For the past 14 years, I have shared my bed with a little love named Nemo. Each night, he would lay at my feet. I have been told that I would pet him with my feet all night long.
Once Lydia came along, she joined me in our bed, wedged between her baba and me. Just like her mama, she would pet him with her feet all night long in her sleep. Just like her mama, it became her comfort, her nightly ritual. Most little girls sleep with a blankie or a favorite doll. Not Lydia. Nemo was her comfort. There was a lot of time when she did not like us, but she always loved him. It was him that made our house feel like a place she might want to stay. So protective of food when we first adopted, she was delighted to share each Cheerio with her Nemo. With Nemo, it was different.
We often joked that Nemo had more lives than a cat. His chart at the vet’s office was thicker than most textbooks. ITP. Cushing’s disease. Allergies. Benign tumors. Arthritis. Deaf. Cataracts. Kidney disease. We all knew that this day would come. For the past two years, Lydia would tell people about her favorite dog and say, “Nemo will die in a few days.” A few days or two years. We were all trying to brace ourselves for his exit.
Bryson and I often say he held around just for us. He was with us during the honeymoon years. He provided comfort when I broke my neck. He sat at my feet while I graded 25,000 student papers and sat in my lap as I wrote a dissertation. He sat by Bryson’s side when he started his own business. He was with us when friends exited our lives. He was the loyal one, they weren’t. He licked all of the tears with infertility diagnoses. We needed his comfort so much during the last three years, and he just kept giving and giving and giving and we kept taking and taking and taking.
I often told people he was my Xanax. His fur was an immediate comfort. His paws felt like sand paper and smelled the perfect scent of fritos. His breath was terrible – you could smell him coming and going. But he so loved to give kisses. Lydia says his scent is what she misses most. She said he helped her calm down.
He gave and gave. We took and took.
In the couple of weeks before his death, I think we knew. Lydia suddenly remembered feeding him Cheerios when she first joined our family and asked if I would please buy her some more. I did. And every morning before school, she would sit in front of him and feed him Cheerios one by one. She was saying goodbye the same way she said hello, nice to meet you, here’s a Cheerio.
When he declined, it was rapid. I wanted more time, but he was in terrible pain. And so we gave when we wanted to take even more. We gave him relief and said goodbye. I knew when he was too sick to raise his head up to comfort Lydia that he was in too much pain. The scent of Ammonia on his breath confirmed what I saw.
Lydia is a five year old and fifty year old in one body. She said, “Nemo will be made better in heaven, but my heart will be broken because I’m here without him.” I agree. She begged me to take photos of her with him saying goodbye. It’s like we were all trying to preserve him and all of his preciousness as much as possible. “I must make a book of these pictures,” she said. And it happened so fast, it’s like she needed pictures to believe it.
Since we said goodbye to Nemo, we all have reacted differently. Lydia wailed and then got angry. Barrett threw a tantrum and asked when Nemo would wake up. He is still asking and Barrett didn’t even like him. I’ve been melancholy – even yesterday – I found myself sad at an event I shouldn’t have been sad at. And poor Dory, the little dog who loves to play outside and chase squirrels has refused to go outside and chase squirrels. She just stares at his empty doggy bed.
And though sometimes humans remind us, “Stop. It was just a dog!” You are right, he was just a dog. Ask our daughter, and he was also part of our family. Not a human, but a companion. And though he was just a dog, he so modeled what good companionship, friendship, and comfort looks like. It didn’t matter why we were hurting, but he always knew when we were hurting, and he was present.
Tomorrow, we pick up his ashes. Lydia–who knows loss well–asked us to have a memorial for Nemo and to cook his favorite asparagus, ribeye steaks, and chocolate cake. Because if there was food, he was there, and we want him with us.
Nemo, thank you for loving our family.