“Sometimes the miracle happens on the other side.” That’s what my former Episcopal parish priest told my sister after our stepmother died of cancer. It rings through my head today as I think about Mina, now enjoying a peaceful afterlife filled with happiness, joy, four good legs, a permanent summer shave (thanks, Natali), and all the snack food she can eat.

I tried my best to work that miracle on this side, and together Mina and I are a formidable pair, but it was not to be. In my whole life I will never find anyone as brave and as strong as my Mina. She was my perfect soul mate, and my heart will miss her every day of my life.

This blog started as a way to document our journey through chemotherapy and cancer. It was Mina’s cancer, but it was our battle and I’ve never fought harder for anything in my life. All I wanted was for my darling girl to have a few months of peace and good health and I didn’t believe it was an unreasonable request.

So. Here we are at what appears to be the unbearably painful end of our journey together. Right now, buried under an overwhelming grief, it certainly feels like the end but a little voice keeps bugging me to tell Mina’s whole story. I certainly hope I can manage that in future entries, but for now I want to tell you about Monday morning.

Sunday morning found Mina brighter than she had been in a couple of days. She was eager to get outside for a walk in the sunshine and cool morning air. We took a longer walk than she had managed in a week or more, stopping often to indulge in her favorite outdoor activity – sniffing absolutely everything. She seemed happy and that’s all it took to make me feel happy.

Mina ate a hearty breakfast, then she had some of mine (I think it might’ve been French toast). She napped, went outside for pee breaks, got belly rubs and kisses, ate some more, napped some more, and around 3:30 p.m. we went outside again to walk in the unusually warm November sunshine. Mina had a little perk in her walk and it was such a joy to see. Later on we had some vegan pizza together, and Mina had some freshly baked chickens.

We were doing really well until later that evening. I offered her a jar of her favorite organic baby food as a snack around 7 p.m. She ate a spoonful, then walked away, turned and came back for another spoonful, then walked away, came back for one more bite and retreated to the bedroom. The next couple of hours led me to believe that Mina was nauseated, because she was restless and couldn’t find a place to be comfortable. Her panting was coming out raspy and dry, too. I made some popcorn, because she loves it, but she ate only a couple of kernels before laying down on the tile entry way.

All of this worried me and I needed to keep myself calm so she didn’t know I was worried. I kept an eye on her and acted like I was watching a movie or playing a game on my iPhone. We went outside a couple of times for pee breaks and around 10 p.m. we went to bed – me on the couch and Mina in front of the TV.

Her breathing was ragged and gurgly and it sounded as if she were pushing out every breath. I tried to lay beside her and comfort her but she would start panting again. Finally, somewhere before 1 a.m. I found myself dozing off and Mina sounded calm. That lasted for a short time and the awful-sounding gasping for breath became more pronounced and I had this feeling of cold dread.

I turned on the lights and sat next to her and she lay on her side with her eyes open and her entire body shuddering with each ragged breath. It was horrible. I know part of me was trying to believe this would clear up in a while and she’d get some sleep and Monday would be just like Sunday, but my rational side told me to call PWEVC and find out if Dr. Smith was working. I have never in my life made such a heart-wrenching phone call. I’m nauseated remembering it.

He was there. He came to the phone and said he’d read the e-mail update on Mina that I’d sent on Saturday afternoon. He told me: “You come in and I’ll have everything ready and we’ll do this as a family.” I broke down as I hung up the phone and called Sue to come and get us.

While I waited for Sue, who drove 35 miles to help me face the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my 50 years, I did what I hated most – cried in front of Mina. I buried my face in her neck and sobbed and asked her forgiveness and promised I would join her some day. Mina looked at me with her soft brown eyes, licked away my tears, and kissed me. We looked into each others eyes for a few moments and in hers I saw love. I’m sure she saw fear in mine.

We got Mina into the car, I had to carry her part way and lift her in. I think she was confused about seeing Auntie Sue and then getting into a strange car. I carried her to the door of PWEVC, and they let us in. Once inside, Mina did her usual “I know this place!” tour of all the exam rooms and was happy to see Dr. Smith. I knew if Dr. Smith believed I was making this decision too soon, he would tell me and send us home. But he looked at Mina and told me I made the right decision.

Dr. Smith told his staff to put a blanket in the center of the lobby floor because “Mina doesn’t like exam rooms.” I’m always impressed with his understanding of Mina. I signed some paperwork, I have no idea what it was about, then we all gathered on the blanket with Mina, and the techs helped her lay on her side, her favorite sleeping position. Dr. Smith asked to hug me first because he said he was going to be emotional but wanted to be clear-headed to help Mina.

Mina seemed a little worried at first as Dr. Smith shaved a spot on her left rear leg for the butterfly catheter. I was half lying beside her, with my arm under her head and rubbing her belly and talking to her. Dr. Smith told me to look at her face and talk to her about how much I love her and how happy she makes me and he asked Sue to do the same. I recall hearing him tell Mina that he loved her. In a moment, her head relaxed against my arm and her breathing was no longer ragged. I cried, buried my face against hers, kissed her, told her that I’ll love her forever and in another moment Dr. Smith said, “Ms. Bottner she’s looking down on us from heaven now.”

I broke into a million pieces. I hugged her against me and sobbed. The staff left the lobby and Sue and I said our final goodbyes. I asked Sue if Mina looked scared and she replied that she’d been watching her eyes the entire time and Mina was not scared. That’s my baby, brave until the very end.

When I stood up, Mina looked just like she was sleeping on the floor in front of our window. I touched her again, then told Dr. Smith we were leaving. He hugged me again and as we went out the door I turned to look at my beloved, the love of my life, one last time.

Sue brought me home and together we got rid of the cancer evidence. I threw out every sheet, blanket, and towel covering the floor to help me identify Mina’s urine spots. I grabbed all of her pill bottles, at least eight altogether, and threw them in the hazardous waste bag. Sue left and felt like I was the only being left in the entire world. The emptiness left by Mina’s death is undescribeable.

Today, VIMP called to tell me that Mina’s cremains are ready and I can pick them up whenever it’s convenient. Her body lies in a wooden urn, and I requested her nickname, “Mina Bean,” to be engraved on the urn along with her birth date and the day she died. Dr. Smith made a certificate for me with all four paw prints and some locks of her beautiful hair. We’ll pick them up tomorrow.

I am, as my Dad described, “a ship without a rudder.” I don’t feel like me without Mina. We lived together since she was three months old and she took care of me, put up with my drama, never once complained about anything, loved me unconditionally, showed me true courage and patience, shared my pizza and long road trips. Sitting still long enough to write this is difficult and I can’t tell you why. Yesterday, I walked around the complex, following all of Mina’s various paths through the place, for the equivalent of nearly five miles. When I wasn’t outside walking, while clutching her favorite Vermont Man toy, I was pacing in here and wondering why I don’t feel her presence? My Dad said it’s because I’m swamped in so much grief, but some day I will feel her with me always.

Dad also recommended driving to get out and feel less suffocated. I found myself taking our favorite route to Warrenton and then I was walking through the door of our vet’s clinic. Both Drs. Cliver and Nolan were happy to see me, gave me enormous hugs (hugs = crying), and we talked about Mina. As I left, I put one of her favorite biscuits in my jacket pocket.

Her toys are still scattered about under the coffee table, her bed is still in the corner. Her water bowl sits with about a half inch of water and some remains from her last dinner. Her carpus brace is on the counter in its usual spot, and her harness and leash hang on the doorknob, as always. What used to be “home” is now just “the apartment” and it’s the emptiest place on earth.

Last night I managed to eat some toast, I slept for about 3.5 hours, and this morning I ate half a bagel. I can’t think of a damn thing that would make me feel better. Everything seems hollow and dark and lonely.

My friends and my Dad have all been wonderful. Thank you, all of you, for calling me and letting me cry and ramble about Mina. Thank you for all of your comments, and e-mail notes, and tweets, and your concern for me and your grief for Mina. She is the better of the two of us, the outgoing, social girl who loves meeting people and has a deep affection for her fellow canines. We are so connected that we can read each other’s eyes and facial expressions and there is no one we’d rather be with than each other.

Right now, I don’t know what to do. I’m returning to work tomorrow and I can’t even figure out what time to set the alarm. The first hour and 15 minutes of every work day were devoted to Mina, to her comfort, to helping her get ready to be alone until Sherrie came to rescue her and, during chemo and cancer, Auntie Lo Lo. Everything hurts.

I love you, Mina. I will love you forever.

s.

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