A dark day long feared finally arrived this week. We had to say goodbye to our family dog, Bamble.
For those who have lost dogs, no words are needed to describe our sorrow. For those who haven’t, no words can adequately describe what we’re feeling.
At a time of bitter sadness when I’m struggling to answer my sons’ tearful question of why he had to die, I am also forcing myself to be thankful.
I am thankful we were given such a loving dog who touched our lives in so many ways. I am thankful that we had so many years with him. I am thankful for all of the wonderful moments we shared with him and for the memories we will cherish forever. And I am thankful for the lessons he taught us.
Dogs come into our lives and give us unconditional love, but that’s not their greatest gift. They teach us how to live.
The love and excitement he showed every time we came home was a constant reminder to show those you love how you really feel. His daily doses of warmth and affection every time I walked in the door gave me a happiness I’ll never forget.
Bamble found joy in the simplest of things. When I got on the floor and scratched his head, it was pure bliss for him. He was with someone he loved, and that’s all he needed to be happy.
No matter what you were planning – a walk, a trip to the mailbox, some soccer, a thrown tennis ball, a ride in the car – Bamble would go wild with excitement. “You want to do something with ME?” Prancing with joy, running into walls, and barking to wake the dead, he’d leave no doubt that he was ready to go.
Even as he aged and slowed, the mere mention of a walk would see him jumping out of bed, careening through the house, and barking with joy.
When people were bored, we had “nothing to do”, and the family might even start bickering, Bamble showed us that a simple walk to the creek could raise our spirits, lighten our hearts, and remind us that we were a team. If you’re with your pack doing something really important, how can you be unhappy?
For years, he would come to my bedside and tell me goodnight. “Yes, I know you’re tired and about to fall asleep, but a cold wet nose will quickly remedy that. How ‘bout you scratch my head for a while?” No matter how tired I was, how could I refuse?
He taught us that what you’re doing is far less important than the people you’re doing it with. If you’re surrounded by those you love, anything can be a grand adventure.
How deeply he was woven into the fabric of our lives was made clear this week. The emptiness of the house when we come home is overwhelming. The silence, when I’m alone, is painful. I keep expecting him to look up at me when I walk by his bed. As I check the house before turning in at night, my loyal sentry isn’t there to help. I keep hearing noises and wonder what he’s doing, but then I realize I needn’t worry. He’s gone.
As Bamble got older, I knew his end was near. I tried to add cherished moments to our shared lives to make the most of our remaining time together. Every night as he’d come in from the outside, just before bed, I would make sure to pat his head and scratch his ears for a while. It sounds like such a little thing, but it became an important routine for us, and he would come to me and wag his tiny tail with joy every night. On his last night, I had to carry him back inside, but before he collapsed in his bed, he wobbled toward me on unsteady legs to make sure we honored our ritual, one last time.
I am thankful that Bamble saved me from the hardest but most important job of anyone who loves a pet. He wasn’t in pain, so I didn’t have to help him on his way. On his last night, he was panting fast and I could sense the end was near, so I woke the family to tell him goodbye. He couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up with him, and he seemed happy for the company. I kept scratching his head, and he used a lifetime of practice to move around and make sure I got every place just right. He allowed me the gift of easing his fear and distress as he neared the end, and I will be forever thankful for that.
On the day he died, my sons and I were gently stroking his head when he breathed his last. I was worried to have them watch him die, and they were devastated. But he deserved to have them there, and they deserved to be with him. In Bamble, they had observed the entire arc of life, and I didn’t want to hide them from its end.
They’ve heard stories of a mischievous little Bamble who arrived before they were born. They laughed to hear of the puppy who ate mom’s shoes (always the most expensive ones), who stubbornly refused walks (they couldn’t believe this, given his later passion for them), and who was allowed up on the bed to snuggle with mom when dad was traveling (shhhhhh).
They’ve heard how they both, as babies, couldn’t quite figure out how to crawl forward until a loving Bamble showed them how.
They’ve heard how the always mild and never assertive Bamble suddenly lunged to attack when a dog thrice his size got too close to my eldest son in his baby stroller. Even when you’re a little guy, there are things worth fighting for.
They’re heard of the torments of them as toddlers, trying to tackle Bamble and ride him like a horse. Ever loving, ever patient, Bamble would just grumble at their silliness and scamper to safer ground.
They saw him at his peak, when he would run circles around the very best soccer players and steal the ball no matter their skill, only to return it with a smile and a bark for more. They remember the times throwing balls and toys to him, with the end of the fun always coming from a tired arm or the setting sun – never, no matter how exhausted, from Bamble willing to quit.
If you acted excited, Bamble would go crazy with you – running circles around the couch and barking like mad. He never asked, “What is it exactly that we’re excited about?” It didn’t matter.
They also saw a dog who knew to relax, and could sleep with pure contentment as long as the rest of his pack was nearby.
They witnessed the start of his decline, when he slept much of the day but still wanted to be an important part of our lives. A new bed in the middle of the den ensured our lives still revolved around him.
They saw his body and mind start to fail, but we loved him even more.
They saw him embarrassed and worried when he’d have accidents in the house, and they learned that a lifetime of dignity and service can’t be undone in one’s final days.
In the end, they took on the roles that Bamble had played for them. They stood between him and other dogs when we were outside, to make sure no one could hurt him. They pulled him in his wagon when we went to the creek and he was too tired to make the journey himself. They carefully walked around him in the house, knowing he was too old and tired to get out of the way. The children he had nurtured and protected, now nurtured and protected him.
And they were there in his final moments, to see the dog they loved die.
I’ve experienced losses greater than a dog, and I wasn’t ready when it happened. Like any parent, I hope and pray that I go before my children. If sharing his final moments and feeling the deep pain of his passing help prepare my sons to face all of life’s sorrows, that will be Bamble’s final great gift to us.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That\’s the deal.” My sons have been overwhelmed with grief, but I’ve told them not to fight it. We should welcome and embrace our sorrow, because our pain shows how much we loved our dog.