I’ve done the best I can this morning, but it all feels off. I guess that’s natural, though. It’s not every morning you walk into a playroom, choking back your grown-up sobs, and trying to put a smile on your face as you interrupt your three kids playing to tell them their dog isn’t going to make it.
“Guys, we have to say goodbye to Milo. We need to go whisper at him how much we love him. I think it will make him so happy inside.”
Violet is 7 now, and she drops a stuffed unicorn on the floor and looks me in the eyes with the wise, inquisitive look of a kid growing up fast.
“You mean Milo might die today?” she asks me, a crinkle in her voice.
Henry is 5 in a few weeks. He looks at his big sister and rides the question over towards me, his face settling on mine. He’s a sensitive boy, and I can see the worry in his eyes. He wants me to back out of the room, to moonwalk the hell out of this playroom and take my last words with me. He’s a kid, but just like his dad, he wants this whole thing to go away like it never even happened.
“Yeah, baby,” I say. “Milo has had enough. He loves you guys so much. You’ve been his best friends all of your lives. But he’s tired, honey. I’m thinking that Milo’s ready to go be with Max again.”
Max was our other black lab, who died just over a year ago. He was older than Milo though, a dog at the age when dogs commonly die. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to him; he’d been probably the greatest living creature I’d ever known. And that includes humans. But still, somehow this one is different, maybe even worse. Milo is two months away from his 8th birthday. He’s too young. We never saw this coming. But over the last two weeks, the strain of lyme disease he’s been ravaged by has refused to give up. Our Milo, his once robust and unstoppable body drained of spirit, energy, fire, and breath, is now a dog with weary eyes.
And so here we are, a Friday morning in the middle of winter, having to say goodbye once more, the kids on the bed hugging Milo’s thinned-out frame, rubbing his ribs gently, trying to find the words.
Monica, their mom, is at work for a few hours, and she’ll be rushing back soon. But right now it’s just me and our children. And our Milo.
The parts of me that want to be strong, the voice in my head telling me to keep it together, I let them go. As Charlie, who’s not even 2 yet, buries his head into Milo’s side and kisses his body and smiles up at me, his lips all gummed up with black dog hair, I understand that it’s okay for me to bawl. This is a sad day. There are many things I can protect my kids from, but I can’t protect them from this. To lie to them now, to say I’m crying from peeling an onion (the thought crossed my mind), would be lame.
So Charlie pulls back and grins his unknowing grin at me through his dog hair goatee, and I unleash the sobs I was trying to hold back. I gasp and choke. Violet moves in close and kisses Milo’s nose as Henry rubs his tail gently, one loving eye on his best dog bud — one uncertain eye on his weeping dad.
“I made Milo promise us that he would send us some signs as soon as he finds Max again!” I tell them.
But I say it with too much excitement in my voice and I don’t know if these kids will buy it. Hell, I don’t even know if I buy it. I’m no big believer in one thing or another. I have no clue what comes next or where Milo might find himself in a few hours when my ex-wife and I hold his paw and smother him with whispers and kisses as he takes his final breaths.
But somehow I say it, and as the words float from my mouth and hit the kids’ ears, I start believing it anyway.
“He’s gonna send us all kinds of signs, you guys!” I’m blubbering now, my words a jumble of pitch cracks and spitty slurs. “Oh he loves you guys so much! Get in there and love on him hard! Breathe that old Milo smell in so you have it locked in your nose forever, okay?”
And so they do. And I join them. And we’re minutes away from Violet’s school bus coming up the hill. Outside of this room, outside of this house where love lives, the cruel and beautiful world is happening the same as it ever was. But for a second or two, we exist outside of it all. Me, Milo, Violet, Henry, and Charlie — we group hug on their mom’s bed and take long deep drags off of a dying friend’s fur.
He smells warm. Like wheat or old firewood. He feels frail beneath our affection, and I am sadder than I have maybe ever been. But I know we were lucky to have him, and him us.
Violet raises Milo’s snoot to press against her nose and for a moment there, I can see that he is loving all the attention. It makes me laugh inside. That’s all he ever cared about, being loved, squeezed, and having Frisbees tossed on an endless loop until his mouth was a drooling mess of tongue-cut blood and the hot slobber of unstoppable joy.
He’s smiling the best he can now, I can see it. I know what Milo’s smile looks like. Oh, I know. And that’s a weak but real smile there stretching across his graying face.
Goodbye, my friend. We’re going to miss you so bad. God, how we love you.
Thanks for choosing us.
Thank you, thank you, thank you forever.More On