Saying Goodbye Isn’t Easy

The text arrived at 1:06 last Monday morning just as I was wrapping up my shift at The Post-Journal.

It was from my wife.

“It’s over, honey,” Vicki punched into her iPhone.

I knew what she meant.

“Coach,” our 10-year-old, 160-pound Great Dane was gone, the victim of what we believe was an aggressive cancer that took him so swiftly that I had barely a day to begin to prepare myself. And, really, how do you truly prepare for the loss of your best friend?

Yes, he had begun to show his age — the life expectancy for these lovable giants is 7 to 10 years, after all, and we did have a scare in late June when he decided to raid the garbage and ended up with a bowel obstruction — but somehow he always rebounded.

Our walks on Jamestown’s northeast side, which he loved — Dearing Avenue to Hotchkiss Street, Hotchkiss to Buffalo Street, Buffalo to Haywood Street, Haywood to Frink Avenue — had stopped by early fall. Instead, he spent most of the time sleeping on our bed, which he claimed as his own almost from the time we brought him home in September 2008.

The bedroom was just a half-dozen steps from the bathroom, which was his second favorite room in the house, because that’s where he could get a nice, cold drink of water.

On demand.

To digress: When Coach was still a puppy, Vicki could tell he wanted a drink one day, but she was busy doing something and didn’t want to fill his water bowl that was in the kitchen, so she turned on the faucet to the bathroom sink.

Well, Coach, who was already tall enough that I could rest my elbow on the top of his head when he stood next to me, loved it, and he never stopped loving it. In fact, he never drank out of a bowl again. He’d walk into the bathroom and stand patiently until someone turned the water on for him. Then he’d retreat to the bedroom, shake his head mightily, leaving slobber all over the place, and then vault himself on to the bed.

Believe it or not, I’ll miss that mess that he created multiple times a day. I’ll miss everything about that 160-pound goofball, who made me realize that Brad Anderson — the creator of the Marmaduke comic — didn’t have to embellish to make his readers laugh, because every strip he designed was always spot on.

Life with Coach, whose full name was Coach K — Vicki almost agreed with my suggestion a decade ago that we name him Krzyzewski after the Hall-of-Fame Duke men’s basketball coach, but she begged off because she had no clue how to spell it — was a blessing. I’m sad as I write this, and I’ve shed more than a few tears in the last week, but I wouldn’t trade the dull ache in my stomach for anything, because it’s a reminder of how much I loved him.

And I know he loved us.

Here’s how I know.

In the wee hours of last Sunday morning, we barricaded the landing to the stairs leading to the second floor, because Coach had little to no use of his right hind leg. We couldn’t risk him injuring himself further, so Vicki used a stool and a kitchen chair to prevent him from even trying to make his way to his favorite rooms.

Well, guess what? As I tried to get some sleep, I heard Vicki yell Coach’s name, followed by the familiar sounds of him climbing the stairs, albeit haltingly. Vicki told me later that Coach was so determined that, even with his impaired gait, he climbed OVER the barricade. When he reached the bedroom, he climbed on to the bed next to me and fell asleep.

The fact that Coach wanted to spend his last night in his favorite place, with me by his side, was the ultimate gift.

Thank you, my dear friend.

You were the best.

I love you.