IMG_20130806_164724Twelve hours into the “Redwoods Road Trip 2015” and its hot. We grit our teeth through LA traffic. So sick of this oppressive heat, I say to myself in exasperation. I try to think “happy thoughts.”

Soon. Soon. Soon we will be out of it. Just past Ventura, we will hit the Central Coast and the coolness of the Pacific, wrapped in a perpetual fog bank. I hadn’t been in this area since I lived a bit inland from San Luis Obispo in high school, but I remember it well. I imagine Shane, who in reality looks pained as he drives through the sludge of LA pollution, happily drinking a coffee as he saunters on the sand. Keidi, our 14 year old Lab/Boxer mix, in reality is panting and looking miserable in the back of the RV but I imagine her smiling as dogs do as she sits proudly looking out at the Pismo dunes. No more panting, no more Southern California heat. In my mind, we have made it!

Around nightfall, Shane casually flips on the RV’s high beam headlights.

“Is that smoke?” I say as casually as I can.

“Oh shit!” Shane doesn’t take my calm-bait. His eyes are firmly focused on the small wisps of chalky smoke coming from the dashboard. “Oh shit.” That last “oh shit” has a slightly defeatist tone. He just spent a few hours the night before assembling the brand new headlights, replacing the dim yellowish original ones, circa 1986.

We had planned on making it all the way to Solvang, where my folks and their new service-dog-in-training puppy were waiting for us. Instead, we slide into a Ralph’s parking lot in …Where the hell are we?… Moorpark, California.

We could NOT have imagined what was in store for us as the night descends.

Shane and I go to dinner because, I mean, what else can one do but EAT when one is stuck somewhere for a spell? It is a lovely place where they serve slightly dry mole and a mean cucumber-mint margarita. I go to bed with descriptions of beans and rice in my mind, formulating the blog post I will write the next day as my full belly makes my eyes droop on their own and sleep descends.

I wake up when Shane shifts in bed next to me.

“What is that smell?” He mumbles groggily. Urine? Vitamins? I hear Keidi panting. Is she still hot? Moorpark is about as unique as a dollar store candle, but at least it comes with a drop in temperature. It is pleasant outside and only slightly stuffy in the RV. Keidi-bug had dealt with worse along the road with us over the last weeks. What is the problem?

2:30 am. I get up as Shane falls back into bed. Keidi is still panting, this time heavier. So outside we go, walking, walking, frantically walking. Sniffing the ground. Panting. Foaming a bit at the mouth. What’s up with you girl? I whisper and rub behind her ears.  She barely notices.

Then the dry heaves start. A strange guttural sound emanates from deep inside her in lieu of the customary chunks. I notice then that her belly is severely distended, bulging uncomfortably. And it is hard, really hard. Something is absolutely not right.

Since we hit the road about three weeks ago, there have been slightly eerie and at the same time gloriously wondrous signs that have pointed to the fact that someone or something was looking out for us, perhaps adding a God or Goddess-like finger here and there, a push and a pull on the fabric of our reality to make the inevitably hardships of the road, well, just a little easier to handle.

For example, just outside of the blast furnace of St. George, Utah, we had a flat tire. It didn’t happen on the 8% grade we had descended five minutes prior, however, but about 100 feet before the entrance of a rest stop where we gracefully coasted into a pull-through spot and met a friendly trucker who helped us “get ‘er rollin’ again.”

This time, there is not one, not two, but THREE vets within walking distance of the parking lot. One is the Arroyo Vista Veterinary Hospital where, by 8:30 am Dr. Jennifer Youngblood is shaking her head.

“This is not good,” she says, her heavily-mascara-ed eyes looking down at the dog at her feet.

It is hard to remember the facts that get blurred together when a crisis descends. All one can feel is the sensate: a pressure behind the eyes and in the head, a pounded in the chest, a chill that comes suddenly and apparently out of nowhere. It is not unlike the weight of water. Go up too fast from a descent, one is likely to get the bends.

Somehow, with our ears plugged with shock, with our eyes blurry with confusion and lack of sleep, we nod our heads “yes” to Dr. Youngblood and to the inevitable. “It really is a no-brainer,” Youngblood says softly, displaying better bedside manners than most human surgeons. The cancer in the spleen had grown rapidly, she explains. It could even have been within the last ten days. It wrapped around the gut and caused it to flip.

“Is she in pain now?” One of us asks.

“Yes, she is,” the doc says, placing a gentle hand on Keidi’s balloon-like belly. “ I’ve seen hundreds of these. There is really only one alternative.”

So we say goodbye. As the pink fluid is pumped into the veins. With a gasp that they say is only a reflex. With the last breath. As fourteen years of memories for Shane (and four years of memories for me) are shifted from the body, soul and personality of Sweet Keidi to be lodged into our human hearts and minds. Not ever to die, of course, but to fade eventually. To be equated with a smile and an ache and a vague loneliness that will come with time and with brief flashes of memory.

Shane shakes.  He bows his head as men do when emotion overcomes them. Me? I let the tears fall unabashedly onto her soft, salt-and-pepper fur.

***

Over the last few days, we have made our ascent ever so slowly from under the water of our grief.

Standing at the shore at Pismo, watching the ducks frolic in the lagoon, we both sigh. Keidi would have loved to be with us here. A wave of anger and frustration fills me. I am at that stage of the grieving process now, apparently. Feeling the ocean breeze, I imagine what Keidi would do. I imagine her dog-specific impulse to chase the little furry things that bob innocently in the water. We humans would have laughed at her antics. We would have encouraged her pursuit.

Go get ‘em Keidi-bug! We would have said. And she would have tried with all her might, like she always did.

Of course, we know that she will be with us as we venture forth into the land of the Redwoods. She will be with us with every sight and sound, every thought. She will be with us in spirit.

But, you know what? For the newly grieving, sometimes this fact doesn’t bring much comfort at all.

 

Travel gently, fellow wanderers,

 

The Gentle Traveler

 

***

 

Have you just recently lost a pet? The resources listed below may help on your journey:

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement

Humane Society Article about Losing a Pet

Ten Tips on Coping with Pet Loss

Washington Post Article: The Death of a Pet Can Hurt as Much as the Loss of a Relative

There Are No Sad Dogs in Heaven (book)

This Is Why Dogs Don’t Die (Thank You Devin Miller!)