Sula died Friday, 15 June 2018. She was ten years old.
We had planned a family camping trip for the weekend, at a nice site at the headwaters of the Deschutes River, which was just a small creek running next to our campsite at that point. We’d spent some time getting everything set up, but decided to take a play break. The kids and the dogs were antsy, and eager to have some fun.
Sula was playing in the river, which was no more than a foot and a half deep all the way across at this point, and not too wide. It was a perfect spot for her. For years her greatest joy was to be in wading-depth water, and to have rocks thrown in it for her to chase after. She never brought them back, just looked for us to throw another, and another. For all the years we had her in our life, I’ve never seen Sula voluntarily stop this game.
It was a beautiful early summer day in the mountains, though evening was settling in with a slight chill. Wyatt and I had just returned from exploring the campground on our bikes, while Carina and Sadie played with Sula and Hurley down at our campsite’s little stretch of river. As we put bikes away and started to wonder about what to do next, a yell and a splash came from the river.
I ran to the river and found Carina had waded into the water and holding Sula up in sitting position. The water was a foot or so deep. At first we thought Sula’s back leg had gotten stuck somehow, in a pinch between rocks or some sort of trap or something. After a moment we realized she was free and clear, just not holding herself up.
Within a few minutes we had set her up a little bed and some towels in the back of the Pilot. We carried her over to this nice perch overlooking the campsite, and tried to dry her and comfort her. We thought she might be okay after a few quiet minutes to recover.
We pet her. We cuddled her. We talked to her. We told her she was beautiful and sweet. We told her stories about her life. We fretted about what to do. We packed the campsite. We comforted Wyatt, who was frightened and confused. We contained Sadie, who was concerned but not understanding. As a family, we embraced both these moments with Sula and distractions from being immersed in that fear and sorrow with equal energy.
Within an hour or so of falling, Sula passed away. She had not moved of her own volition since that moment she fell in the river.
We tried some lifesaving measures. We didn’t really know what we were doing, and it didn’t help. I’m sure it decreased the dignity of that moment, and increased the trauma of it for her survivors, but we couldn’t stop ourselves.
After a time, we left.
It was the worst thing that could happen, but it was the best way it could happen. She was at a beautiful camp, in the mountains, at the shallow creek headwaters of the river that ran through her life. When she fell she was free from leash and care and worry, doing the thing she loved best of all. She was loved and comforted and lent our strength every moment after.
Sula, go forth into whatever comes next with all of our love, our gratitude, our joy for the moments we had together. Forgive us our imperfections, our failings, our trespass. Our hearts reach for yours, always.
Author’s note: This was originally published on Facebook on 17 June 2018.