We picked up his ashes yesterday; I had both girls in the car with me when I called to see if he was ready. I should've thought better of that - Cora piped up, "We're getting our puppy back?" The hopeful melody of her sweet voice broke my heart. I had to explain again that we're just picking up his ashes. That he's still dead, that he's not coming back. "Ashes?" G was curious. "They turned him into dust?" We talked a bit about that, what it would look like. I told them to imagine the ashes under the grill, the ones they like to play in. I sent out a silent thank you to the universe when we got through the conversation again without them asking how they turned him into ashes - I can't think how I would explain cremation technique without them being horrified. "Did they turn his fur to ashes too?" G asked. She had that sad, tentative voice that she uses when something is bothering her and she's trying to understand. "Yes, baby, his fur too." "Oh," she said, looking down. "I wanted to feel his fur again." Somehow I managed to not cry, but it took effort. I lost it last night when I shared that anecdote with Jimi - he did too. It's almost too much to bear, to think of his soft fur and what a good boy he was.
We got him picked up, though, got him home, on the mantle. They included a paw print pressed into some sort of soft dough that will firm up permanently in a few days. I don't know if that was great or terrible. I cried last night for a long time. It wasn't all for him, but a lot of it was. I have so much guilt - I was not the greatest dog mom over the last 5 years, and I don't know how I'll come to terms with that. I can't make it up to him. I can't tell him I'm sorry. I can't redo any of it. I keep replaying this night in my head, one of our walks in his last few weeks, before I realized he was hurting - we were walking our usual route and he was being so slow, and I was in such a hurry, like I always am, to get to the next thing, whatever it was. I lost my patience with him, I assumed he was just being pokey, taking his time, and I pulled on his lead and griped at him to "Come ON - hurry up!" I would love to not have that memory anymore. When he was slow the next night too, that's when I noticed something was not normal. Also, the weeks leading up to that, when he was so slow to get up and come to the door to go outside in the mornings; I assumed he was being lazy, or ignoring me - as if he ever did those things - and I would lose my temper and yell at him, "Finnegan, COME!" I didn't realize until later, when I put the entire sequence together in my head, that he obviously was aching and sore and having a hard time getting up to go out - I was just so engrossed in my own bullshit, worried over my own morning checklist and timetable, I didn't even notice my best boy was having a hard time. And if I go further back in this memory lane of self-hate - the days when we'd come home and he would be waiting there for us, and we'd blow into the house full of kids and to-do lists and walk right past him without much more than a "Hey Finn, you need to go out?" and we'd let him out, but then ignore him nearly completely until it was time to feed or walk him. I noticed when he wasn't greeting us at the door any more, but I figured he was napping. I didn't realize that those door-meet declines coincided with the slow mornings, or that our walks were gradually taking longer and longer, until it was just obvious, and then it was too late. He deserved better than that. I owed him more than that.
I want to defend myself, to tell how I was good to him, and to the other dogs in my life before him. But then I remember that night on that walk, when I hurried him along when he must've been in pain, and I just hate myself.
I had this ridiculous thought yesterday: "Dog is God spelled backwards."
Then, "If the way we treat our dogs determines if we get into Heaven, I don't know if I'll get to go."
Then, just now, "If Finn is the one who determines if I get in or not, he'd let me in. He was always so forgiving."
He used to love it when I'd squat down in front of him and hug him. He'd lay his head on my shoulder or in the crook of my arm as long as I'd stay there, my face buried in his neck, my hands rubbing along his flank and back, telling him what a good boy he is and how much we love him. I can almost smell his doggy smell, remembering it. How soft his fur was, the way he'd lean into me. I feel like if I get to meet him again, we'll do that, and I'll tell him all of this, and he'll understand, and he'll still love me like he always did. In the meantime, though, I get to live with the memories, of both the good times and of when I was not a good friend to my best friend.