It is one week today that we said goodbye to our 13 1/2 year- old Golden Retriever, Chelsea.
For the first few days without her, I made it a point to leave the house when the kids left for school, and not return until they got home. I just couldn’t bare to be in the house alone. There wasn’t much motivation to write without my writing companion either. The spot next to my chair was empty. There was no one to read aloud my rough drafts for approval. But, by the end of the week ,we all cried less – each day has been better than the one before.
There were several moments this weekend that struck me as ironic reminders that life really does go on, whether we want it to or not. Saturday, our family spent several hours participating in Relay for Life. The Tortoise and I walked the first six miles together, talking and laughing at silly stories we each shared. It was a wonderful bonding time and yet, I couldn’t help but be reminded the whole day of cancer and of Chelsea. I was reminded of the people in our life touched with cancer. Some are in remission, some we have lost. Afterall, it is a walk raising money in the hopes of finding cures for cancer. The Tortoise must have made the connection too, because she asked me if I thought Chelsea knew she was going to die. I think she did. On Monday morning, after laying still for over 24 hours she managed to move herself to the hub of our home – the kitchen – in order to be in the center of our family. We cried a little but then amazingly, The Tortoise said:
“I think it would be okay to get another dog. I don’t think it would mean we loved Chelsea any less. It just means we have a lot more love to give.”
Later Saturday afternoon, The Tortoise mentioned that she didn’t feel 100%. It’s sometimes hard to tell how she is really feeling, because she constantly has a nervous stomach. This had been an emotional week anyway, but we also had our big 5k run on Sunday and she has a solo in her school concert tonight. The nerves are high. We all went to bed at a reasonable hour Saturday night, preparing for the big 5k event, but at 1 a.m. I was startled by the sound of “MOM!” coming from the girls’ bathroom. It’s amazing how awake you become when one of your children are crying out. The Tortoise had thrown-up all over herself, the tiles and her bath rug. The smell and the content were overwhelming. After I helped get her cleaned-up and out of the way, DW came in to help. We both struggled (me more than him, I must admit this was enough to put me into dry-heaving convulsions) but I couldn’t help but think about how strange it was that just the Saturday before I was cleaning up after my now deceased “child”, Chelsea. Just a week before I was surrounded by another stench, cleaning a part of my life that I didn’t realize was soon to be gone. Cleaning up after The Tortoise was one of the few times I can think of that I was at peace disposing of such a mess. I was almost thankful that I had this mess to clean. It meant that my child needed me. She was present.
Sunday morning was beautiful. The sun stretched out her arms widely, surrounding all the earth in a warm embrace. Our 5k site was already buzzing in pink bliss as early as 8:15 a.m., waiting for the arrival of almost 1000 runners. As they started showing up, smiles seared my heart, burning images of all the hard work and commitment the teams had endured during the weeks leading up to this big day. I was excited to see our efforts come to fruition, even on this extremely hot morning. We gathered together, rows and rows of girls, their parents and coaches dressed in this year’s sea of soft blush. And then we were off.
At first I ran with a couple of my struggling runners, but the excitement of their peers running charged them with energy, sending them forward without effort. I found myself running alone. This was my fourth 5k. In runs past, I did my best to run for long periods of time, but there was always an occasional intense walk to catch my breath. Today was different. My body was filled with emotion, fueling my legs, pumping my arms. I ran through mile one swiftly. At the water station I drank while on route and then ran on to mile two. The trail was very familiar and I knew that passing the big softball field was my cue that there was only about a mile left. I ran. A small cramp began forming on my side but I took slower, deeper breaths. My mind drifted to the week’s events and suddenly I forgot what I was doing. I started forgetting how much life seemed to stop. The cramp disappeared. I kept running. Sweat dripped down my face, reminding me of past tears shed, tears that were now replaced with a smile. The finish line was near – I could hear the crowd cheering and voices calling to me:
“Good Job Coach Emily! You’re almost there!”
I was almost there.
I was almost there.
An arch of colored balloons beckoned me to the end. I sprinted. And as I passed through the finish line, welcomed by hundreds of faces – some I recognized and some I didn’t know – I felt relief.
I knew I was indeed, almost there.