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Friend. Protector. Family.: RIP Mater

***This post began as a comment on Facebook in response to the notes I received after I posted the status update and pictures shown below. But in typical FB fashion, it was being a punk and in typical Emmie fashion, I was blabbering on and on. So I dusted off this blog and decided to just post this here. Thanks for coming back to visit.***

Friend. Protector. Family.: RIP Mater

Thank you all for your kind thoughts. All of us are taking this very hard. For those of you who asked what happened, all we really know is that Mater got sick and went downhill fast. The very long version is as follows:

Mater vomited once on Saturday morning. We withheld food, figuring it was a stomach bug. He threw up a small amount Saturday night and then was fine until Sunday night when he vomited water. We came home (we were in the Bay dropping off the boys for camp). By Monday night, he was perking up a bit…asking for food, following me around the house close to normal. I fed him a small amount of rice. He kept it down all night. I gave him a bit more the next morning (Tuesday) but when we came home from work we found he’d thrown it up in his crate.

By that point it was clear that Harley hadn’t contracted whatever he had (they always share little stomach bugs so that was unusual) so I was no longer inclined to think it was something that simple. I called our vet who was closing for the night. They sent us to the emergency vet. (Side story: Just before we left, I took Mater into the backyard. Our neighbor’s dog was out and they did their usual tussle at the fence. Normally I’d shush him but something told me to just let him have his fun while he could. Yesterday morning, I heard the neighbors’ dog outside waiting for Mater like normal. It broke my heart.)

I got him to the emergency vet. He was solemn but wagged his tail when the tech and the vet came in. At this point, everyone thought it was an obstruction…that he’d ingested something he shouldn’t have and that it was lodged in his digestive system somewhere. X-rays indicated that was unlikely. Blood work showed his liver values were through the roof. The ER vet said his levels looked like those of a dog who ingested something poisonous. We couldn’t think of anything he could have gotten into. I told her I needed to know if he wasn’t going to make it. That I had to go get my boys who were two and a half hours away.

We started him on antibiotics and fluids and the emergency vet kept him overnight to run some more tests. In the middle of the night, she called to say his liver wasn’t producing the proteins to clot his blood (which meant they couldn’t get a biopsy of his liver, the next step in diagnosing him along with an ultrasound). He could suffer from internal bleeding at any time. The nurse caring for him said he “looked worse” in the morning. The radiologist that reviewed the film confirmed that obstruction was highly unlikely and said his liver looked smaller than it should be. The vet informed me that it would be extremely difficult to figure out what was going on and likely significantly harder to fix it. She explained the procedure for euthanasia.

At first we asked to move him to his regular vet. But as we thought about it, we wondered whether we should just keep him there so as to avoid the anxiety and discomfort of a car ride. I called our vet to tell him our concerns but he pushed hard to evaluate him himself. “He’s my patient,” he said. “Let me try to save him.” I couldn’t blame him. (In case you question his motives, he offered us a break on the expenses and was significantly cheaper than the emergency vet even without the discounts. He’s a good guy.)

The car ride over was awful. Mater cried the whole time, like I’ve never heard him cry. He threw up as we pulled into the parking lot. I got help getting him inside and talked with the vet. He ran a couple more tests (it wasn’t parvo but he had bacteria in his stool) and asked for two days to try to treat him with antibiotics. Scoot went to get the boys so they could see him that day (Wednesday) just in case. He rushed down to the Bay, told them Mater was really sick and that we wanted to give them a chance to see him, and they headed back. While they were on their way back, I got a call that Mater had a seizure. He wasn’t responding to the antibiotics (now on hour 18). I asked the vet to keep him comfortable and told him that the boys would be back in about two hours.

I went to lay with him while we waited for the boys. When I arrived, his eyes were fixed. The vet had to sedate him and he said he thought Mater was blinded by the seizure. I put my face in his. His nose twitched. He knew I was there. I talked to him, told him
how sorry I was, that we all loved him, that the boys were on their way. I wondered whether I had time to bring Harley over, thinking maybe she could bring him comfort that I couldn’t. He adored her. But I knew there wasn’t much time and my priority was to make sure he wasn’t alone. I got all the arrangements handled. We moved him to an exam room where he was able to lay comfortably on a blanket.

The boys arrived. How they felt is their own story to tell. I, however, have never felt as terrible as a parent as I did when they walked in and said their goodbyes. Mater dragged himself into Bop’s lap as Bop sat in my arms on the edge of the exam table. It was such as juxtaposition to the early days when the puppy Mater and 2-year-old Bop wanted little to do with each other.

The boys went to the waiting room with Scoot while Mater left this world. I stayed with him, nose to nose. The end was peaceful and merciful.

Meanwhile, the boys chose the inscription for his urn: Mater Johnson. Friend. Protector. Family. September 29, 2008 – August 7, 2013.

He wasn’t even five years old.

Mater was supposed to be our way of helping the boys deal with Harley’s mortality. He was supposed to comfort them and snuggle them when she died of old age. He was supposed to be here to greet them when they walked home from school by themselves for the first time. He was supposed to hang out with them while they played video games. He was supposed to be the playful peacemaker after enduring the yelling of fights between adolescent boys and their parents. He was supposed to get in the way when we were trying to take pictures of the boys on their way to prom. He was supposed to cry at the door when DJ went off to college. He wasn’t supposed to be a distant memory by then.

Instead of enjoying all of the “supposed to”s, I’m left to mourn. To comfort my husband and my kids as we all struggle with this complete and sudden shock to our lives. To second guess every decision we’ve ever made about him and his care. To wonder what would have happened if he’d been seen sooner. To research the chicken-or-the-egg cycle that is liver failure in a fruitless search for an explanation. To question my natural inclination to plan out everything in my life. To get smacked in the face by the reality that there is so much beyond my control. To try to envision my kids’ future without him in it. To answer my boys’ questions – some of which are unanswerable. To know when to let tears flow and when to dry them. To forgive myself for my role, however big or small, in his demise. And, ultimately, to have faith that none of us will feel this way forever.

I’ll miss you, my little snuggle bug.

Friend. Protector. Family.: RIP Mater

Friend. Protector. Family.: RIP Mater

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My Kids Are 5 and 2 But I’ve Got Empty Nest Syndrome Already

Friday night last week, our 6 month old puppy Mater was in the backyard acting weird. I saw him looking up at one of our trees going ape shit. He actually tried to climb a 6 foot tall wood fence to get closer. Because we live in a new neighborhood with new trees, we have no normal suburban wildlife (like squirrels) so I didn’t really think much about it and went on with my evening.

The next (beautiful!) day, we spent the entire day doing yardwork. As I was cleaning up the back corner of the yard, I remembered Mater’s behavior and decided to take a look. Sure enough, right at eye level there was a nest with two little baby birds looking at me with their beaks wide open. I stared for a few minutes and then realized that their mom and dad were in my neighbor’s tree watching me and those chicks looked hungry, so I left.

I know absolutely nothing about birds. (I think they may be Western Meadowlarks or Lesser Goldfinches but I could be wrong.) But, man, their behavior was so interesting to me. All weekend I was drawn to this little bird family. It ends up there were not two but four. And they were growing by the day!

It’s no surprise, really, because that mommy and daddy bird were busy! Their routine was something like this: Mom & Dad (making assumptions here…since I know nothing about birds I’m assuming they are in a heterosexual relationship…no clue if that’s right) fly into the area together and make a few circles around the tree where the nest is. They’re checking out the territory and making sure everything is ok. They’re very vocal. One (I like to say Mom but I really don’t know) swoops into the tree to a chorus of baby chirps while Dad hangs out in a high location nearby, presumably keeping watch. Then once Mom is done, they switch places and Dad feeds the babies. The chicks are instantly calmed and Mom and Dad fly away noisily. The chicks curl up together and take a nap and the cycle starts all over again.

D, our 5 year old, witnessed this routine as well and he had a lot of questions and since he still believes that I know everything I narrated the show to the best of my abilities. What was so remarkable, to both of us, really, was how familiar this pattern of parent/child behavior was. Now, if I’m remembering the one day I didn’t cut freshman year biology correctly, the feeding is done when the Mom and Dad regurgitate whatever they found on their hunting expedition for the babies to eat. I’ve never done that, though I did chew food for my kids a few times when they were just starting to eat solids. I’m also pretty sure that if I had left my kids all by themselves in their cribs when they were days old, CPS would have been over to visit with a quickness. But all-in-all observing their behavior was yet another reminder of how natural parenting is for many animals, humans included.

It reminded me of an incident that happened the summer before we moved from DC to California, when I was about 7 months pregnant with B. We had a little townhouse with a little yard and in it we had a blue tarp. We went to clean up the yard before we put the house on the market and realized a mouse (or rat?) had made the tarp its home. We scared it away but realized a few minutes later that there was an entire litter of rodents left behind. I called the local animal services people and the woman on the phone said, “Rodents are mammals. Mammal mothers don’t abandon their babies. She’ll be back.” I burst into tears. The sappy, can’t explain to your husband when he asks what’s wrong kind. (Hey, I was pregnant. I blame it on the hormones.)

My point is that motherhood, parenthood, is not just about procreation. It’s about so much more than that, for wild animals and humans alike. It’s about the things that Mom and Dad bird did to put food in their kids’ bellies. It’s about the pain that we feel when our kids are hurting. The sacrifices we make to keep a roof over their head (or a nest under their bum, as the case may be). And the heartbreak we go through when something goes terribly wrong.

I was so drawn to those four chicks over the past four days that my heart broke a little when I came home this evening and the nest was empty. Of course, D and I celebrated that they had grown up and moved away, lest I discourage him from doing the same thing some day. I just hope they come back to visit and know that when they do, they’ll find their bedroom just as they left it.

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