Frannie in Santa Cruz, May 2010
Last Thursday, we lost our sweet Frances. She would have been 15 today.
I'm not sure I can convey exactly how heartbroken the husband and I are. We are devastated, numb, anchorless.
I have been trying very hard to think of how wonderful her life was, from the moment I picked her out of a litter of wiggly chocolate lab puppies in March 1996. She was eight weeks old. I was 22 and had just lost my dad. I was looking for something good to focus on.
In a rare moment of life giving you exactly what you need at the right time, I found Frannie. She was happy, curious, sweet, and instantly loving, all the things a puppy should be. She was also highly destructive, chewing shoes and insoles, table corners, remote controls, and computer discs. She ate everything in sight and was unstoppable at the beach, at the park, anywhere she could fetch, run, chase, or swim. She was the friendliest dog on the planet, introducing me to countless people throughout our life together. She was also fiercely loyal and protective. She made me feel safe.
I loved these things that were part of her from the very beginning. But as she got older, I discovered all of the other lovely qualities she had that were even better. She was extremely sensitive, and when I was sad, she would come sit next to me and just stay there quietly. She was generous, welcoming other dogs into the house by dragging out her toys for them to play with, letting them lie on her bed and drink out of her water bowl.
Perhaps above all, she was brave. When she was diagnosed with cancer the first time, she went through surgery and chemo with her tail wagging. The staff at the vet's office were amazed by her resilient spirit and cheerful nature. When she had vestibular disease, extreme vertigo which can last for days, she stayed courageously in the hospital for several nights, and afterward put up with wearing a little harness so we could help her navigate slippery spots in the house. Toward the end, we carried her up and down the stairs, which she also put up with, grudgingly.
When the cancer returned in July 2009, when she was 13, we knew we couldn't put her through any more and we decided to all live exuberantly together for as long as she had left. We thought maybe a few months. A year and a half later, she was still going strong.
In fact, Frannie propelled through life full-force until the very end. She enjoyed every single day, going on walks, visiting friends, eating roast chicken and hamburgers. Over the last few months, I started to feel like a short-order cook, frying up a little burger in our cast iron pan every night and then breaking it over her kibble. She would stand very close to me, waiting impatiently, and then wolf down her dinner the way only a labrador can.
And, in spite of how absolutely broken I feel now, I know that she had a wonderful life, and I am proud that we played a part in it. Not because of the surgeries or medicine or all the chickens we roasted for her, but because of the attention we paid to her. Every day of her life, and in particular in the last four and a half years, we showed her we loved her, by petting her soft head, talking to her, taking her places, helping her when she needed it, and letting her do things on her own when she needed that too. If there is one thing I am proud of, it is that I did not squander one single day I had with her. And ultimately, all you have with those you love is time. You cannot save or stockpile days to cash in later; you begin with the clock running, and no matter how valid your reasons or good your intentions, you are losing every second you're not with them.
So I guess I feel grateful, not just to have been with her for so many years--nearly half my life--but that somehow my little pea brain grasped early on that every day was special.
I don't believe in heaven, but I do like to believe that Frannie's essence is still somewhere in the cosmos, leaving a trail of happiness wherever she goes. She certainly left an indelible mark on this world and on me.
Thank you to my mom, my sister, our dear friends Liz and Neal, Stephanie and Scott, Kami, Amy, Claire, all of the guys at the office--Martin, Randy, Michael, and Earl the hound dog, and everyone at Mission Pet Hospital, not only for making these last few days bearable with your kind words and gestures, but for making Frannie's life so happy. Mostly, thank you to Alby, who just may have loved Frannie as much as I did, and who got me through the worst day of my life. I love you all.