Moon River, wider than a mile
I'm crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you're going, I'm going your way
Two drifters, off to see the world
There's such a lot of world to see
We're after the same rainbow's end, waiting, round the bend
My Huckleberry Friend, Moon River, and me
Yesterday morning, when he came to me and pressed up to my leg as I sat reading the paper, an unusual tactic for him, and he looked at me with these chocolate brown soul eyes, I knew he was asking for help. The past three days have seen him go from hardly be able to eat, to choking and not being able to swallow. A hard mass that formed in his throat had arrived quickly, and by Saturday morning he could not eat, or drink.
I had just started an ongoing photo essay of him last week in which I was going to photograph him all year, knowing it might be his last. He had lost so much weight and seemed to have more pain in walking. I had a vet called, but they were unable to come, and after a morning of taking some pictures of him, I knew we had to take him in, we should not wait until Monday. We opted to go to a nearby clinic that is open 24 hours a day on the weekend and were treated really nicely. I really liked the vet and plan to go back for other needs.
It is always surreal driving an animal you love to a destiny that is so final. There was a tiny part of me that thought,
Maybe it's an abscess [I knew it wasn't] and we can fix this for him.
At the vet, we learned that the type of cancer it most likely was, due to many of the signs present, was an aggressive type that ate away muscle, hence his dramatic weight loss from 85# to 68#. His tongue had become ulcerated, the mass was blocking his airway causing the coughing and inability to eat. In time, we knew he would suffocate, and in reality, he was starving to death. Even if it had been a blocked saliva gland the vet concluded, the weight loss and other symptoms indicated he had cancer. If he had been young, or not so thin, a test might have been warranted.
When I look back at the photos I took yesterday morning, I was looking at a creature I loved who was in pain. But when I look at the photo at the vet clinic I took, after his sleeping meds were given, I see my friend in peace.
There were many beautiful things that happened in the past few days. In Oregon, the labs slept in the living room. Once in Maine, Huck took to sleeping by my side next to the bed. Muddy still slept in the living room. But three days ago, I'd find Muddy sleeping side by side with Huck by our bed. It was so telling, and tender. He was extra diligent to Huck, cleaning up the constant drooling that also started about three days ago-a symptom of the condition. On the morning I took the photos, Muddy waited for me to finish the photos of Huck before barging in on us, his usual norm. He licked Huck's paws for him.
At the vet, we knew what the probable outcome was, but we patiently waited for the vet. I needed to hear her opinions, just so I knew I wasn't over exaggerating what I saw and felt. After all, we have had so many changes, and just lost Raggedy. I also like facts and she was able to explain things about the symptoms that made me know without a doubt what we had to do. We were ready to let go, for him.
He was given a sleeping aid mixture and we were left alone with him to say our final goodbyes. I am usually very stoic with vets, but I have to say, I bawled like a baby on this one. I lay down on the floor with him and told him what a great friend he was, and how we'd miss him so very much-but we were right here and he was going to never feel pain again, or the panic he must have felt not being able to swallow. Martyn is a stoic guy, albeit with a kind heart. He rarely cries. And he does not give kisses to animals. But when he got down on the floor and kissed Huck's forehead and said softly,
I thought I was going to implode with love and sadness.
Back home, we dug a grave near Raggedy. I brought Muddy out to see Huck. In the barnyard, it's important that the animals see their dead mates, even though they never overreact. Of course, I know that Muddy knew Huck was evolving in the last three days. He knew he was wasn't feeling right and was vulnerable. But I wanted to let him see Huck one more time. I put a picture of a young Muddy in Huck's grave.
"It's the end of an era", Martyn said later that night as we unwound on the porch. Just as Raggedy's death snipped more strings from our old farm and life, Huck's death was almost the Gods shaking the house and saying,
You are here now, it is time to reinvent yourselves as you intended when you left. It is time to clear out the past and rejuvenate your new life on your new farm. All is well.
But perhaps one of the sweetest moments of love came later in the evening. I found Martyn at the laptop, and when he saw me, he got a bit shy and stood up suddenly.
"I was looking for a song," he said.
He wanted to hear "Moon River". I had forgotten the connection, but he hadn't. You see, when we got Huck as a pup, we had picked the name Buck. But he just wasn't fitting that name, and finally it was Martyn that picked the name Huckleberry. He was our Huckleberry Friend. Last night, we sat in bed and listened to all the versions we could find of Moon River, and each time our old friend's name was sung, we cried.
He is so missed, and a huge presence is gone, but I felt him all around me. I thought we had longer with him, but the look he gave me, the look he had in these last photos of his final hours-he was ready. It was a gift to be able to do it for him, send him on his way. I believe we will see him again, on a Moon River, I do.