It’s been almost a year since a vet came to our home and put Maggie down. She lay on the floor in our living room. The painkillers, which had given us a few more months with her, no longer worked.
The morning she died, she walked into our bedroom. A room she wasn’t allowed to be in. Later, she nudged her way into my bathroom. Also off limits. She did it to be closer to me.
Two unmistakable signs that the time had come.
I said my goodbyes on the living room floor. My daughter, Molly, hugged Maggie. Told her how much she’d miss her. Molly was four, Maggie thirteen. Molly had never known a world in which Maggie did not exist.
This was pre-vaccine. Only one of us was allowed to be with Maggie at the end. I took Molly upstairs. My wife, Sonja, stayed with Maggie. They loved each other very much. I’d had Maggie for years before I met Sonja. But Maggie became her dog – Sonja spoiled her, spent her days with her, spoke gently to her, and not surprisingly became the primary recipient of that sweet and strangely morose golden retriever’s affection and loyalty. I’m thankful Sonja was with Maggie at the end.
I carried Maggie’s body to the vet’s van parked in our driveway. A neighbour, walking her own golden retriever, saw me carrying the white shroud and knew exactly what had just happened.
A week later, Maggie came back to us. Ashes in a cannister.
I didn’t know how to tell Molly about cremation. I didn’t want to tell Molly about cremation. So, I fudged the truth. I told my daughter that the vet had used chemicals to transform Maggie’s fur into little white particles.
Sonja loved Maggie, but not Maggie’s ashes. So, Molly and I took that cannister, walked the trails near our home, and scattered some of Maggie’s ashes in a stream where my girls had spent countless hours playing.
It was a big cannister. And there was another special place where Maggie needed to be, and where I needed to take her. Victoria, and the ocean, along Dallas Road. One of the most beautiful places in the world. Maggie and I had lived in that area for years. In different homes, at different stages of my life, she was my constant. My faithful companion. We’d walked hundreds of times along that stretch of beach. I’d thrown thousands of stones for her. She chased every one of them with abandon. In my darkest hours she was my confidant. When I felt alone, she was by my side, figuratively, and literally – on the beach and in the ocean, swimming near me as I threw one rock after another, she never gave up hope that just once, she’d catch the rock that splashed in the ocean, right in front of her. Without Maggie, I wouldn’t have met Sonja. My online dating profile picture was a photo of me and Maggie. Maggie was indisputably and infinitely better looking than me. I rode her coattails into Sonja’s life.
That’s why I wanted to spread the remainder of her ashes along Dallas Road. But life intervened. As it usually does. So, for the better part of the last year, the remainder of Maggie’s “fur” remained in that cannister, in our garden shed. Sadly, and honestly, a little forgotten. I walked in there many times, grabbed a shovel, or the lawnmower, and never once thought about Maggie.
Last Sunday, on a sunny, summer’s day, we took Maggie back to Victoria. Maggie’s remains accompanied us as Molly fed the ducks, ate French fries, and played in two different parks. And then we headed to the ocean.
It was very windy. I pictured Maggie’s ashes blowing back into my face, and hair, and covering my clothing.
Leave it to a five-year old to come up with the perfect solution. While Sonja watched, Molly and I dug holes in the sand. I poured Maggie’s fur into those holes. We covered Maggie with sand, and then, covered the sand with stones.
And then we walked away. Before the tide came in.
I didn’t want to see it happen, but I knew that the ocean would wash over those stones, and take the rocks, and Maggie, back out into the water.
That had been our special place. It always will be. And I know that every time I return, I will look at the beach, and the water, and the mountains in the distance, and I will know that Maggie is a part of that splendor.