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Observations: Losing a friend

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image For nine years, Sadie has been my friend. Mitch Traphagen Photo

I hope that someday I’m worthy of seeing her again.

By Mitch Traphagen

Maybe it’s just futility. I’ve spent the past few weeks searching for and possibly finding a calling, but I never really understood the parameters of what I was asking and looking for. For the millennia, philosophers and guys in bars have been searching for the meaning of life. Is the question “What is the meaning of life?” wrong because it assumes there is some meaning to begin with? What if there isn’t a meaning? What if life is all just an exercise in futility?

I came home from being with my Mom on her birthday in Minnesota to find out that my friend and dog, Sadie, is dying of cancer. She may still be here by the time you read these words. She may still be here next week — but probably not next month. It was a difficult weekend up north, but I thought I was coming home with some answers. I was wrong.

If I could put my hand on Sadie and take the cancer out of her body and put it into mine, I sometimes think I would. At least I can understand cancer — to the extent that anyone can. I worry that Sadie doesn’t know what is happening to her. I know there are people out there who will think that is ridiculous, some may even think it blasphemous, but I’ve known Sadie for nine years and I know what’s in her heart and in her soul. She is more human than some people I’ve met. She is true, honest and sincere in a way that most people strive to be their entire lives. She doesn’t have to strive; it’s just her nature.

On absorbing the bad news, I realized that my life is out of balance. There are concerns at work, concerns about the future, and concerns about an aging parent — and now my friend will soon die and will be increasingly uncomfortable until that happens. Where are the moments of jubilation?

I see Sadie and I take joy in the fact that she took her pain pill hidden in a chunk of cheese (she usually just spits it out, somehow knowing I’ve hidden a pill in there). Hell, I am now finding jubilation in that she is still able to respond to nature’s call — and that nature is still calling at all. Yes, that means I’m happy when she goes out to pee. That means stuff is still working. I’m happy that she still waits for me by the door and that she still wags her tail. Those are my moments of jubilation and they are very real, good moments, too — like glittering diamonds floating up from a dark void.

My moments of jubilation come when I can tell that Sadie has fallen asleep next to me while I stroke her head. I read somewhere that it is impossible to feel pain and pleasure at the same time so in stroking her head, I’m hoping to do what I can to keep her pain at bay. I don’t care if it’s not true; it can’t hurt.

At some point soon, a veterinarian will come to our home and Sadie will leave with her, and leave me with memories. If I had known nine years ago that this would happen, what would I have done differently? Nothing, except to ask for x-rays of her abdomen. That’s not a normal part of a pet physical and, until just recently, she had no symptoms of the cancer that is now ravaging her. Sadie is a very smart girl and I’m convinced that she understands almost every word I say. I wouldn’t give up a single moment of the past nine years because of the pain I’m feeling now.

She bounded up the street on a September afternoon; a puppy happy to have found a human companion in Erin, a 10-year-old neighbor girl. She wore a dirty collar that was too tight around her neck and was missing a lot of fur and where it was missing there were dozens of bug bites and scratches. Erin could not keep her so we took her to a 24-hour emergency vet clinic in Brandon and then she came home with us for a much-needed bath in the front yard. On the way home, she decided the back seat of the car was a pretty good place to live in comparison to the mangroves in which she had been living — we had to coax her out.

After her bath, we made up a little bed for her in the garage. A favorite photo of mine is of Sadie, tucked in to her chin surrounded by dog toys. She looks content and it was probably for the first time in a while, perhaps in her whole life, that she felt safe.

She had decided that the garage was a pretty good place to live, so the next day, after finding out from the vet that she posed no danger health-wise to our cat and dog, we had to really coax her to come inside the house. She gingerly crawled up on a love seat, all the while watching us to make sure that it was OK. She held a lot of disbelief in those days. Now that I think about it, it was more like astonishment.

Sadie on her first night with us. Mitch Traphagen PhotoOur dog Alfie was nearly 19-years-old when Sadie came into the house. He had lots of trouble getting around but he was a happy dog and still wanted to play with the new puppy. Sadie seemed to grasp immediately that he was struggling and when it came to play-fights, she was gentle and would always let him win. She was only six months old but she immediately became a caretaker for Alfie.

When Alfie died, Michelle and I returned home from the Ruskin Animal Hospital and just dropped to the floor in tears. Sadie, still new to the house, very carefully crawled up to us and gently licked our faces.

Watching Sadie struggle to breathe is heartbreaking, but seeing her whole rear-end wiggle when I come home, or feeling her let out a big sigh when I stroke her head as she falls asleep, I’m now seeing that life isn’t merely an exercise in futility. Sadie’s life has mattered greatly to me — there was nothing futile about it. I’m just lucky she found me on that day in September nine years ago.

I usually wake up in the morning in the hopes that something good will happen that day. My expectations aren’t high; I am just hoping for something positive. Now I wake up hoping that nothing bad will happen.

Sadie is such a good girl. She is my friend. Nothing bad will happen to her today and hopefully not tomorrow. But when the time does come, Michelle and I will stroke her head and tell her we love her. And then I’ll hope that someday I’m worthy of seeing her again.

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