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

A Satisfied Mind

Six years ago this spring, my Grandma Johnson died. My heart broke for many reasons: I was pregnant with my first son and I knew she and my kids would never know one another (a loss for them both); her death was sudden and so came as a bit of a surprise (although she was still 83 years old) and I was totally unprepared; I was on an airplane on my way to say a last goodbye when my dad called to say that she had passed away and so felt I had missed out. But most of all I was heartbroken because the love of my Grandfather’s life, the woman who he had spent the last 63 years with, was gone and he was left alone.

And so, for the past six years, every time I’ve heard Randy Travis’ Satisfied Mind, I’ve bawled my eyes out. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it includes these words:

“He said I ain’t afraid of dying ‘cause I know there’s something worse,

When you have to see your reason for living go first

And you get left behind.

Some can’t think of nothing better than to live this life forever,

I never wanted no more than was mine

And to lay down some day and go home with a satisfied mind.

He said don’t look into the darkness if you wanna see true black,

Look into the morning’s brightness at love ain’t coming back

And you will find right there the darkness that blinds.

And don’t think wealth is ever having all you want all to yourself.

It is found when you are giving what you have to someone else.

The only difference in the rich and the poor is a satisfied mind.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, Grandpa has been fortunate to be surrounded by family, as he has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who live in Michigan, some of whom eventually came to live with him in his final years. But ever since Grandma died it’s been clear that a piece of his heart was missing.

This is the only tragedy surrounding his final days on earth. In fact, Grandpa always used to say that when old people die, that’s not a tragedy. He was proud of his old age, and he embraced it like no one I’ve known.

When I was in college he asked me once, “Why would I fear death? Do you remember what it was like before you were born?” “No,” I replied. “Did God hurt you or let you be hurt by others?” “No,” I repeated. “So it must be when you die,” he said. Simple logic to be sure but Grandpa had a way of taking all the stress and worry and other emotions out of aging and death and strip it down to a very simple, very understandable truth. We are born, we live, we die.

He was successful with this philosophy in large part because he had an unbelievable sense of humor and was always able to laugh at himself – even last summer when he walked out of his bedroom, to the bathroom and back before realizing he didn’t have on any pants. He was a joy to watch age in much the same way that a child is. On that same visit last summer, Scoot and I walked into his room and found him watching Coyote Ugly. He developed a crush on Jennifer Aniston and owned every season of Friends on DVD.

When my dad called to tell me the news of his passing early in February (he had fallen a couple days earlier and broken his leg so it was not a huge surprise), he told me that my aunt and uncle had just left him with some magazines to read and he was talking to the nurses and he just died. Now, I’m sure there’s more to the story than that, but I don’t want to know it.

Because in my mind, I have this perfect image of Grandpa lying in his hospital bed, reading a People Magazine with Jennifer Aniston on the cover, flirting with the nurses who are doting over him, a smile crossing his face and then him going home to Grandma. And there could be no more apropos way for him to leave this world.

It was an honor to know him, to love him, and to be loved by him. He and Grandma are both sorely missed.