Yesterday was the day that Gary and I have talked about and dreaded for so long. We had to say that final goodbye to our precious Great Dane, Jackson.
What a beautiful and wonderful dog he was to our entire family!
In 2007, Andrea really, really, really wanted a dog…a BIG dog! Gary and I really, really, really weren’t sure. But finally, we said yes and the rest is history. Jackson was born in May of that year, so he lived a good and long life of nearly 12 years, surpassing the normal life span of a Dane.
After a few years, Andrea moved to Texas for grad school, and stayed there for career and now marriage. Jackson stayed with us and enjoyed visits over the years from Kyle and Andrea’s doggies.
Aaron loves animals and Jackson was his special friend. Patient, kind Jackson tolerated Aaron’s noises, Aaron’s behaviors that sometimes scared him, and other behaviors that pleased him – like Aaron’s knack for sneaking him table food and doggie treats.
Jackson also at times showed concern for Aaron’s seizures, such as in this picture shortly after Aaron awoke from a seizure.
Many of you have asked how Aaron handled this loss of Jackson. Gary and I talked so much about how to tell Aaron when the time came. For months, Aaron knew that this possibility might become a reality. We talked about it a lot, but when our decision came, and the appointment was made, it was hard to tell Aaron that the “maybe” was now going to happen the next day.
We told him at supper on Monday that on the next day we were having to put Jacks to sleep.
“I don’t want to put him to sleep,” Aaron said. We told him that we agreed but we listed all the reasons it was necessary. Aaron was mostly quiet about it then.
As I tucked Aaron in bed that night, he said again that he didn’t want to get rid of Jackson, as he put it. But Aaron knew it was not going to change, much as we wished it could.
The dread hung over us all day yesterday, like a gloomy cloud. I wondered what Aaron would do when he got home from his day group, knowing that in a short while we would take Jackson to the vet.
“Can I give Jackson some treats?” Aaron asked. So, I told him to go ahead and give him all the rest of the chicken jerky treats in the bag, which were mostly small pieces, but to give them to him slowly. Of course, this happened.
Jackson was thrilled! And so was Aaron, most definitely!
The time came, much as we wished it wouldn’t. Gary and I got Jackson ready to go, making a potty stop in the yard. I ran up to Aaron’s room while Jackson sniffed outside.
“Aaron,” I said. “It’s time to take Jackson. Do you want to say goodbye?”
“No,” Aaron flatly said.
I told him that I understood and said we would see him soon.
Gary sat in the back of the van with Jacks, keeping him from falling as he was so prone to do. I pushed the button to close our garage door and was backing out of the driveway. Just as I got on our road, I looked and saw that our garage door was opening.
“Good grief!” I said. “We don’t have time for this!” I thought our door was malfunctioning.
So, as I pulled back into the driveway, with the garage door opening, I saw legs. And as the door fully opened, there stood Aaron in the middle of the garage…right at the open door…his right hand in the air, waving back and forth.
Bless his heart, he had indeed wanted to say goodbye. I will never forget that image of him standing there waving his hand to his buddy.
I opened the side van door, and Aaron walked outside. He stuck his head in the door.
“Bye, Dad!” he said.
He couldn’t bring himself to say the words to Jackson, but his eyes darted nervously to look at his friend. Then Aaron backed up, eyes still looking at Jackson. And as he started to walk away, he looked back one more time, still with scared eyes focusing on Jacks.
It was incredibly sweet and sad and broke down all my tough reserves as I cried all the way to the vet.
And Jackson, in what seemed like one final way of expressing his opinion of all this, pooped in the van! Served us right…right?!
When we got home and sat down to supper, Aaron did another amazing thing. He didn’t seem to mind at all that we had some tears, and if you know Aaron, you know how shocking that is. Aaron hates for anyone to cry. If I just sniff my nose, he instantly asks if I’m crying. He thinks crying is weird…but in reality, tears make him very uncomfortable and he doesn’t know what to say or do.
Later, after supper, Aaron and I sat down to watch some television. He was snacking on his new bag of Chex Mix. Suddenly, he jumped up and walked to the kitchen, returning with another of his bowls.
“Here, Mom!” he said. “I’m giving you some Chex Mix!” He proceeded to pour me some in the bowl he had gotten and bring it to me with a big smile on his face. And even though I didn’t really want it, I would never have said no after I saw his happy face.
You see, Aaron loves to share with people…most of the time. But sharing his food or his movies or his treasures…whatever he has…is Aaron’s love language.
And it was like he wanted to share a snack with me because I was sad. Kind of like he shared all those jerky treats with Jackson earlier, except I merited a bowl. Then he kept bringing me the bagel chips and the “twirly crackers,” as he calls them, that he doesn’t like…dumping them in my bowl with all the excitement he would have if he was giving me something of huge importance.
But this was of huge importance because it showed me that he cared that I was sad. Empathy doesn’t always come easily to Aaron, but on this night it did. So I ate the crackers that I didn’t really want so much, more for him than for me. Yet it WAS for me, too, because it was like a good medicine for my heart in so many ways.
Aaron, last night, agreed with our sadness and he showed it in the way that Aaron does…not with words or deep conversation…but with his actions. He tolerated our tears, and he shared what was important to him at the moment. I never tasted any better Chex Mix than what I ate last night!
This morning, after Aaron ate his huge pile of scrambled eggs that I made him for breakfast, he put his plate on the kitchen counter. Little pieces of egg were on the plate…little pieces that ordinarily would have gone in Jackson’s food bowl for him to eat, much to Aaron’s great delight.
“I was almost going to go out and put those in Jackson’s bowl,” I said to Aaron. “It’s hard to think that Jackson isn’t here.”
“Yeah,” Aaron replied. “No more dog!”
And he walked off with that, making his chuckling noise that isn’t a laugh. It’s like he’s satisfied with what he’s said…not necessarily happy but satisfied.
That’s the bottom line if I ever heard a bottom line. Just get to the point with Aaron. Say it like it is. Put things into facts, place them in a category, and move on.
But I know he thinks deeply and he feels deeply.
That goodbye wave and my Chex Mix will remind me of that for a long, long time.