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.
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.