world, lighting his way. We began to speak quietly, sharing more memories, and eventually, I went into the house to see if my housemates wanted to come and say goodbye to the dog they had come to care for in the last couple of months. We all walked down to be together and continued sharing stories as the sun set.

Then, after removing his collar and gently placing his body on the plaid coverlet, we wrapped it and lowered it into the hole Tanner and John had dug earlier. He looked so peaceful there, as if he was just taking one of his many naps. We stood around admiring his serenity, then placed some mementos near him- a pinecone, a rock and some dog food for his journey, we each laid a shovelful of earth over his body. After he was covered, we laid some stones on top, gathered all of our things and walked slowly to the house, amid tears, laughter and quiet conversation.

As John said, "This is the end of an era in more ways than one." Farley's death marks the end of a chapter of each of our lives in different ways, to be considered by each in our own hearts. His passing marks the beginning of a new life for his soul about which we can only speculate, but we all agreed he is probably happier, freer and digging a whole lot of holes in the big meadow in the sky.