Rhys was too big for me to hold. I wanted to scoop him up in my arms, which I had never been able to do, and hold him close to me.
He weighed 175 lbs. when he died. Way too big for me to scoop.
I sat beside him instead, talking to him. I told him how much I loved him and would always love him. I recounted stories of our adventures together. I thanked him for what he had the patience and tenacity to teach me. Even on this day as he lay dying.
He's still teaching me.
When Rhys was alive, I would talk with him about the things I wanted to do. I confided in him the things I was too anxious to tell others. When he died, I wondered if I would lose that.
There were so many things I was afraid to lose. In the day we kept his body at home, I wondered what else would disappear with his body when his doctor came to take his extraordinarily heavy vessel away.
By the time his doctor arrived, his eyeballs had already began to shrink and his body drained _most_ of the urine it held. I had lovingly washed him for the very last time. I held the velvety ears that were no longer keeping my secret anxieties. They didn't feel anything like Rhys.
I'm not able to reach out and touch Rhys anymore. I can't hear him vomit up grass or groom himself with his slow, slurping tongue. How could he be such a slow groomer when his tongue was lightning fast on my cheek? I don't feel his ears or his heart beating.
I see him sometimes. He comes to visit. Mostly, though, we talk. He is with me everywhere.
The moment he groaned into his last exhalation at 4:24 pm wasn't the end of our relationship. It was the beginning of a kind of closeness that isn't possible in life.
Maybe I'm putting a lot on "just a dog" and I might be crazy. The death of Rhys' body was the birth of something bigger. Sitting with his shell and making paper hearts to adorn his body for the trip to the crematorium was the earliest stage of transition for me.
I didn't realize how much faith and hope and trust I had in him. I didn't realize how much my conversations with him helped me. I didn't realize how much I relied on his acceptance of me and how much his insistence that I was fine just the way I was shifted my life.
When he died, I stopped thinking of that support being available to me only when we were physically together. I embraced the idea that he was with me. I held him in my heart loosely enough that he had room to move as he needed. I trusted that he would stay, and he has. He stays because I have the best of him, and it's now my job to put him out into the world.
Rhys' death was about so much more than his body's ending, and this date and time are deeply significant to me. I'm so glad I honored the moment with something I can see every day.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.