Saying Goodbye to Our Best Friend
If you are a Baby Boomer, I think it’s safe to say you have experienced a good bit of sadness and loss on the journey. The loss of a beloved pet is certainly one of the deep heartbreaks. We did consider our dear Coco a best friend. Her time on this earth was profoundly meaningful, but she was so modest, so giving, did she even know? I like to think so. Animals are perceptive, I like to think she very deeply felt our love. I will never forget those wise eyes of hers–maybe she knew a lot more than we realized.
Coco came into our lives on the 8th birthday of our daughter, Alexandra, our only child. We felt blessed to find her, we had searched for so long. Weekend after weekend we went to our local shelters, seeking a puppy. We knew we wanted a rescue but we hoped to get a young pup so our daughter could take part in raising and training her, taking responsibility for another living being. For many weeks we came home empty-handed, Alex in tears. We put the word out to family and before long, my sister discovered that a litter of puppies had just arrived at her local shelter in West Virginia. The story was a sad one. The mom, a Bernese Mountain dog, had given birth while she was chained outside in the snow. Every time I think of it, I want to cry. But from what we understood, both the mom and puppies were rescued.
From then on, the story was a very happy one. My daughter had no idea she was getting the longed-for puppy for her birthday. My husband went directly from work in DC that day to West Virginia to pick up her new friend. He was in his USAF flight suit when he walked in, told Alex to close her eyes and into her arms we placed the little ball of fluff. That image also makes me cry but for much different reasons. To say she was overwhelmed is an understatement. She looked up in wonder and asked “Is it REAL? Is it MINE?” Yes sweetie, she sure is.
We christened her Coco, a dark beauty as elegant as Chanel and as sweet as chocolate. Alexandra was born in Hershey PA hence the origin of the name, and nickname, Coco Bean.
That was 15 years ago. Then earlier this year, we said goodbye. That was the hardest of days.
We knew it was time. I wish she would have left us by drifting away in her sleep so we would not have had to make the terrible decision and that trip to the vet no one wants to make. For weeks she had trouble walking and would often trip and fall. She was mostly blind. The last day she could no longer get up and stopped eating and drinking. We called Alex, and she told us through her tears that she wanted to say goodbye. So, we wrapped up Coco in her in a blanket and took her to my daughter’s apartment. Alex patted her and talked to her and told her what a wonderful girl she was and how much she would miss her. At the vet, they were so kind and respectful. The end was quick and painless. My husband stroked her soft ears and I held her paw as we saw the light go out of her eyes. I know she was ready, but we were not. When we came back to the house, the emptiness was palpable. She brought a spirit to the space around her that cannot be explained or seen. And it feels completely different without her. How do these creatures get inside our hearts like this, how can they understand us and help us without ever saying a word? She was truly sweetness and light, just as her name implied.
Her ashes and paw print arrived about a week later, along with a brochure about dealing with the loss.
…Ah, the legacy of Coco. We pet parents hold such a place in our hearts for all our friends. They add so much to our lives. They make us live longer and happier. They make us laugh, sometimes while making us so exasperated. I remember finding Coco sitting shamelessly on the bathroom floor where she had unrolled and chewed up the entire roll of toilet tissue, probably after also drinking out of the toilet bowl. True to her name, Coco was desperate for chocolate. She once got into a pantry at my in-laws that we didn’t realize was opened–and ate a 2-lb bag of chocolate chips. I think we almost lost her that day as chocolate wreaks havoc on the liver of doggies, no matter how they love it. On a few other occasions, she got into chocolate in impossible places, on what we thought were high enough counters, and we can only assume that she levitated. She left nothing behind as proof except the cellophane bag, all the foil wraps were also gone. She could be as naughty as she was sweet. She ate Alex’s homework on more than a few occasions–not finished paperwork or lessons, but completed homework. More than a few notes went to teachers about how the dog really did eat my homework. She got into the mail and only destroyed a check to be deposited, not any of the junk mail. She got into my mom’s knitting bag and extracted nothing else but my mom’s expensive prescription eyeglasses, which she used as a chew toy. She had teethed on the wooden supports under our sunroom sofa. The chew marks remain as a reminder of her puppyhood.
The fact that she wasn’t pure gold but did some naughty things, interestingly, added to her charm. She kept us guessing.
She was a clown dog. She had a distinctive funny lip that curled up on one side, which we called her “Elvis” impersonation. Her tail was always, always wagging. She seemed happy to see everyone. Even after serious surgery on her leg, as she came out of anesthesia, the vet told us her tag was wagging.
She was our Boomer Connections mascot, our 5th Boomer lady. As we worked, we laughed and laughed at how un-ladylike she was, sprawled out on the floor on her back, legs akimbo.
But mostly, she was such a good, good girl. I can’t imagine what Alex would have done without Coco. The course of years of elementary school, middle school, high school, and college are fraught for any kid. And all those years Alex could weather the drama–bad grades, bad breakups, teenage angst, disappointments—knowing she would find a comforting presence as soon as she got home. Coco was Alex’s soft warm paw to hold and fluffy shoulder to cry on. And Coco would be still and listen sympathetically, her silent but wise best friend.
In times of tension and anxiety that happens in any family’s life, we would look at Coco’s funny face and Elvis lip, and just dissolve into laughter and the tension was dissipated. That doggie carried the angst of the family on her shoulders. She saved us, so many times.
For years she was our companion on our adventures, hikes in the mountains, trips to the beach. She was the best traveler, she would jump in the minivan beside Alex and fall asleep at her feet, logging hundreds and hundreds of miles with us. I remember reaching back behind the seat to feel her soft fur.
The years passed, Alex went off to college then graduated from college and moved home, back with her buddy. By then it had become difficult for Coco to even climb the stairs in order to sleep next to Alex’s bed. I guess she knew how much she meant to us and hung on and saw us through our major family transition, as we sold Alex’s childhood home and downsized and Alex went off on her own to her first apartment and independence. Perhaps as she saw us unsettled and then resettled, she felt her work was done, and it was time to go.
Life is life, tumultuous, a series of ups and downs, love and loss, success and struggle, uncertainty, and calm. In that life she was a constant true blessing, a beatific soul that radiated only love into the world, who asked for nothing than that we love her back. And we truly deeply did.
Coco, you made our world so much brighter, so much warmer, so much softer. Goodbye sweet pup, till we meet again.
In Memoriam: Coco Bean 2006-2021.