An old soul, a new soul, and a four-footed soul

June 21 | Guest post by Diana
Paw Print String Art by Etsy seller TwoBirdsonaWireCo

At the end of my first trimester of pregnancy my father was in the hospital. He'd had some intermittent health issues, and was back in the ICU due to respiratory problems stemming from a lung biopsy. Things took a surprising turn for the worse while I was out of town for business.

I flew home early from my trip. My husband picked me up from the airport and immediately took me to see my dad. We spent most of the night by his side with my mom and step-mom. I should note that I'm an only child. My parents divorced when I was young and my father remarried, but I've been lucky to have three wonderful parents that all got along.

Though my father was unconscious, I talked to him about his grandchild and held his hand to my stomach. The next morning he passed. I was always daddy's little girl. To lose him during my pregnancy was absolutely devastating.

The day of my father's funeral, as if there wasn't enough heartache in our lives, my husband's aunt had a heart attack at the wake. She eventually fully recovered, but during her recuperation someone had to watch her 11-year-old black Labrador, Max. My husband's aunt had lived with his family when he was growing up and the dog had actually started as his puppy in high school. Max was adopted by his family shortly after my husband's father passed. Guardianship of dear Maxwell went full circle as he came to live with us. Of course the young Max of yesteryear was a far cry from the mature gentleman that was staying with us.

I grew up as a cat person and having a geriatric hundred pound lab hefted onto my couch the night of my father's funeral while three months pregnant wasn't quite where I'd seen my life going. Thankfully it only took a few weeks to train Max to sleep on the floor instead of crying if he wasn't in bed with at least one of us. With my husband's shift work schedule, a lot of Max's care fell to me. He had to be walked. And he had to make it up stairs after doing so. I remember pleading with him and tossing him treats to get him up the stairs after our first walk. I also recall the day he slipped on an icy sidewalk and I had to push him off to the grass so he could regain his footing. I'm sure we were quite a show for the neighbors. I now found myself shopping for dog toys along with baby toys and found them to be surprisingly similar.

There did seem to be something poetic about Max coming into each of our lives after the loss of our fathers. I received a moving condolence card in the mail from a friend one day and lost it, racked with sobs I slumped down on the kitchen floor. And who was at my side, but Max, pawing at me with simple understanding.

We took Max to the vet for what was supposed to be a routine visit only to discover he had a cancerous tumor. Given his age and prognosis, we opted for the less invasive treatment. We hoped it could extend his time with us if only for a little while.

Max and His Couch - Diana
As winter turned to spring, we fell into a routine. We took leisurely walks around the lake and watched prime time television together. As his joints slowed him down, my added weight was thankful for the reduced pace. I waddled as he plodded along. One photo I wish I had from my pregnancy was the shadow of me at 9 months with Max. My whale-like shadow was put nicely into perspective with my chubby companion. When my water broke and my doula suggested waiting through the night before heading to the hospital, Max was the one by my side.

When we finally headed to the hospital, my mother was recruited for dog feeding and walking. He didn't seem to be eating much though. Obviously giving birth to my beautiful daughter kept me distracted from any issues at home for a bit. The day I was to be discharged, my husband had been home with Max trying to tempt him with all of his favorite foods. No such luck.

All I wanted to do was go home from the hospital to be with the rest of my family. When I finally got home, I brought the little one over to meet Max. A few inquiring sniffs and we knew she was approved. In photos of that moment, my head is down, because I'm (not so) softly sobbing. Between getting up to nurse and letting Max out, I probably had the worst night of sleep of my life, but I didn't really notice. The following morning the four of us went to the vet. We like to think that Max held out to meet her and when he knew we were alright, he knew his job was done.

I'm a firm believer in what the Rolling Stones said: you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. Though you know it can't be true, you always think your parents will be there for you forever. And I never thought that I would be buying squeaky toys while nine months pregnant. Of course I would give anything to have my father in my life and for him to meet his granddaughter, but I now can't imagine going through my pregnancy without Max by my side. I'll forever be thankful for my four-footed guardian angel.

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  1. Aw jeez! Crying at work. Crying like a tiny baby. Thanks for sharing the story of Max with us. It's funny how they find their way into our lives and our hearts and somehow things are never quite the same again.

    20 agree
  2. Oh bollocks. Tears everywhere. I love geriatric Labs and babies. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  3. Weeps. Big fat tears of doggy love and missing family who never met my own daughter. This story is so comforting, in a weepy/sad way.

    3 agree
  4. Also crying at work. Animals are an amazing part of family and especially when so many things are happening in life.

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  5. Ok, sobbing. Love is love, bless Max for being there to love you and be loved in return.

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  6. And I'm crying at work.
    Thank you so much for sharing this. This is a beautiful reminder that sometimes, the best things that come into our lives can come in a package that we simply don't understand.

    1 agrees
  7. Thank you for sharing, I have tears in my eyes, especially as today my mums lab was diagnosed with a cancerous growth on her jaw. She's heart broken and after our meeting with the vet tommorrow we gave to decide what to do

  8. But I can't imagine her not being there to meet my baby in November. Sorry, hit publish too soon before!

  9. I too lost my dad in January while at the end of my first trimester. Five months later my lovely live- in job announced that they were revoking their pet policy. It was give up your pet and keep your job or leave and good luck to you. Our dog, Norah, has been through a lot with us (death of both my parents, a grandparent and other crazy coming of age things) that I cannot imagine life without her.

    Now at nine months pregnant she faithfully naps with me, walks me and keeps me busy while we wait on the little one to debut. I'm jobless and living in house that looks like a box fort from the inside, but life is good simply because we are all together.

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    • Kerbs, I firmly believe that the right opportunities will come along. Karma and all that. Best of luck to you and your furry companion and your new little one that's almost here!

  10. Oh geez, I'm crying at work and I can normally "keep it together." Oof, I need to look at something funny STAT….
    (Such a touching story!! Thank you for sharing.)

  11. What is it about animals that can affect us so completely and profoundly? I think about this all the time. I'll be a mess over posts like this, animals getting hurt in movies, stories of animal cruelty yet am sometimes less sympathetic to humans… And all I can think of is the amazing nature of their trust and devotion in us. They're a different species, they don't understand us yet they love us completely, without judgement and always seem to be there when we need them. Even I even begin to *think* of saying goodbye to my bulldog (who's 8.5 and who I'd had for 6 years), I start to literally panic.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. I'm so sorry for the loss of your fathers and of Max.

    1 agrees
  12. Your strength during your pregnancy was amazing, and I'm so glad that you had Max. He was a great dog. I'm glad he got to meet your daughter. I love you fiercely!!

  13. Thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad that Max got to be a part of your family, and got to welcome the newest member of your family member. I know he was a great comfort to you. (I love you fiercely!)

  14. Thank you so much for sharing! Your strength throughout your pregnancy amazed me then, as it does now. I'm glad that Max was able to be a part of your family, and was able to welcome your lovely daughter in to it. I love you fiercely!

    1 agrees
  15. You are a wonderful writer, and this was an amazing story. Although I'm excited for my entire family to meet our little one, I routinely get (good) emotional when I think about our two dogs meeting or little girl or boy for the first time in the fall. Dogs just KNOW.

  16. Beautiful story, Diana. Thanks for writing it. Someone must be cutting onions around here…

  17. This is a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. I have a philosophy that dogs come into your lives when they are needed.

    My mom had Courtney, a sheltie, to get her through all three of her pregnancies. She died at 16 when I was 10. She was a beautiful dog and a wonderful companion.

    I was 12 when the bullying started to get more ferocious and I started thinking about ending my life. My parents finally gave into my begging for a puppy and I was given a best friend and a reason to keep going. Sox, my border collie lab got me through high school dramas, strict parents, the pressure to be more and more conventional, and break-ups. She also lived to 16 and passed away a year ago. She lived with my mom for the last few years of her life, I was so sad that she wasn't with me through university, but my mom proved to need her more, going through a divorce and an empty nest all at once.

    A year and a half ago, my husband and I got Sadie, our shepherd malamute girl, who then saw us through his father's death, my ovarian tumor, other family health problems. She's now sticking by my side through morning sickness, and has even provided comfort to extended family members. I truly don't know how we would have handled all of the things that have been going on without this ball of constant and never ceasing love bouncing around our house.

    Dogs will show up when you need them, and we are so blessed to have them in our lives.

    I also wanted to commend you for taking in a family dog. So often older dogs wind up in the shelter system and being put down because they're hard to adopt out, because family members either can't or won't take them in (or there isn't anyone). It's a wonderful thing you did, giving an older dog a good last few months of life, even though you weren't keen on it to begin with.

    3 agree
  18. Our Pets are little Love Batteries. Storing up the love you shower on them for when we need it most!

    We just started our 12year old Poodle on arthritis meds today. I am so not looking forward to explaining to my son someday that his favorite pet is no longer with us. Whilst mourning one of the best friends I have ever had. Tears!

    Loved the post. Thank you!

  19. Oh my golly, tears everywhere. I'm 39 weeks pregnant and having my 2 dogs by my side (literally one on either side right now!) is getting me through this trying last bit of pregnancy. My border collie is the most intuitive fella, if I'm crying (and lets be honest, at 9 months pregnant thats fairly common) he will get more and more in my face until I stop and have to laugh. The other day I was watching something incredibly moving on TV and could not stop bawling. He ended up with his paws on my shoulders licking my cheeks and neck because his previous more subtle attempts to comfort me had not worked.

    Dogs just know, and they're not encumbered by awkwardness or their own emotions when you're upset because to a dog the MOST IMPORTANT THING is making sure that their beloved human is happy. And if that means slobbering all over your face, curling up for a nap at 9am, or howling along with your contractions they'll do it. Yay for puppy love!

  20. My dog was also a lab called max. He was a huge comfort when my father died unexpectedly when I was 19.

  21. Well, I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one crying.
    I'm sorry for your losses during such an emotional period of your lives, but I'm happy for your gains.

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