I knew I was getting greedy, but I couldn't help myself. Every day, and then every week and month, that Major was with us only made me want more.
More walks, more cuddles. More time.
Time was a gift, I knew that. In February, when our vet found a cancerous mass on one of his kidneys — renal carcinoma, we later learned — I didn't dare dream that he'd still be around for another spring of walks down Germantown Avenue with his little brother, Max; another summer of swimming in the ocean; another eight months that were possible only because of the skill and kindness of the staff at Hickory Veterinary Hospital after they removed the kidney. And because of all the good thoughts he got from people after I wrote about him. You were rooting for him, too.
But also, I think, because my Maj, my 95-plus pounds of rescued goof, wasn't done yet. He still wanted to snooze on the couch in the afternoon sun. Still wanted more pats on that big head of his, more pizza crusts, more time.
I got used to him defying the odds.
But then in September, we learned that the cancer had spread to his bones.
I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable. I tried to adjust, even while missing how he and Max used to chase each other or the squirrels they never had any intention or chance of catching. I missed how he'd greet me at the door, that handsome face, the way he pawed at you if you dared stop petting him. We used to jokingly call it bully love. I missed the wag of his feathered tail. That bark that he rarely used but that could stop a stranger in his tracks.
I'd stare at a picture of the Boys — what I called them after we rescued them a few months apart from the Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue — running around in the snow at our old house in Connecticut that felt like it was taken just yesterday, and remind myself of how quickly time passes.
Don't spend too much time missing the Major he was, I scolded myself. Enjoy the Major he is. The one who is still here.
And I did, even while sometimes denying what was in front of my face until I couldn't deny it anymore. He'd never been as active as his crazy little brother, but Maj only got slower.
The medications stopped working. He went from moving slowly to not being able to move much at all. From being a newly picky eater to not wanting to eat, no matter what we tried. And we tried it all. He settled, my husband joked, on the diet of a 12-year-old boy; Steakumms and French toast. Beef jerky and burgers. Ice cream.
On the few occasions he managed to make it up the stairs to the bedroom, we celebrated as if we'd just won the lottery. When he could no longer make the climb, we went back to sleeping in the living room as a family. One beautiful autumn day, when he seemed to be feeling better, we took the Boys on a long walk in the Wissahickon, unaware it would be their last long one together.
And then Major, who was about 10, just didn't want to get up, no matter how much I tried to coax him, how much I whispered into his ears that I loved him, that I was so happy that he was still with us. That he was my Handsome Prince.
What I really wanted to do was beg him to hold on, and beg the doctor who looked at me on Friday and said we'd done all we could, to please, please do something more. But I knew that's not how it works. It wouldn't be fair to him.
I'd already gotten so much more time than I imagined.
I should be grateful. I am grateful. And heartbroken.
I wish we had gotten more time.
But when you love, no matter how much time you get, it's just never enough.