Learning to Cope Before the Loss
The moment the fresh meat hits the cast-iron skillet, a loud sizzle erupts in the kitchen. The aroma of grass-fed beef, salt & pepper, and hints of parsley permeate the air above the stove moments later as the steak gets flipped to the other side.
Next to the stove sits Keiki, who will get to eat this steak after it’s finished. Her brown eyes grow wide and her snout climbs as high as it can, her nostrils inhaling in short and quick bursts. She licks her lips in anticipation without moving her body from its seated position.
Once the steak is done, it is placed on a wooden cutting board and quickly sliced into strips. The strips are then transferred to an aluminum dish resting on the counter that bears her name on the outside rim.
The drippings of the steak creep through the bed of kibble that already covers the bottom of the bowl. “We have to let it cool, first,” I say to Keiki, who is looking up at me expectantly.
Keiki is familiar with human food. My niece and nephews are known to smuggle her bite-sized pieces of chicken, bread, and vegetables under the table; she gets a whole bar of stringed cheese when she visits Grandma’s; She gets the fatty pieces of my steak because she enjoys them much more than I ever could; and In the middle of the day when no one is looking, she sometimes heaves her front paws to the counter top and pirates a bag of bread and a stick of butter for an afternoon snack. Despite all this, Keiki has never been able to procure an entire steak to herself. Until now.
Keiki was diagnosed with cancer in her lungs. In her boxer-framed chest is a tumor the size of a baseball. According to the veterinarian, it has already spread in other places including her heart. To add insult to injury, it is untreatable and fast-moving. Keiki’s days of watching over me, letting kids climb all over without a sneer, and collecting crumbs off faces and the ground, are numbered.
Keiki rushes over to me as I attempt to put the bowl down and dives her snout in before it even touches the floor. She manages to devour the entire steak and drippings in seconds, completely ignoring any bit of kibble that isn’t coated. Her tail is wagging wildly about. Right now, she looks happy and healthy.
In a total of three minutes, she has licked her bowl completely clean and is moseying over to attempt to do the same to my face. She instead stops to cough for a few seconds, that cough that seems to garble through her throat, before ultimately resting her head on my lap. Her tail still sways, even slowly, from left to right.
Keiki will spend her last days finally getting to sleep under the covers. She will get to spend her afternoons at her favorite dog park. She will eat things she’s only salivated about until now.
Her gaze fixes on me as I scratch behind her ears (her favorite spot, besides her belly) and I realize: no matter how much I attempt to love and spoil her in her last days, it will never amount to how much she has love and spoiled me.