A tribute to Ernie, by Tom Brechlin.
Some people might think, what’s the big deal, he’s just a dog.
Friday, I got the bad news that Ernie, my 10+ year old Golden Retriever has bone cancer. I was advised that it’s a progressive disease and although it’s not shown to have metastasized in his lungs, the disease is aggressive and it’s simply a matter of time.
Time was not on our side. Although his lungs appear to be clear, his legs are quickly giving out. He has to stop on the staircase landing to lie down and rest before lumbering up the last 8 stairs to our bedroom. Whereas Friday evening and most of the day Saturday he was able to get the front half of his body on the bed so that I could lift the his back half, he now struggles with even that simple maneuver.
Most of last night, he laid next to me as though he was a body pillow, moving every once and a while to get comfortable. I held him, stroking his head trying my hardest to keep my composure. All the time thinking about how great a dog he is and that he will soon be gone.
My son Charlie is a lot like me. He’s crazy about our pets and in particular Ernie. When my son was over yesterday, it was the first time I’d seen him face to face since getting the bad news. Not a word was said as we held each other with tears streaming down our faces. We held each other tight as we uncontrollably sobbed in each others arms.
After regaining our composures, Charlie took Ernie to the back yard and lay in the grass with him. I looked out the window watching my son give all the love he had in him to a dog who he worshipped the ground he walked on. I could easily tell that Ernie was returning the love.
As I watched the two of them, my heart was heavy but not only for the inevitable loss of Ernie, but also for my son who on the surface , with his large stature and dreads appears to be a “bad ass dude.” I recalled something he said years ago, which made my heart even heavier, when we lost our first Golden, “Billy Bob”. Back then, as he and I stood outside the vet clinic he said, “dad, you don’t understand, Billy Bob was my first best friend.” So as I watched the two of them lay in the grass, all I could think about was how my son was again losing a good friend, hurting and I couldn’t do anything about it. I wanted more than anything to take the pain away from him.
Ernie epitomized unconditional love. He always seemed to know a persons emotions. He could tell when you were happy and when things weren’t quite right with any of us, he’d always appear in your face with his eyes right at yours as though he knew something.
I honestly believe Ernie knows something is happening. As he’s always been perceptive with knowing our feelings, in his dying days, he continues to do that which is in his core being, showing love.
5:AM, I went to the bathroom and although he was sleeping on the bed, I heard the pitter patter of his feet heading into the bathroom. As I sat in the stool (I know…TMI) he sat in front of me, staring as though he simply wanted to look at me as one of the last times he’ll see me. I put out some water thinking he was thirsty and nothing. He just waited patiently for me to return to bed where I’d lifted him up onto the bed. He waited until I was settled before going back to his original spooning position as my body pillow. I tried to fall back to sleep but can’t.
I got up, he moved next to my wife and I went down stairs, made coffee. Turned on the news, open my mail, all the time trying to divert my thoughts away from Ernie. It didn’t work.
In my thinking of the events of the last couple of days, something else Ernie has brought to light is how my daughter has become a strong, take-charge kind of a woman. With a background in veterinary medicine, she’s taken charge of the medical aspects of Ernie’s care. At the vets office, she went into the lab with the doc, and together they read the x-rays, discussed treatment and then relay to us in layman’s language—as well as the most delicate manner possible—what was happening.
Although the course of events have occurred in a short couple of days, she’s proven to be a rock with an unbelievable level of compassion and care. Where my son and I are falling apart, my daughter has been there for us in every way imaginable.
Not too long ago, I texted my son and daughter and told them that I think it’s time for Ernie to be put down. These are hard words to say much less type and I’ll admit that I’m tearing up right now. The last thing I want is to have him suffer. When you have a dog for as long as we’ve had Ernie, you know in your heart that things aren’t right. I can’t allow him to suffer because I’m dreading the finality.
My daughter’s background in veterinary medicine allows us to arrange for Ernie to be put down in his home with his loved ones at his side. To be honest, I’m not sure if I can handle it. Not only because of Ernie passing on but to see and feel the pain my son, my wife and daughter will also be experiencing as well.
Anyway, here’s to you Ernie, one of our four-legged family members. Love you and will miss you more then you’ll ever know
Photo courtesy of author