Tomorrow will be one of the hardest days of my life. Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to my sweet dog Duke. Duke has been with us for almost 16 years. We were never supposed to have him, but the first dog we selected, Harry, named after Harry Potter, was ill. At the end of a school day in August, Brian and Charles drove to north of Denton, to return the puppy and get a new one. The lady felt so terrible about what happened that she let Charles have the pick of the litter. The dog that she herself wanted to keep. For a day or so, we struggled for a name, and finally Charles gave in to Christopher's idea of naming the dog Duke, after his favorite basketball team. Over the years, the name has proven to be a perfect fit--he always looked like royalty, and was a champion not only of himself, but of others. He constantly made us all feel like winners.
In October, we were told that he had a heart murmur, and we have known since then that his days were numbered. Just like in all things, we always believed we had more time. And as always, we haven't had enough.
After having Duke all these years, I never realized that I am Duke's "person." When Kaitlyn came into our lives, she commented that she always knew where I was in the house because Duke was there also. She called him my shadow. As I held him this weekend, telling him it was OK to stop fighting, to relax and let go, he was almost immobile. And then he took all the energy he had and turned his head, rested it on my chest, and looked into my eyes with gratitude. With all the energy he had, he was telling me that it was OK for me to let go.
There will be a hole in our lives for some time. Duke serves as a touchstone, a time-marker. He takes us back to the days of our young boys running around in the yard, playing and laughing and living in the sunshine. He chased, or "herded" our cats, and loved to bark at the school bus, the vacuum cleaner, trash bags and sneezes. He stood by the door waiting for the boys to come home from college, and danced and spun around when they walked through the door. He taught us how we should all live. With unconditional love, devotion, loyalty, kindness, trust and grit.
After a busy 16 years, raising boys, watching them grow up, move out, chase dreams, and fall in love, I realize how I've spent so much of my life in a hurry, and not taking time to even realize how much this sweet being loved me. For that, I am sorry. But I know that he never expected anything more than being talked to, and petted and given his treats. Please pray that Duke will stop fighting to live. Please pray that he will die peacefully in his sleep tonight. That's the ending I want for such a life well lived. I know I can't control it, and if we have to take him to the vet in the morning, I know it's the right thing to do. I don't want him to suffer any longer. I am thankful for my time, and for the moments he has shared with our family. At the end of the day, my one hope is that I can keep his spirit in my heart, and always, always love unconditionally. When the world is hard, I hope to be soft. I hope to live in the moment, and enjoy the little things. I understand more than ever that having a shadow means the sun must be shining. I will always treasure the light he brought into all our lives, and will forever hope to be more like Duke. He loved us all so very much.