When I was younger, I was full of myself. Or piss and vinegar. Ok, maybe I still am full of it. =) My friends told me I should never marry. That I didn't have the temperament or the ability to stick with a relationship in the long-term. They were right and they were wrong. Well meaning as they might have been, they didn't allow me the capacity to grow.
We change with time. We change with experience. We change, sometimes for no reason at all. My sister and I once remarked that when a marriage goes south, at first you hardly notice it. You make accommodations, little compromises, deals with yourself. Somehow, you justify every disappointment in your mind until one day everything is so completely out-of-whack that you don't recognize yourself or the relationship anymore. Life is like that. Relationships are like that. Just one day, it hits you that everything has changed. Life is a slippery slope and sometimes it is all we can do to hang on, and sometimes we just have to let go.
With Nevada's passing, I was thinking about how much my life and her's changed over the time we shared. How we changed one another. We shared a lot.
When I got Nevada, I was a newlywed. I've now been divorced longer than I was married. She was there for the good times and bad of that. I hope she didn't much remember the bad.
When I got Nevada, Dakota was alive. She's been gone nearly 9 years now. I got Nevada as a companion to Dakota. Around 5 years old, Dakota slowed down considerably. She couldn't do the Frisbee anymore. Her hips were shot. I thought a puppy would bring out the old spark in her. It really never did. Instead of becoming more puppy-like, she became very mom-like. Interestingly enough, Nevada did the same thing when I got Jake.
Nevada came into my home in Riverside. That was a great house and a great neighborhood. We had great neighbors. In the winter, she loved to shove her whole head under the radiators and sleep. I used to fear she would cook her brain. Dakota, Nevada and I (and a soon to be dispensed husband) moved into our first real house together in Shorewood. There we lost Dakota and the husband, but we gained Jake. She moved with me back into my childhood home after the divorce. Then she came with me as I started a new life in a new home in southern IL. Her last home. The diaspora mattered little as long as we were together. Nevada's home was with me.
Nevada saw me through my second bachelor's, my first master's, and a good portion of my doctorate. That alone may qualify her for sainthood.
Some of the things that Nevada and I loved to do together, I couldn't seem to bring myself to do without her. Like go for hikes in Pyramid State Park. For the past several years, I haven't done that with Jake alone. Maybe it's time to take him for a good run outdoors. Maybe after gun season ends.
Unlike Dakota, Nevada never got car sick. She loved a ride in the car. You couldn't go anywhere without her. About two years ago, she simply stopped wanting to go to the store. Or the post office. I think it hurt her back or hips to jump in and out of the car. Since then, the only rides she has taken were to the veterinarian's office or for a long trip to visit family. I think both were equally hard on her.
Nevada's illness was an abrupt change in our lives. In reality, I've gone through two grieving periods with Nevada. The first was three years ago when I thought I'd lose her to her mystery ailment. I watched her waste away to nothing. It was one of the slowest, most pitiful declines imaginable. She was so sick. Concern became desperation became acceptance. And then I got her back. Addison's disease is completely treatable. But this time there were no miracles. I could only let her go. I won't say it was easier, but at least I felt she wasn't going before her time. Nevada herself is responsible for helping me be able to let her go. The girl exhibited grace in defeat. All she wanted was for me to be there at the end and I was happy to accommodate.
Watching a dog get old--accepting those changes--changing your own pace to accommodate her's--is like no other lesson you will learn in your life. You walk slower. You give treats you never would have considered when she was younger. Rough-housing gives way to gentle pats and quiet moments shared together. You sit on porches. You accept that some less-than-desirable behaviors aren't as big a deal as you once made of them. You accept that she has a right to her own mind and some of her own decisions. You accept that the medicines she requires, despite their expense, are owed for a lifetime of happiness she's provided.
My mother remarked that I have a way with my dogs. I've always had a way with my dogs. I think the reason is, I never treated them as pets or objects or with a sense of ownership. I have always tried to treat them as companions, as partners, as equals. Of course, I am responsible for their health, safety, and happiness. I think in some ways, they felt responsible for my happiness, too.
My girl is gone. Yes, I am sad. Yes, I am grieving. We grew together. And though our partnership is over, her value in this world is undiminished, because she made me a better person. Everything is different. And I wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything. Would you?