The two faces of Maia

Maia died a month ago yesterday. It seems like an eternity as well as yesterday. I managed to let her go the best possible way: when she was still feeling good and surrounded by her oncologist, Dr. Beck, who had been like a lighthouse in the middle of a storm, storm meaning Lymphoma. She left quietly, and yes, I realized, thanks to a wise friend, that cancer did not win. Maia did. Maia left before cancer crippled her, before it was too late. and I am so relieved to have been able to do that for her.

I lost four of my labs from cancer in a year and half, and it has always been emergencies, and emergencies suck big time. Tidal waves that left you all bruised, broken and not sure you can still breathe on your own. Maia gave me some peace. Don’t get me wrong. If someone talks to me about her when I don’t expect it, tears can still run uncontrolled, but when it’s my choice, I can now talk about her with words without breaking down.

I started a journal when she was diagnosed with Lymphoma on March 31, 2015 until December 18, 2017. There are many gaps in it, mostly while she was twice in remission and when I wanted to believe that she will be in the 5% who got into remission like forever. Gaps meaning quiet time, enjoying every minute with her.

With Maia, I learned to live life like there was no tomorrow, enjoying every minute of every day. I read that poem a long time ago, but until Maia, I did not realize it was written for us.

My Heart Has A Tail

I made a discovery, just today;
something so amazing in every way.
It was when you bounded towards my face,
kissing and wriggling all over the place.
And I held you very, very close to me,
experiencing euphoria, endlessly.
It seemed that all at once, our hearts became one
and together we were having so much fun.
I could no longer keep my perspective;
the two of us became almost reflexive.
Yet when I see you running around,
you don’t need words to make a sound.
I know that you love me very much
with a loyalty no human can touch.
That’s why I believe you’ve become my heart
and no one earthly force can keep us apart.
We understand each other so very well;
Surely my heart has a tail, or can’t you tell?

While I was driving to the Hope Center in Vienna that morning of December 18th, she was quietly in the back of my truck, happy. Now and then, I was scratching her head. That morning, I knew I was driving there for the last time. I knew it was the day, and I was silently crying in order not to worry her. She was always as worried about me that I was worried about her. We were quite a pair. Amazingly, there were no regrets, not thinking of the last walk around the lake that we would not take or the last swim she would not get at the pool. We had a very long goodbye, and I had no regrets. And she did not have either. I do believe she knew. As a matter of fact, I believe she was to one to tell me it was time.

Maia had two faces: Before and After cancer. Don’t get me wrong I am not going to thank cancer to have revealed the second face of Maia, but yes, if cancer had not crossed our path, the ride would have been smooth, sweet, but not memorable. Cancer woke up Maia, and she become that other being who knew what she wanted and was asking for it. From the dog who never barked, she became the barker in chief, and you know what? It was a promotion. She finally knew what she wanted and she was letting me know. She could get mad. She had feelings and she was showing them. You go girl!

BC (Before cancer), Maia hated the water. It was too wet for her. Seriously. She was also the dog who never retrieved.  Not completely true. Even BC, there was some competition in my girl. If I were throwing a ball (safest thing for me to throw. I suck with Frisbees! Like you have no idea…. no idea except if you check out my roof, then you will see the story of the Frisbees and me.), so yes if I were throwing a ball, she wanted to get it before anyone else, but once she had it, she had no more interest in it, and was dropping it wherever…. like saying to the others “now you can have it, I don’t care. I was the one to have it FIRST!”

AC  was another story. Maia loved to swim, and totally hated if one of my crew was coming for a swim. Gosh, she was letting me know loudly how disapproving she was about the whole thing. The pool was her place. Every morning, she was waiting by the front door by 8:30 like I could forget to take her with me? Cancer made us so close that yes, my heart has a tail. With the remaining of my pack, we had special time one on one, but Maia became the shadow of my shadow or did I become the shadow of her shadow?

I just realized this past month what was the most amazing part of our relationship and silly of me not to realize it until she was gone. We were communicating. Animal communication? I don’t think I am communicating with the remaining of my pack but with Maia what was it? You could call it telepathy. I knew what she wanted. I knew if she wanted to go for a walk, or what she would want to eat that specific day. (Maia developed anorexia during cancer, and it was a challenge sometime to figure out what would be the food of the day), but in the last months of her life, it became crystal clear.

The last few weeks of her life, it just did not feel right to leave her at the pool like I used to  when I was running errands, so everywhere I went, she went as well. She became picky with her food, but I always knew what she would eat or not eat that day. I would pick random stuff knowing that it would be the only thing she would want to eat, and she did. I knew what she wanted at any minute of the day. Until now, I did not realize how deep our connection was. She was making me feel what she was feeling.  That’s how deep we connected.

She was not my heart dog. Jackson was. At the same time she was so much more. She was my best friend.

When I came back home that Monday (note for myself: Mondays are not good dog days. Three of my dogs and Maia died on a Monday.), my dogs did not really care, but why would they have? Maia never really interfered with them. She was always with me. But Milou, the evil cat, did. Maia was the only living being that he loved. When Maia was home, Milou was always, absolutely always with her. Sleeping on the same bed, hanging out on the couch, Milou was always there. He took it badly. He was looking for her everywhere, meowing around the house, not eating (and when we knew Milou, you knew that starvation was not really his thing!) and then we had a talk: I made him smell Maia’s collar, and some of her hair. I told him she was gone but was she?

Zeus, one of my labs from the past, came back to me twice after his death, and each time, I did not expect it. He just came back. I wrote a column about it, so I won’t bore you with it here, but the thing with Maia is that she is around. Her dog bed by the fireplace stays untouched. Milou the cat who used to love to be on that bed with her, lies down by the bed but not on her bed. Yesterday, I gave a chew to Zeke and he went straight to Maia’s bed to savor it, and stopped right there before jumping on it, and made a fast U turn and crashed on the rug. I do believe she is still on the bed, and they know it.

A few mornings ago, I saw her by the front door, the way she used to wait to go to the pool. It was a blurry black shape for a few seconds. It came and went, and came back, and was gone again. Same at the pool, when I go to the pool area, a few times, I heard her bark, and rushed back to the store front. You can also call me crazy. It’s okay. I believe that I reached a degree of communication with her that I have never reached with anyone else. So yes, my heart has a tail or can’t you tell?




You got me at Hello…..

7 and half years ago, you were born. You were the third one, and the biggest one, and I immediately fell in love with you. You had that big pudgy face. Your eyes were not open yet. It took over a week before I could see them, but from the minute you were born, I was under your spell.

The girls (my daughters) always said from Day 1 that you had me wrapped around you paw. And it was the truth. Whatever wrong you did, I always found you excuses. You just had to look at me with those big eyes. You immediately or almost immediately took over my feet. They were the best pillows for your head. I first named you “Boubou”, and then you became Jackson because I met a long time before another Jackson, another black lab, who was not mine, but decided one day, I was his.

In my dreams, we were going to grow old together. There is not one evening or one morning when you are not in bed with me, your head on my shoulders, looking at me with those big eyes, and what can I say? I am a sucker and I melt.

jackSo, yes, you were supposed to get older, white all over, and there would be nothing better than snuggling with you at night or in the morning. You had all the Zeus’ habits (Zeus was my heart dog…. until you came into the picture, or maybe even after your Mom came into the picture, who knows?)

I loved you for your look (I might be vain there!) as well as your attitude. I always said that labs are my dogs because they have a sense of humor than no other dogs have (and I love any dogs from mutts to …. almost anything!) but you were the perfect lab, and you still are until you will drop dead, or until I decide for you, because I love you THAT MUCH, that it’s time for you to cross the Rainbow Bridge and go back with your Mom, Lola, and your brother, George. That’s how much I love you. If I could drive to the moon and back to make you feel whole again, I would. I would do anything to make you grow old by me….. but I can’t.

jacknewtoyAnd yes, it sucks. It sucks real bad. No dog should go at 7. I know that most likely you won’t be home for Christmas. When I think how worried I was about the Christmas tree and how to protect the Christmas GLASS ornaments from you. Last year, I almost got a heart attack after you decided to chew on a glass ornament, ruin my mattress with your blood, and after dragging your sorry butt to the emergency and heard that you would be okay.

In the seven years of your life, you drove me crazy so many times, but I wish so bad that I could have signed up for another 7 years. With all the crap you dumped on me, I would have signed up in a second for another 7 years of crap, and love, so much love between us.

Until not long ago, I did not realize how protective you were of me and the mutts (meaning your brother and sisters). First thing in the morning, you go to the backyard all around the fence to be sure it’s safe, and then once, you figured out that there is no trespasser, you come back to me.

When you are in my or should I say “your” truck, you are so overly protective of it. You would bite anyone who would approach it. And then the couch thing. If anyone is sitting next to me, I have no idea how you do it, but you manage to get rid of “the person” in no time, swiftly moving your butt around without even moving it. You mastered the art of getting rid of anyone on that couch besides me. And I love you for that too, Jackson.

You started limping in April, and I was concerned, like I am always concerned when one of you is not doing well, but you got better after being on an anti inflammatory thing (metacam to be accurate). We did X-rays, and no, you had nothing wrong in your bones. And then it started again, and again, and I failed you. When the vet did not find anything wrong, I should have gone to a higher level, and I did not. You see, I had no clue that you could have some kind of cancer without pain, and obviously you have never been in pain.


I screwed up. I waited, and waited, thinking, as I was told, that it was most likely a soft tissue injury when it was a tumor growing into your nerves. And I had no clue.

Now it’s too late. You had a MRI, the tumor took over your body. One day, you will wake up and won’t be able to stand up, and because I love you that much, it will be the day where I will put you to sleep.

So after, all the sleepless nights, and worries, after the hope I had in the last 24 hours with that surgeon who was doing laser surgery on those tumors, after hearing the words “four to six weeks” I knew your story was going to an end, and yes you got me at hello, and youjack will get me at goodbye as well.