The Long Road Home


The grief comes in waves. Reminders of Max come from unexpected places:

  • dog hair in the dryer lint
  • what seems like every other commercial on tv
  •  I was looking up the address to a place we were going to stay–“walk Max” popped up in my calendar. I pressed “delete” and then “delete all future events” as tears formed behind my sunglasses.

Our beloved Max didn’t make it.

Last Saturday Darrin and I drove the back roads into Boulder to pick up Julia from my sister’s house. We wanted her to hear about the accident Max was in from us in person. We told her in the airport while waiting for the boys to arrive. She cried. I cried as I held her. The boys walked toward us towering in the terminal. Only apart from them four days, but they looked older. What they walked through matured them somehow. More hugs and misty eyes. In the car we swapped stories. They shared what happened and what they knew and I filled them in on the most recent updates from the vet. Hope filled out hearts as I shared the latest updates about Max. He was still on oxygen but he was stabilizing. He made it through the night. Everyone we knew was praying for Max and for our family.

We drove into Fort Collins and went to grab a bite to eat. The phone rang so I took the call outside. It was another update from the animal urgent care office about needing to extract more air out of the chest cavity again. The hole in his lung had caused air to form outside in his chest which made it difficult to breathe. The hope was that by relieving the pressure it could help him stabilize again.

Then as the conversation was nearing the end, the vet tending Max came on the phone. While attempting to extract the air, they found a huge pool of blood. Max had bled internally. The bruises on his heart were much worse than previously thought. His heart gave out.

And just like that, he was gone.

Time stood still as I hung up the phone. I was in the parking lot and inside sitting around the booth was the family finally together– sober but still hope-filled. At that moment, I alone knew the truth. Death feels so final. I wanted to keep them from knowing. My legs operated separate from my heart as I walked back into the restaurant. The words came  out. Shocked and stunned we just sat around the booth and wept.

When we left the restaurant, a light rain began to fall. It was as if heaven joined us in our grief.

We spent the rest of the night getting the boys settled into the hotel room. We had cried until our tears emptied out and the kids played games and there was even some laughter here and there. But when the lights finally turned off for the night, I heard crying come from every corner of the room.

Max came to us at a very tender time in our healing journey. We had come out of the battle with cancer so emotionally weary. Darrin noticed that we were all drifting off doing our own thing, trying to cope. God brought Max into our family and he was an agent of healing. A reason for us to reconnect and bond. He was a gift from the Lord and not a day didn’t go by where I didn’t tell him, “Max, I am so thankful for you everyday.” We lavished love and attention on him and in return he brought healing and reminders of God’s perfect provision just by his presence.

When news got out about Max via twitter and Facebook, hundreds of others joined us with tears and different prayers.

My birthday, our 20th wedding anniversary came and went. Life felt grey and less colorful without Max. We drove the long road home with a stop in Grand Junction and a stop at my parents house. We dreaded going home.

As I reflect back, there are signs of God’s grace:

  • Simone gave me the book, “Heaven is For Real” as an early birthday gift and both Michael and I read it. The book helped to prepare my heart for thinking about life after death. Hope that we may see Max one day in heaven
  • The boys had just returned from their friend’s house and returned home right when the neighbor rang the doorbell. Max would’ve died on our front porch waiting if they missed him. They were able to help Max and get him care.
  • we were able to give him every chance possible to live. No regrets with the medical care.
  • our friend and supporter texted me in a meeting wanting to help with the vet bills. We are tapping into our retirement funds to cover the costs. This gesture of  love brought about tears of gratitude, violent shaking shoulders with silent tears streaming down my face during the meeting
  • our family was together in the same place when we got the news.
  • Brent and Leila were in town. Leila’s back had caused a lot of pain earlier in the year and started acting up again right before staff training. They came home from project and missed staff training. They were available to be with the boys, check on Max, pick up his collar after he died, help with decisions on this end. I asked Leila over the phone how her back was doing, she said it was fine now and that she realized that God knew we would need them here at home
  • we heard from so many of you, near and far, and know that you love us and loved Max

So we returned home yesterday. Mostly unpacked now. Darrin washed the blood stains away off the fence where Max tried to get in the backyard. Today will be filled with phone calls, trying to settle accounts, thanking the vets, picking up his stuff from our friends, and coming and going with a house muted by the absence of Max.

Vivian Mabuni