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Yes, my incredible, ever true, best friend has met his end. Max has died of cancer at nine years old.
This photo of him was snapped on Friday, tumor obvious, at a favorite spot of his – the creek behind my dear friends Brent and Teri’s ranch. I am also including links to blog entries I’ve written here at StartupNation about Max (with some reluctance, I might add, given this is a business website and is typically inspirational in spirit, but I ultimately concluded that the human side of all of our business endeavors is worthy).
In reverse chronological order:
Max’s 18-month run from the time the tumor first appeared (and surgery was performed) was nothing short of miraculous. Even after hemorrhaging externally twice over the ensuing months, Max astonishingly healed his wounds contrary to the predictions of the three sophisticated vets I utilized. This required intense stewardship on my part – an entire lifestyle focused on him, I’d say – but the big perk of this heavy effort was an even tighter synchronicity between him and me. I’m sure most people would call it, unusual.
Even in spite of these best efforts, the cancer ultimately won. The blood-vessel-based cancer overworked his bone marrow, and he simply could not win the battle against the extreme anemia and other out-of-whack blood levels that were caused by the massive and hungry tumor stripping his blood of key ingredients.
Maximus Sloan went on the ultimate adventure on a beautiful Friday evening, June 26, 2009 at 6:10pm here in Sonoma, CA.
Just that morning, as the photo shows, he had a relaxed romp with Louie and Lola (Black Lab best friends) in the creek out behind the ranch where he found so much joy these past months – undoubtedly the best days of his life. I’m sure that he exhausted whatever energy that remained in his too-thin body to experience those last happy moments, buoyed in the cool water.
After the creek, though, he made it crystal clear. Time to go. It was just like my friends had told me, “He will let you know.” And he did.
He left this life from my backyard later in the day, laying in my lap, gazing out at the cow pasture behind the house and what we had jointly named “Coyote Hill” where the pack ignited in yaps every time a siren was heard in town. Max met those yaps with howls.
My amazing vet performed her work to set him free ever so carefully and lovingly, crying and whispering at one point into Max’s ear that she loved him. Like so many people, she had fallen in love with him, too.
Max was breathing those blissful, audible exhales – his trademark version of purring – as I buried my hands into his still-wet-from-the-creek coat and muscles, massaging him. At the end of one complete exhale, he just stopped. No inhale, no inhale, no inhale and he slipped away.
I talked to him the whole time, ensuring him that he would never be left alone and that the many friends he made would always accompany him. I wish that you could have spent time with Max. It would have brought you joy.
I had dug a grave for him under the noontime sun that day while he watched. The spot was a favorite of his, Michelle’s place. Where along with his dog buddies, River, Cody and Cedar, he played chuck-it, sometimes hoarding 3 balls at a time in his mouth, and was always at his tail-wagging happiest.
It was hard doing the digging, but having done it now, can’t imagine any other way to begin the process of letting go. Friends said, you’ll have to have a back-ho dig that for you. They thought the clay and rock soil, baked by summer sun, would not let me in. I guess they didn’t know how much I loved Max and how much I would bleed for him to ensure he had a perfect resting place.
After putting him to sleep that evening and sitting with him alone for a while, I carried him—limp, but still so beautiful—to my car where I enshrouded him in my bed sheets, as if in a Roman toga.
I drove to the grave location with my rear view mirror cocked down, glancing at him there in the back, still so beautiful.
It was a perfect burial and perfect ceremony with many of his closest friends, dog and human attending. Tears streamed from under our sunglasses, dripping off of our jaw bones. Poems were read. Photos of his friends and of “Max moments” were passed around for all to see and laid in with him until his entire body was covered in a pictorial of memories and special people, each photo with a story shared. Rose petals and sprigs of lavender (where he used to stuff his tennis balls and get high) were sprinkled. A lottery ticket was included for fun. A warm piece of chicken from Broadway Market in one bowl. Water in another. Tennis balls in twos, just like Max used to leave them on the lawn. At the very last, wishing I could still be with him, I took off my shirt, scented from the grave digging in 95 degree heat, and tucked it under his chin.
It was a beautiful ceremony, befitting that magnificent, magical, one-of-a-kind Max.
Over the weekend, I decorated his grave site, built a fence around it to keep my dear friend Michelle’s mischievous chickens out, planted flowers and lavender, laid some cedar mulch around the perimeter, set up a folding chair and a half-barrel table and just sat there, crying, paying homage to the relationship and so many moments good and difficult – a very full life and a larger-than-life friend – and said my final goodbyes. I let him go.
There were so many moments. Swimming in Lake Michigan with his parents, Romeo and Juliet. Swimming in the Red River, the Platt River, Lake Huron, the fountain at the ranch where I keep my horse, the kiddie pool at Michelle’s, the Pacific beaches around San Francisco where he learned to body surf, the fountain at Jeff’s house in Scottsdale (against the sternest “No, Max! No, Max!” commands). The hikes through the woods of Northern Michigan, Metamora, Michigan, Mt. Tam, the Wyoming Rockies and Mt. Rushmore (shhh, illegal). Chasing squirrels, digging for gophers, keeping the coyotes at bay. And his personal breakthrough of making friends with so many dogs and horses with Michelle’s, Brent’s and Teri’s assistance.
And one last memory to share that just keeps coming to mind:
Max loved to “lead” on walks. There was never slack in that leash. He had such an incredible urge to move forward, to see what’s next, to adventure. On certain occasions, he was allowed to run off leash, way out ahead. Just fine out in the country.
The enduring image seared into me from one of those sun-dappled walks (off leash) is of a curving trail alongside the vineyards. Max was 70 yards up the trail, vibrating, excited. I remember him stopping, squaring off, tail up, snapping his head back toward me and giving me the look, “Are you coming? Are you with me? Are we cool? Can I go? COME ON!”
I have no idea how this world works nor where Max’s spirit is at this point, but as these past few days’ events and unwindings give way to a new week and a new world, I can feel the tug of Max looking back at me, asking, “Are you coming? Are you with me? Are we cool? Can I go?”
Yes you can, Max. Go on! Run like hell! The tumor’s gone. The blood is strong. The eyes, the nose, the ears are alive. The heart is full. The spirit fills you!
This is going to be your best adventure yet.