August 23, 2006
The Passing of a Princess
A big spirit in a little body was one way to describe her. Royalty was another.
You couldn't really call her a dog because she never thought of herself as such. She had some of the most beautiful and unused rhinestone and toile collar and leash sets — her crown, although invisible, her only wardrobe staple. It is thus with a very heavy heart as her loyal subject that I report the passing of Coco.
The little Bichon Frise puppy was given to me as a wedding present in 1991 — or rather her sister was. By the time we returned from our honeymoon, the breeder who had boarded her while we were gone decided that she was shaping up to be a good show dog and we could have her sister, the "pet quality" one who was terribly timid instead. But Coco grew up confident and returned the love she was shown tenfold, being the one thing that stuck with me through the divorce and move and everything else which befell me over her lifetime, always giving me a sympathetic nod when I would sing "You are my sunshine" to her and get her fur wet with tears.
She had some odd habits of needing to bark at her food before she ate which might have been a form of saying grace or getting rid of gremlins, and she didn't recognize any of us with wet hair. It wasn't easy to be accepted by her but once you were in her heart you were there to stay, and for those of us who waited on her hand and paw, it was a privilege, even through her final illness.
Coco died just a few feet from where my Dad died only a year before.
The seizures were such in the end that I felt her body could sustain no more. On her last night as I held her on the beach at sunset, I sat with my back to the ocean with her body shaking in my arms and wondered which wave of the rising tide would ultimately engulf us. Yet that decision became mine to make.
I picked a spot in the yard and set out a white blanket and she lay down — the first time she'd been peaceful in about 36 hours. I surrounded her with roses and sprinkled a bit of salt water around the circle to keep out those gremlins.
"Talk to her, she can hear you," was Dr. Nora's advice so I held Coco and told her to be free as she got her final injection. The next words came too quickly.
"She's gone," said Nora, with her stethoscope pressed to the small silent heart. It is so hard to believe that Coco's spirit was gone when her body was still here, and I was reluctant to believe it. We thought if it had been my sister's Boston terrier Boris we could have surrounded him with a bunch of rubber balls, and if he didn't move we'd know he was gone.
I wanted to sit with Coco, and my mom decided to start taking pictures. I could see the look in my fiancé's eye which questioned, "Exactly how long is this dead dog photo session going to last?" But then he jumped in with suggestions of better lighting and angles and fill in flash, and it is his final portrait which is filled with so much love and so much grief which I will treasure.
I have to thank Dr. Miller who gave Coco an extended life, and Dr. Kleps who gave her a dignified death. And of course her love to those canine beauty specialists who made her feel so pretty, Lara and Shannon and Mauricio. To Chris who gave her about 2,000 more barks than she would have had and Bob who opened a bit of his heart to this small sick creature. To Boris who didn't leave her side in the last day (sorry, we thought you just wanted her food) and of course to Holly and my mother for their devoted care.
We made the plan to have Coco cremated and put her ashes next to my father's in the hutch in the living room. Given my family's collective inability to let anything go I figure we'll just keep filling it up with all our ashes until there's nobody left and it will become an eccentric tag sale item.
After I had said my final good bye to Coco my mother presented me with a silver box. Inside was a tiara. She said, "You get to be the princess now."
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