My best friend is gone. At around 05:30 on 31 July (Thursday), Pasta passed away.
I got Pasta when she was about 3 months old. I wasn't planning on getting her. In fact, I didn't so much get her, as she "chose" me. When I saw her, she was just a tiny fluffball. When she saw me, she rolled over, stretched her legs, and smiled at me. Next thing I knew, I had a puppy.
She was with us until she was slightly more than 13 years old, which is a respectable age for a golden retriever. Until her sudden collapse a couple of weeks ago, Pasta was always healthy, energetic, and ready to chase cats (though she'd never hurt one). She lived a very good life.
At various times, she resided in three countries (Australia, Singapore, Japan) and travelled among them several times. Like me, she took to flying at an early age...always eager to get into her kennel cage for new adventures in new lands, ever keen to greet new friends. We've shared countless journeys and experiences together, and she was undoubtedly the best dog I could have ever hoped for.
When I first received news of Pasta's illness, I was at sea just above New Ireland in Papua New Guinea, with about a week and a half still to go. Her illness hit suddenly and hard, striking without obvious cause and giving neither her nor us any time to prepare. One minute, she was healthy and playful. The next, she was in the Intensive Care Unit.
The vet didn't think Pasta would last more than a few days. Judging by the blood test results, I understood why. There was no obvious single cause for the rapid deterioration in Pasta's health. Most probably, there were one or more indeterminate contributing factors...including her advanced age. It was clear, however, that Pasta wasn't going to recover, so what concerned me most was the painful possibility that I might never see Pasta again.
Thankfully, Pasta somehow defied the odds and held on until I got back late last Saturday night. She hadn't eaten in several days by that point. With a bit of coaxing, I managed to get her to start eating again, taking small mouthfuls of mashed-up concoctions of some of her favourite foods, fortified with vitamin supplements. This helped to build up her strength enough so that she was able to walk short distances (with help), and raise her head to look around.
The improvements were temporary however. By Monday, her condition had worsened. The vet (we were taking her for daily visits) advised us that there was virtually no chance of recovery, and suggested that it would be best to keep her at home, make her as comfortable as possible, and make her final hours as nice as we could. Though we didn't want to concede the inevitable, the vet was right.
So after getting back from PNG, I was at her side 24/7, feeding and cleaning her, talking with her and helping her with 10-metre walks when she could muster the strength.
Though her body had just about completely given out, Pasta was always alert and aware. She recognised everyone, raised her head to greet people, and looked into my eyes as if asking me why this was happening. I couldn't help but feel that she was perplexed by her inability to stand up, jump on my bed, walk around with me, poke her nose into my bags, use my leg for a headrest...all the things she normally does.
I'm an emotional wreck now, the loss of my best friend carving a deep, dark void in my gut. But at the same time, I'm happy. Happy that Pasta waited for me to get back from PNG. Happy that she was aware of the warmth, love and care we provided. Happy that we were able to share over 13 years together. And happy that I was able to be with Pasta when she died.
As I search for meaning in the midst of emotional turmoil, I realised something that perhaps should have been obvious before, but escaped my attention until now: The word "golden" in "golden retriever" refers not so much to the colour of Pasta's hair, but to the quality of her heart.