A woman kneels down and gives her cute dog a high five

On My Birthday, Missing My Dog

If you have the good luck, as I do, to have had a happy childhood, your memories on your original birthday are likely to be better than your memories of your early re-birthdays.

To back up, it’s not as easy to give a name to your “belly button” birthday as it is to name your stem cell birthdays. You can’t call it a “real” birthday because that implies that your others are fake. Womb birthday? I’ve never heard it called that before. Well, I am going to assume that you know what I mean when I talk about my first birthday, when my mother gave birth to me, which as I write this is today, August 24th.

Nostalgic for re-birthdays?

It's easy to get nostalgic about this kind of childhood birthday and not so easy to do the same for your stem cell birthdays, or re-birthdays, or transplantaversaries, if you want to call them that. You are not going to think, “Oh for the days when everything had a metallic taste, and I was queasy most of the time and could barely walk to the corner and couldn’t eat fresh fruits or vegetables.”

My original birthday comes with memories of parties at our summer house in Atlantic Beach, N.Y. Kids played games in the backyard and then went inside to eat. My mother was an artist who was artistic in all things. Ribbons in the centerpiece led to a little gift for each child. We played a memory game in which my mom put out a tray of assorted objects, gave us time to look at it, then took it away and had us write down what we remembered. Sometimes I think that my career as a professional observer of things (aka a newspaper reporter) had its roots in this game.

Missing my best friend this birthday

On my birthday this year, I am sad. I’m glad to be alive, after all that I went through. But I am missing my best friend of 15 years, my faithful dog, the Labrador Retriever who helped me get through treatment and recovery. A couple of years ago, I wrote about how my furry friend was my blood cancer medication.

My blood pressure went way up during the illness that led to me having to put her down last month. I explained it all in this post on my blog. In summary, my vet thought that Maddie had ingested a foreign object while at our friends’ house while we were vacationing on Cape Cod. The friend who had been watching her said she didn’t see how this was possible. The vet said it was hard to see, due to all the gas in the dog’s stomach, and recommended I take her to the emergency hospital. The emergency vet recommended surgery, giving me half an hour to decide while I was crying hysterically. Operate on a dog who had lived way past life expectancy for her size?

My furry cancer medicine had cancer

My kids thought I would second guess if I didn’t say to do it. They were right. I gave the go-ahead. It wasn’t a foreign object after all. It was worse. Her colon had twisted. They did a “resection,” which is removal of part of the bowel. The recovery would be harder than if it had been a foreign object. Worse still, something like cancer had probably caused it. I knew immediately that I would have to go and have her put down. My boyfriend came with me. When they brought her in, she was alert. She picked up her head and squirmed around as though she was ready to get up and play. I petted her and told her all the friends she would meet in dog heaven.

I cried and cried. Back home, I cried some more. It was so strange without her. I didn’t put it on Facebook, but word got around after I posted on the NextDoor site that I wondered what to do with her beds. (I can bring them to the humane society branch/animal shelter near me.) Of course, I said that I was giving away the beds because my dog had died.

My heart warmed at the outpouring of love and support. People sent flowers and cards. All the vets at the practice signed a card in which they wrote notes about what a sweet girl she was. One friend gave me a book about dog heaven; another gave me one about signs from pets in the afterlife.

Keeping moving through the grief

I felt wrung out. Though, as was the case during cancer treatment and recovery, I followed the example set by my parents. I kept moving. Gradually, I went from crying all day, to a little less the next day, and so on and so forth, until the waterworks stopped. It doesn’t take much to trigger me, but at least I am not crying all the time. People said that all the walks I gave her contributed to her longevity. I feel good about what we did for each other, and I’m determined to keep the good times in mind. Though as I said at the beginning, it’s a big loss.

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