Thursday, October 8, 2015

Missing Mill Mill

I opened the refrigerator today and pulled out the cheese drawer. Instinctively, I looked up.


No jingling of a collar. No clip clip of nails on the hardwood floor. No sweet yellow face, slick of drool, or wet nose inching up to see what we're having for lunch.
He's not here anymore. Our sweet yellow lab is gone.
It's been a little over a month, and there are still firsts that hurt. Of course I know this - there will be first hurts for a year. The hardest ones are yet to come.
There was the first time I left the house after he died, and I hollered out to him as I always did. "Bye bye, Miller! You're in charge!" But when I looked behind me, his golden head wasn't there, his ears not perked up with the inquisitive tilt we loved.
And every time I return, there's no pooch waiting to greet me or excited to go out and bask in the fresh air.
To be honest, there are a few advantages. I no longer trip over him. Houseguests aren't assaulted in the crotchal area upon entering our home. I only have to vacuum twice a week now. There's no more poop to scoop.

But I'd take all of that and then some to see him go apeshit on Christmas morning again. That pup loved Christmastime.
He told us with enthusiasm when he hopped around the house just dying to dig into the fun. He truly opened his presents...
...biting off paper and ribbon and spitting it aside until he reached the prize inside. He even bugged December birthday boys...
...before he could even jump on a chair.
Gratefully, his final moments weren't without a bit of humor. I seem to have a knack for injecting awkward hilarity into the most gut wrenching moments surrounding death, despite the solemnity and decorum the situation deserves. 

At my father-in-law's funeral, the immediate family paid our respects last - after all the other family and friends paused for a final goodbye to an amazing man, friend, husband, father, and grandfather. Our family of four said a silent prayer before him, then moved aside for my husband's siblings and mother to spend a final moment with him before the casket closed forever.

I looked up to see my son's shoulders shaking in grief. Raw emotion overcame him, and he sobbed. I immediately opened my arms, moving swiftly to draw him into my embrace. As I did, a four inch piece of my hair went straight down his throat. He gagged, hawked a loogie, and nearly barfed down my back. 

I pulled back and we all started giggling. Uncontrollably. Embarrassingly loudly. Obnoxiously so.

Fast forward to the vet arriving to help us with poor Miller, who had an accident on the living room floor, lay down to rest, and never got back up on a Wednesday afternoon.
Dr. Buck arrived, and I sat down next to my buddy to pet him as the doctor began his examination. I plopped down right into a giant bowl of water that I fetched for him earlier in the day. He didn't drink a lick of that water. Instead it sloshed all over the floor, saturated my backside and flew up in the air landing all over the dog. And Dr. Buck.

Needless to say, it was a lot of water and I have a big butt. But everyone laughed, and I temporarily succeeded in bringing some levity to a somber occasion.

After Miller died peacefully on the spot where he lay down earlier that day, Dr. Buck and his assistant carried our boy away and we started storytelling. Standing in the foyer of our home - we hadn't even poured a drink yet - we began: "Remember when he was a puppy and he terrorized all of the kids sledding on New Years Eve? Remember Colin's comment? 'Wow. Not exactly the best commercial for a dog.'" 
"Remember when he ate all the Christmas gifts at the boarder's house, and was never invited back?"
"Remember when Grandma thought she could put chocolate donuts on the kitchen table?"
"Remember when his Northwoods adventure landed him a mile away, and we received a call three hours later? 'Um, hi. We have your dog. He had lunch with us, went swimming, and we took him on a boat ride. Do you want him back?'"
Speaking of the Northwoods, returning there without him next summer will be the saddest moment of all. That dog first rode up there as a ten-week-old puppy, and never knew anything better in the world. Part of the reason we even got a puppy is because Mr. Musky thought it would be cool to have a dog on the fishing boat with him. Little did he know that Miller would puke corn cobs and carrots all over the brand new boat. But he did fulfill his master's dream by snapping to attention when the rod bent in struggle. He found great joy in the words, "GOT ONE!"
We do know this - he had a great last summer at the lake, even if he moved a little slower and went on fewer adventures.
He still enjoyed every single boat outing. He loved it when the wind made him Bat-dog.
 Naps after swimming relaxed him for days.
I will miss his boat ride kisses.
He sought affection from the Camp Counselors.
He was a gracious and loving host to many a pup.
He loved playing hide and seek - from the puppy days until his last.
He enjoyed sitting on his throne as a mid-lifer with his master,
and lounging on the deck as a genteel, older boy.
That first boat ride next summer - without him in front, nose twitching at all the earthy smells and ears perked for bird calls, bounding deer, and nearby boaters - will be the saddest boat ride we've ever taken, especially when we stop to scatter his ashes on the beach and in the woods where he roamed since his first year. 

It's true. This quirky, pain-in-the-ass, perfect, quintessential labrador retriever will always live in our hearts.
Rest in Peace, Mill Mill. I'm happy you no longer have to wait for your boat ride.
You're on one forever now.