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.
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.
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?