Our sleek black Highlander pulls up into the parking lot atop the steep cliff. I open the door and jump out, my feet landing on hard gravel with a soft crunch. The salty ocean air fills my lungs, and the roaring of the sea is faint in my ears. My sisters file out of the open car door after me, while my parents are helping our dog Maddy out of the car while our other dog Lila waits eagerly behind. Had this been a normal weekend, this would just be our average trip to the beach this cloudy afternoon. But it will never be the same. Maddy has cancer. This will be her last trip to the beach.
Maddy is too weak to walk, so my dad carries her on her dog bed. After everyone is out of the car, we start the walk down to the beach.
The trail to the beach is a sandy one that winds through a small forest at a shallow angle. It is a very quiet walk; even the girls are silent for once. The only talking we hear is when we meet people who are coming up from the beach on the other side of the trail. Some notice the hospital band around Maddy’s leg and feel sorry for us. Some stop to pet her, and others walk by without any notice. It’s all right though; I don’t blame them. It’s hard to understand a type of pain until you’ve felt it yourself.
We walk through one more grove of trees and then we are at sea level. We can hear seagulls cawing overhead as my dad finds an empty spot on the beach and lays Maddy down. I can see in her eyes that she knows, somehow, she knows that this is her last visit here. The final ending to her story.
The cancer has been attacking her body for weeks now, but Maddy puts that out of her mind for this one time. Slowly, she brings herself to her feet. This is the first time she has stood in three days. Then, when she is steady, she begins to walk.
Soon Maddy is trotting around in the surf and burying her favorite tennis ball, which we brought to the beach for her. Like the same old Maddy I’ve known my entire life. Carefree and happy, without a thought of cancer in her mind. It is this sight that makes me feel happiness and hope along with a cold, bitter sadness at the same time. A dying dog’s last visit to the place she loves.
Eventually, we have to leave. I can tell that Maddy doesn’t want to, but she accepts it. She knows she can’t stay here forever, and she seems content. But for the rest of time itself, the spirit of Maddy will always live on here at Fort Funston Beach.
Maddy is put to sleep the next day. Madison Avenue Dreams Kearns, 1997–2010. My mom’s dog baby, my golden retriever sister, and our family’s protector and companion. I think that losing a loved one is one of the most powerful emotions a human can feel. It leaves you with an icy black void in the pit of your stomach, and you selfishly think only of having that loved one here on earth with you. But it was Maddy’s time to go to heaven. She feels no more pain now; her suffering has ended. And while it feels wrong without her on earth, I know that she is still with us. Still watching over us, guarding us, now as I’m writing this, and for every day for the rest of my life.