We are feeling a big loss these days. After nearly sixteen and half years with us, our beloved Deacon died on the 24th of April. His last week was fairly quiet. He was slow to get around, but still eagerly got up with me at 5 o'clock each morning, taking his medicine and a going out for a brief walk in the dark. He ate only what I cooked for him: bacon, eggs, cheeseburgers, sweet potatoes. Donald gently brought up what we might have to do for him, but said he would wait for me to come to terms with it. Deacon had a knack for perking up after a long day of sleep and each evening, I could easily justify more time with him. After all, when I arrived home, or just walked in the room, he welcomed me as he always did - up on all fours, a wagging tail, audible, excited sounds at the front door. Donald would say "you should hear him when your car turns onto our block. He knows you are almost home." At some point, in his very old age, I started calling him "Little Buddy." It was my softhearted reaction to the physical changes I saw in him. His diminished hearing seemed to make him cling to me even more. He'd stay close to me in the house, so as to not lose track of me. He would not wander too far in the yard, looking back to make sure I was right behind him. It all reminded me of his first few weeks as our puppy. In January of 2001, we spent nearly every moment together as I attempted to house train him from a third floor walk up in Chicago. I balanced him on my lap as I painted, to discourage "accidents." We would run up and down the stairs, every hour at first, and walk along the frozen tundra of Lake Michigan. He'd cry after enough time on the ground and I'd gather him up into my parka, carrying him the rest of the way home. He was the "new kid" on the block. attracting the attention of fellow dog owners who met at sunrise and sunset on Jarvis Beach. Similarly, as a very senior dog, people stopped more frequently to greet him and ask, "how old is Deacon now, anyway." "Sixteen!" I would reply with gusto. I was proud that we'd made it, this great distance, together: Cross country car trips, endless hours in the studio, 10,000 miles of walking, never sleeping too far from one another when we were under the same roof. In my years of traveling to and from art fairs, his keeping company with Donald at home made me less anxious about being away.
In what we didn't know were his last couple of hours, Deacon attempted one final to retreat to his bed. Donald was there and helped him to lay on his side. I was urged to come home quickly so that we could take him to the vet one last time. When I arrived, his head turned toward me in response. I stroked his face and body and placed my hands on his chest to feel his slowing heartbeat. "He's still here," I said to Donald. I moved my hands away so that Donald could do the same. "I don't feel anything," he said. I looked into Deacon's eyes, and could see that he was gone.
In the days after, we tried to be consoled by the way that he left, at home with just us there. We welcomed the chance to take a quick trip to deliver artwork to Nashville. The brief change of scenery was only that, though. Coming home to a house without Deacon, an empty doorway, a vacant bed, meant we could not avoid the sad reality of his being away from us. It is an exceptional adjustment that will take the forgiving passage of time to grow into. The joy of sharing life with Deacon, my Little Buddy, can't be diminished by his absence. His soft, comforting fur that I so often laid my head on at night, his enthusiastic companionship and pure longevity deserve to be remembered in the full light of love.