Max used to hate going to school. I recall when he was in elementary school, he told me he was too sick to go. I questioned him: “What hurts?” “My nose,” he said. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It’s all stuffy and I can’t breathe.” “What else hurts,” I asked. “My stomach.” “What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It’s pukey.” He said. I asked, “What else hurts?” “My butt,” he replied earnestly. I asked one question too many – but I let him stay home.
Sick days meant time in bed watching movies and playing games. Soup and cuddles with our faithful furry friend Atticus. I understood then and now why sick days are important. We all need some time away from it all, to rest and get some unconditional love.
When my mother’s cancer worsened, she could no longer walk the dogs, Atticus and her dog Lilo. Max took over walking them. But soon, Atticus couldn’t walk as far anymore. After a slow walk around the park, he would come home, breathless and panting. But still doggy-grateful for the walk.
My mom kept a cup of dog treats by her bed. She rattled it and called to the dogs to come in and see her. “Cookie!” she called, “Come and get your cookie, Atticus!”
I would bring her soup and Atticus would totter into her bedroom and collapse on the floor. She would give him a treat and he would keep her company on her sick days.
Last week, Atticus couldn’t walk to her bedroom anymore. He couldn’t stand up. She would call to him and he would try to crawl to her doorway but couldn’t make it.
Max took him for his last ride to the veterinarian after one last sleepover with him in the living room. He held our beloved dog until the end. He came home and we told my mom that he was gone. The hardest thing. She said to Max, “You are a good young man. You have such a good heart. You went on your walkabout today.” Yes, and also. His walkabout was through a freshman year of college without the typical companionship of college years. His walkabout was as a musician unable to play with his band. His walkabout, like that of so many of our young people, has been about survival in a way none of us expected our children to ever experience. And he came back a stronger young man, he came back and helped me and my mom and our old beloved dog.
My mom fell again shortly afterwards and had to go back to the hospital. Max sat with her and talked to her while we waited for the ambulance and while I gathered her medications and her paperwork. His strength and calm carried me through. My mother’s fight against sick days is a testament to our samurai ancestry. But I also believe the love of an old dog helped her keep going. I trust and believe the love he left behind still does. I trust and believe it will keep us all going.
I trust and believe that the love of a dog will carry us through so many, a lot, of sick days.
Good dog, Atticus.