Posted in Family, Journal, Conversation, Op-Ed

Sweet Captain Riley

Photo by SeeJayneRun.com

This is Riley. Yesterday, he traveled on his final journey. He was 15 people years old. Or, if you’re a Silky Terrier, 76 years.

You may wonder what the life and death of my little dog has to do with chronic illness. Nothing. Everything. He was a part of my journey. And now he is gone.

In 2004, we were preparing for what would be the first of several spinal surgeries. My husband, a professional chef and educator, works long hours and we have no family nearby. So we decided that a small dog would be a smart addition to the household. Yes, we had a cat, but Max, though very sweet tempered, definitely had her own agenda. I wanted a buddy, a cuddling pal, a walking partner when the time came. A puppy would be a comfort and good company as I recuperated.

Except that we got far more than we bargained for. I did about six months of research on breeds and finally decided upon the Silky Terrier. These smart, highly trainable, non-shedding dogs could easily adapt to my activity level and were not known to be “yappers”. I was hoping for a sweet puppy whom I could train to do his business outside, socialize well with other dogs and people, heel on a leash, and snuggle and cuddle in front of the television. What I didn’t expect was an old soul. A wise and loving bundle of joy wrapped up in the silkiest and most sweet smelling coat imaginable. He was by my side as I recovered from five spinal surgeries, attached to my hip as I lay in bed. During the long dark years of insomnia, he kept vigil with me throughout the endless nights. When the pain overwhelmed me and all I could do was sob, he’d gently kiss my face to let me know he was there. Just one or two little licks with his sweet soft tongue.

Riley came to live with us when he was 8 weeks old. He was smart and attentive. He calmly told us what he needed when he needed it and then waited patiently for us to provide, confident that we would be there for him. And he was always there for us. He showed us how to be at peace when we had forgotten how. How to accept and just be in the moment. When My Guy and I broke and let all of the physical, emotional, financial, mental, social, and environmental crap that inevitably accompanies chronic illness, finally get to us and the only way we knew at the moment to deal was to rail at each other, Riley, who always wanted to be wherever we were, would calmly stand up and walk out of the room. He didn’t bark or run or cower. In his way, he simply told us to knock it off, calm down, find a better more effective way to communicate and cope. And we did.

Riley was all boy. He was an ideal travel companion. He had a slender, elegant build and a regal stance and even though he only weighed 12 pounds, he was a powerhouse. He had such personality. He feared nothing, he never complained, he accepted whatever the situation happened to be and simply got on with it. If only I could live my life as he did.

In his last years, he lost his sight and could no longer run and play. But he was able to navigate his way through the house and yard well and his temperment never altered. When he became ill, he needed more from us as his days became more difficult but he still never complained. On his last day, he very clearly told us it was time to leave us and he took his last breaths as he lived his life: with calm, peace and dignity.

My arms ache to hold my little guy. To feel his soft coat against my cheek and smell his sweet puppy smell. I pray I don’t forget the lessons he imparted, the love he freely gave, and the peace I always felt in his presence. Sleep well, little one. I am forever grateful for your friendship. But I’m gonna miss you like hell.