A Sad Farewell to Heidi, the Presence of Absence, and So Much Left Unsaid

I am still finding it hard to believe she’s gone.  This time last week Heidi was going about her business, a bit stiff and ungraceful, but doing all the normal dog things nonetheless.  Yes I knew she was 12 years old, which is the outer limit of the normal life expectancy of  female German Shepherds, but in the back of my mind I envisioned Kayla (also a female German Shepherd) who had almost reached an astounding age 16 before she lost use of her rear legs.

Heidi was getting along reasonably well with minor accommodations for her progressing muscle wasting and rear limb ataxia (unfortunately GSDs are prone to a number of neurological and orthopedic disorders as they age) -that is until she fell.

Thursday of last week we decided to go to the campground with the dogs.  I brought the girls down and decided to sit out on the deck because the weather was nice.  I’d been keeping an eye on Lilo because she was very interested in what was going on in the woods and I didn’t want her jumping over the edge of the deck.  At its steepest point it is about a sixteen foot drop from the deck to the hillside below.  Out of the three dogs I would never thought Heidi would try to go over the edge.  Heidi was usually happy to simply lie on the deck and listen to the birds and sniff the air.  I had gone back to my reading and iced tea- glancing over at Lilo from time to time just to be sure she wasn’t getting any ideas about jumping off the deck.  A short while later I heard a blood  curdling scream and thought to myself, “dammit, Lilo, what were you thinking?” I had envisioned Lilo with a broken leg or some other grievous injury.  But it wasn’t Lilo.  Lilo had obediently stayed on the deck where I had told her to sit.  Clara was clinging on to me like she always does when she’s away from home.  The screams were coming from poor old Heidi, lying on her side, bleeding from the nose and either too startled or hurting to move.

I didn’t see her land so I don’t know how she hit.  She only fell about four feet as she was on the side of the deck and not the part that juts out the highest above the hillside. I could not see that she had broken any bones, and she could stand with help.  Unfortunately she wasn’t herself again after that.  She didn’t want to eat or do much of anything beside just lying down.  Her every move looked to be an agony.  To make a long story short I took her to the vet- who did not have much to offer in the way of hope of recovery or improvement- and had her put down Saturday.  As painful as it was to let her go, it was obvious that I was not doing her any favors by trying to prolong her misery.  It sounds so high and lofty to say that but in practical application it is harder than hell to do.  Even as the injections are given and you know they are irreversible, something in your mind and heart screams, “take it back!” Even though you know you have sent your beloved over the Rubicon and and there is no return, you still want to cling to that last moment.

Finality is not a concept I accept willingly.  Perhaps this is what Dylan Thomas meant when he said, “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Now it seems that many things remind me of gentle Heidi- when the dogs have their treats and Heidi is not the first one leading the way demanding her share, when I see Clara sniffing at the places Heidi used to nap to get a trace of her scent, when I look at her rug in the hallway and Heidi’s not there.

So much left unsaid.  Welcome to the void of absence, where there is no breath and no words.

A week ago I would never supposed poor Heidi would be in her grave.  A week ago she was doing all the normal dog things like she had done for the past three years she lived with us.

I know, I know, ask not for whom the bell tolls.  It will be ringing for me soon enough.

Yeah, this was the deck, and this pic of Clara and Lilo was taken just minutes before Heidi fell.

An interesting aside concerning the pic below- back in the 19th and very early 20th century, undertakers also made furniture.  I guess if you’re already making coffins, why not couches in the off season?

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