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June 4, 2023
Elisabeth Sherwin -- ensherwin@gmail dot com

I knew this day was coming. My sweet lab/pit mix, Liz, was slowing down. Mike noticed it first.

"She's going deaf," he said. I didn't think so.

"Her hearing is selective," I said.

Liz (she was named, not by me, for TV personality Liz Lemon) had an all-white coat and a muscular body, weighing about 65 pounds. She was 12 years old when she developed some difficulty breathing. But her appetite was great, as always, and her desire to chew her bones and bark at things outside was strong.

Maybe her hearing was a little impaired.

Time, however, and her slowly spreading cancer, proved impossible to halt. Mike went to New York state for nearly two months to have and recover from an operation. (He's fine now.) I stayed with Liz. When he left, he said goodbye to Liz knowing that he would probably not see her again. And he didn't.

It was early May when I realized the end was near. She still had a good appetite but now she was having trouble walking. She wanted to follow me up the stairs and down the stairs ("She adores you," Mike said) but she just couldn't do it.

I made the appointment and took her in, lifting her into the passenger seat of the truck onto a soft blanket. She licked my hand.

The rest of the details are too hard to relive. Let's just say she went to the "comfort room" of the vet hospital. I stroked her head until the end, which came much too quickly.

"She's gone," said the vet. I wasn't ready.

Tearful days passed. I would be working in the kitchen when suddenly I would think of letting Liz in or out. I would wake up in the night and feel for her solid warm body next to me and not find it.

There was no one to greet me when I came home and no one for me to scold for getting in the cat food.

One morning I heard scratching at the door. Unmistakable.

I went to the door and there was Liz, wagging her tail in expectation of her breakfast. Yes, it really was Liz.

I let her in, dropped to my knees, and hugged her tightly. She licked my face.

And then it was normal life once again, except that both her shortness of breath and cough were gone. The cancerous lumps on her body were gone. Her hearing was acute. My dog was back.

What a delightful, wonderful, fantastic surprise I would have for Mike, who was due back from New York in three days.

In the meantime, Liz and I took hikes through the woods and across the creek. She ran after squirrels, and I ran after her.

She chewed her rawhide bones in front of the fire while I watched TV. She could easily climb the stairs to the bedroom, and I slept with her in my arms.

When the day came for Mike to return, I could hardly contain my excitement. Of course, I had told him that Liz was gone, and he had been very sad.

But he would be so pleased to see her restored to us.

As it grew closer and closer to his arrival time, I clutched Liz tighter and tighter, letting go of her only when I heard the airport shuttle van pull into our driveway.

Mike had been gone for nearly two months. When he left it was winter, now it was spring.

"My babe!" I cried, hugging him. "I have a surprise for you."

Mike came in and looked around.

"I'm so glad to be home, everything looks great," he said, dropping his duffel bag by the fireplace.

No dog rocketed to Mike and joyfully jumped on him. There was no happy bark. There was no Liz.

It became clear in an instant that the universe decreed that I could have one or the other but not both.

The universe had been merciful letting me have Liz again for those precious days. I can't explain it. I didn't try to.

"What's the surprise?" Mike asked.

"Um, that we're having your favorite meal for dinner, " I said.

"I just have to make it," I added, half-laughing and half-crying.

Now when I think of Liz I am deeply sad but also hopeful that one day the three of us -- Liz, Mike and I – will be able to hike in the woods together enjoying the wind in the pine trees, the smell of sage, the view of the mountains, and the simple happiness of spending time together.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

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