‘I’m so sorry. It’s bad.’ Woman’s heartbreak as she loses her beloved dog, brother within 10 days

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“Kingsley came into my life spring of 2008. I traveled to Sugar Creek, Ohio, to meet with a family who bred Bernese Mountain Dogs. I vividly remember driving up their long driveway and seeing a giant ball of fluff, which was Kingsley’s dad. When I was asked to come inside the family’s home, Kingsley immediately walked up to me and looked right into my eyes and told me I was going to be his momma. He was the largest of the group and had little pink spots on his nose. I fell in love instantly.

I held him in my arms the entire way home, like a mom with their newborn baby.

Bernese mountain dog puppy sitting on ground looking up
Ashley Searles

Kingsley grew quick, as most Bernese Mountain Dogs do. He was easy to train and was very loyal. Every one that met him, loved him. Kingsley wasn’t just your average dog. He was special.

Kingsley could sense your emotions, and knew when I was having a bad day. I had knee surgery in 2009 which left me in an immobilizer brace for quite some time. He was there, right next to me every minute of recovery. He would walk with me when I would get up to hobble to the bathroom, just to make sure I was ok.

Bernese mountain dog lying in car with tongue out
Ashley Searles

Kingsley moved with me several times to different apartments and eventually back to my parent’s home in Galena, Ohio.

He loved living with my parents as he had attention 24/7! He had the luxury of 5 acres, and my parents in exchange also had companionship with my boy. My mom and dad both grew a special bond with Kingsley as we lived there for around 3 years, while my boyfriend attended school in Florida.

Woman sits in grass beside her Bernese mountain dog smiling
Erika Brooke Photography

Through the years, I was faced with challenges with work, school, my family’s health, and a long-distance relationship, but Kingsley was always there for me. He had an internal time clock like no other pet I’ve ever known. He knew when it was time for me to leave for work and when it was time for me to drive down the hill in my white Jeep. As soon as he’d see me, his tail would wag with excitement and wait for me at the front door. There wasn’t a day he wasn’t at the front door waiting for me with a kiss.

Once Shane moved back home from Florida, we bought a home in Centerburg in December of 2015. Kingsley liked our new home, he broke in the couch and ottoman pretty quickly. He even gained a feline friend the following spring that we named Hank. Hank and Kingsley became close friends and would snuggle together each night.

Bernese mountain dog lying on couch beside cat
Ashley Searles

Kingsley was getting older, but each vet visit went pretty well. I even put him on a diet by feeding him green beans each day with his food. I was able to get his weight to around 114 from 138 pounds. Kingsley was never really active, and preferred couch snuggles over long walks. He truly was MY dog.

The following winter Shane and I planned a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, for New Year’s Eve. The week of, Kingsley had developed a cough. I thought he might have had a cold since it was winter after all. The cough was worse at nighttime so I kept a bowl of water for him in our room. The cough was consistent, so I called the Vet and they wanted me to bring him in.

Knowing Kingsley was 8, which is old for a large breed dog, I was always nervous about finding out something could be wrong. Kingsley had a couple fatty tumors checked on his elbows and arms that always came back benign. With that being said, I had the mindset that when I took Kingsley in, he’d be prescribed an antibiotic and we’d be on our way to recovery. This wasn’t the case unfortunately. My mom ended up taking Kingsley to the vet for me as we were leaving town that Friday, and I didn’t want to wait until we got back to take him. I was on pins and needles to hear a response from my mom about what our Vet had to say. She told me that he had a fever, and the Vet was concerned about that so he prescribed Kingsley some medicine. They did a couple tests on him and I was told I’d be receiving a phone call once they got the results.

Shaved Bernese mountain dog sitting in vets office after tumors were cut out
Ashley Searles

The following Monday, I got the dreaded phone call I had been waiting on. It was my Vet calling to let me know Kingsley’s blood results came back abnormal. I immediately started crying and I couldn’t contain myself. Trying to keep myself calm, I took a deep breath and asked Dr. Nowak what exactly that meant and what the next steps were. He instructed me that I needed to bring him back in for an X-Ray of his lungs as his concern was the cough was stemming from something more serious. I fell to the floor and did everything I could to pull myself together. I laid with Kingsley and just kept telling him how much I loved him. I told him that I would take care of him, no matter what.

I took Kingsley back into the vet for the X-Ray and just prayed. Praying was all I could do at this point. Shortly after the X-Rays were taken, Dr. Nowak came into the room and I could tell the second he walked into the door that it wasn’t good. I started sobbing. My mother was with me, as she knew I was struggling to keep it together.

He said, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s bad.’ He showed me the X-Ray image and one entire side of his lungs was covered in cancer. I literally felt like I was just told that I personally had cancer and I only had a short time to live. I managed to get a breath in and asked Dr. Nowak, ‘How much time does he have?’ He said, ‘Not very long. I’d guess a couple weeks.’

That’s all it took. My legs buckled. I literally couldn’t stand. Just a few days before, I was under the impression my dog had a slight cold and I’d take him in and get him taken care of, no problem. To then be told that I would only have a few short days/weeks left with my boy was heartbreaking. I asked Dr. Nowak if there was anything I could do? His response was, ‘Just keep him comfortable.’ He prescribed me with medicine for the fluid in his lungs and medicine to keep him pain free and comfortable. All I could say to Dr. Nowak was that I was going to do the right thing and I would protect him.

Woman laying on back of Bernese mountain dog in grass who is sick
Erika Brooke Photography

From that moment on, nothing else mattered in my life. All I could think about was giving him the best possible rest of his life. I couldn’t focus on anything else but making sure he was ok.

I started taking him to my parent’s house each morning so he would get constant attention and love. I picked him back up every day after work. What kept me going was him still, even battling this lung cancer, greeting me at the front door with a wagging tail and wet kiss. I took him on Jeep rides on the weekends and made sure he had extra treats.

Things started becoming difficult when he didn’t want to take his medicine any longer. I never imagined my boy wouldn’t want a spoonful of peanut butter. He was obsessed with peanut butter! If I opened up the pantry door, he’d immediately come running because he thought it was PB time. That was the hardest thing for me. I couldn’t force pills down his throat. I just couldn’t do it. I bawled my eyes out each time I tried. Some days we got them down, others I just said, ‘ok buddy, I understand.’

I remember chatting with Erika Franta, my friend and a photographer, and telling her how sad I was that I never got to have family pictures taken with Kingsley. I told her that I always envisioned him being in my future (one day) engagement pictures. She immediately said, ‘We are taking family pictures.’ Words can’t explain what these pictures that Erika took mean to me. She caught images of Kingsley where he still looks like himself and he still had his twinkle in his eye. I fought tears the entire time she was shooting, but Kingsley made it easy for us. He was always one for the camera. I now have these pictures posted in a gallery in my home and in a scrapbook.

Sick Bernese mountain dog lying on couch
Erika Brooke Photography
Woman and her boyfriend sit on ottoman beside sick Bernese mountain dog
Erika Brooke Photography
Woman sits beside sick mountain dog who is face to face with her
Erika Brooke Photography

The night I decided to make the hardest decision of my life, I received a text message from my dad. My dad isn’t a texter. He sent me a very long message that explained it was time for me to say my final goodbyes to my baby. He said that Kingsley had told us in his eyes he is tired. He said he was ready to be at peace.

When I read that message, it felt like someone stabbed me in my chest. My stomach completely turned and all I could do was cry. I told Shane what dad had said and he agreed. I knew deep down it was time. The twinkle in Kingsley’s eyes was gone. He didn’t want his peanut butter any more. He was telling me he was tired, and it was ok to say goodbye.

Sick Bernese mountain dog lying outside on porch
Erika Brooke Photography

I texted my closest friends, the ones who loved Kingsley just as much as I did. Erika and Misa came over immediately to console me and to spend some time with Kingsley.

We all laid on the floor and just cried and laughed about all the silly things my boy would do to make us smile. We all discussed how there was really no other dog like Kingsley. It meant everything to me to have my friends there. They knew I felt like I was dying myself. They brought frozen pup cups and cookies for Kingsley. He actually ate a little of each which made me so happy.

Sick Bernese mountain dog lying on floor eating out of a little cup
Erika Brooke Photography

The next day I felt like a giant bowling ball was sitting in my stomach. Every inch of my body ached from the sadness. Shane took off work and drove me and Kingsley to the vet. My parents met me there. All 4 of us were in the room with Kingsley to make sure he was comfortable and knew we all loved him. When Dr. Nowak came in the room, I practically stopped breathing myself. He said some kind words about my boy and asked me if I was ready. I told him no. I told him I would never be ready for this, however I know Kingsley was.

I just held Kingsley in my arms. I whispered in his ears that I loved him so much and he’d always be with me in my heart. He looked up at me for the final time and he told me he loved me with his eyes.

That was the hardest thing I ever had dealt with in my entire life. At least I thought, until I lost my brother who was only 35 years old 10 days later.

Woman crouching beside sick Bernese mountain dog who has since passed away
Erika Brooke Photography

I was grieving days after losing my boy when I found out my brother, who had battled health issues his entire life, had been transported from his local hospital to Riverside Hospital. I was in a hospital room with my parents and siblings this time, preparing to say my final goodbye to my 35-year-old brother. My brother was diagnosed with a severe blood infection called Histoplasmosis. The doctors and nurses at Riverside did everything they could do to save him. Unfortunately, the infection had taken over his entire system and my brother was surviving off a machine. He never wanted that, and he made sure we knew that too. My brother was the kindest, toughest person I ever knew. He truly had a heart of gold. When he found out my boy was sick and that I had to say goodbye forever to him, he called me that evening and spoke to me on the phone. He told me, ‘Hey sis, I’m so sorry to hear about Kingsley. Just know he’s in a better place now.’ I kept telling Brian, ‘I know, Bub. I know. It’s just really hard.’ He said, ‘It’ll be ok, sis. stay strong.’

The entire time I was in the hospital room, the night I had to tell Brian goodbye, I just kept replaying that conversation in my head. His voice was in my mind telling me those exact words.

Woman who lost her dog and brother within 10 days smile next to brother in sunglasses when they were little
Ashley Searles

Words can’t explain the roller coaster of emotions I was going through from the time I learned my Kingsley boy had lung cancer to learning my brother was fighting for his life. I felt robbed. I felt like life was working against me in every angle possible. I remember asking myself — why me? Why am I being challenged in this way? I just didn’t understand what I had done to deserve all of this.

The emotion I felt the most was guilt, ironically. Every single time my brother was hospitalized, I felt guilty that he had to go through these challenges and I didn’t. Time and time again I kept saying out loud what I would do to trade spots with him. My brother was faced with too much for a child. He spent every two weeks at the children’s hospital getting IVs to boost his immune system. I remember going with him and my mom to keep him company while he was hooked up to IVs.

I don’t recall a single time where my brother blamed anyone. He never showed weakness and never let anything stop him. He grew to be a self employed landscaper and assisted our father who is a self employed contractor any chance he could. He was talented and you’d never know he was constantly fighting health issues.

Little girl standing beside her now late brother holding up a fish when they were younger
Ashley Searles

I kept telling myself when I was experiencing thoughts of guilt that Brian knew any one of us would have traded spots with him. He knew we all would have given our right arm to him if it meant keeping him healthy. I found peace in knowing he knew we loved him unconditionally and that he was heaven-bound. I came across a quote that mentioned something like, ‘God only faces the strongest with the hardest challenges,’ and my mom had actually been telling me the same thing in those 10 days I lost both my boy, Kingsley, and my brother, Brian.

However, I know that anybody who is dealing with grief and these extremely challenging emotions can overcome them. Without my family and friends I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I was fortunate enough to have people remind me every day that I was strong and can get through it. My best advice for those who are dealing with difficult situations is to talk it out. Don’t hold in your emotions. Let people know you aren’t ok. Make sure you cry. If you don’t, that’s when it hurts more.

Sister smiling beside brother who past away 10 days after her Bernese mountain dog
Ashley Searles

To this day, I think of Kingsley and my brother every single day. They were both such important parts of my life. My brother taught me to be strong, kind and to always work hard.

I truly think that Kingsley was meant to be in my life. He taught me some important lessons and reminded me what truly matters.”

Woman smiles next to Bernese mountain dog who died 10 days before her brother
Erika Brooke Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley Searles of Centerburg, Ohio. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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