The Distant Shore

Lake Willastein.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon near the beginning of October, we drove to the lake with Casey. She could no longer stand on her own. I carefully cradled her in my arms and lifted her slowly from the back seat, and we walked to a bench not far from where we parked. As the three of us sat down, Casey looked out on the water, toward the dock we used as a mile marker. I folded my arms to cradle her neck. She breathed slowly, peacefully, as a slight breeze reached us across the lake. The sun’s reflection from the water was warm, and her heart beat against my arm. We slowly smoothed our hands down her back from the top of her head to her tail. I felt her velvet ears with my fingers. After a while, Casey turned her head and looked up at me, resting her chin on my shoulder. She knew.

An hour later, she took her last breath in our arms. She was sixteen years old.

The weight of sadness makes us aware of how we measure our breaths. On good days, we are aware of how lucky we are–how moments like the years we shared with Casey are such a blessing. Other times, the inconveniences of everyday life feel overwhelming. Work is a burden. We didn’t sleep well. There is some sort of To-Do list looming. We forget that nothing is promised, and life doesn’t really owe us anything. We need reminded of this more often.

For days I have been thinking about what I could write about her. As the hours passed on muted morning commutes and oddly silent sunrises and sunsets, I finally realized that it will be a long time before we don’t expect her to come say hi after she wakes from a nap. I miss the water on the floor next to her mat on the edge of the kitchen. I miss the look in her eyes when I held up the leash before we went on a walk. I miss the Milk-Bone crumbs she left on the living room rug. I miss my friend, and it makes me terribly sad.

Dogs give us more than we deserve. In return for a warm, soft bed and a full belly, they give us unconditional love. They hope that we want to spend as much time with them as they want to with us. They help us focus on the little things of each day, and as the years pass, we really can’t imagine life without them. They’re a part of what we do and figure into who we are. They see the worst of us and stay with us anyway, and they weather the lowest of lows the same way they celebrate the highest highs.

I have dozens of videos, hundreds of pictures, and countless memories of Casey. Her wild energy that first year when she zoomed around the house as a blur. The way she caught popcorn if you threw it just right. How she tossed rope toys to herself when she played catch. The way she breathed in three times before exhaling when she was peaceful.

I remember everything.

Casey gave hugs. When she was a puppy, I used to tell her secrets. I’d lean in and put my lips right against her ear, and she’d stand still to hear the gibberish I would whisper. One day she stood up on her back legs right after I told her something, and she placed her front paws on my shoulders. I was a little surprised, and when I instinctively put my arms around her to give her a light squeeze, her tail fanned the air. I never taught her to put her paws on me. It was something she figured out on her own.

Casey skipped. When she was little and still getting used to walking on a leash, she had an irregular trot. I couldn’t figure out if she was trying to find a perfect pace for matching my stride on our walks, or if she just didn’t like being on a lead. Over time, I figure out that neither was the case. Her left rear leg just preferred to a different beat, I guess. What would have been a normal 1-2-3-4 became a 1-2-4, 3. As she got older, this was something she did even when she wasn’t on a leash. It always made me smile, that odd little dance. A happy waltz through time.

Casey slept better with Mr. Turtle.

Casey was everyone’s friend. She met Red Riders and Hilltoppers. She knew a few cats, but she was “real good friends” with Kya, and even more with Mila and Milo. She loved a day-long drive to South Carolina as much as the errand across town. Mostly, she just loved to be around, and she made each day so much better than it would have been without her. She was happy with to be with us, and she loved anyone who sat down with her, even if it was only for a moment.

Our house is quiet now, and at times, the silence is suffocating. I keep expecting a nose to nudge my fingers when an arm hangs off the couch. I listen for quiet footsteps to come let me know when that’s enough work for one day. When I turn the lights off at night, she isn’t there to help me check that doors are locked and we can (finally) head upstairs to bed. Casey was a big part of our small family.

Thank you to everyone who ever walked with her, or to anyone who ever pet her. She was the kindest soul I ever met, and I hope one day to be at the other end of a hallway from her again.

Thank you, Casey. We miss you.

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