Yesterday I made the hardest decision, alongside my husband, that either of us have ever made. We cried, as a family, more than we’ve ever cried.
Anyone who’s never had a close companion pet & had it age, & inevitably had to make the decision to euthanize knows this is the price you pay for having a pet. It is an experience that was entirely new to both my husband & I & most certainly our kids. It was unarguably the most difficult decision I’ve ever made in my life. But the signs were clear. The dog we had for years known, was nearly unrecognizable in personality. She was still ever-patient & sweet, but for months her mobility had been declining & her overall disposition was depressed. Everyday one more thing seemed to be added to the list of signs that ‘it was time.’ We were hanging on, as people do, because that’s what we are hard wired to do. People hang on until their last breath, most, ever hopeful, ever looking to a better forward than the now. We were designed this way.
But last week, her eyes started looking at me in a way I’ve never seen before, as if requesting me to put her to death. She could only barely walk around the block, and then, we would feel bad we’d let her, because she needed help up the three steps to the main level of the house. Sunday a strange cough started & so, after all these agonizing weeks going back & forth wondering if it was too soon, we decided, it was not too soon. The next step would be she wouldn’t be able to get in & out to go relieve herself. In my mind, for a dog that had never disrespected our home like that that would be the ultimate dying without dignity.
So, I phoned around & it turned out, the vet just down the street was the most affordable, which was great because the trips to the groomer to clip her nails every three weeks for the last year since she couldn’t run them down anymore had become nearly impossible. The last time i nearly had to lift the whole of her 70lbs into the truck. So Tuesday, we told the kids Wednesday at 5pm we’d be walking her down to the vet & that was going to be it. We didn’t sugar coat it. We were honest. The girls had a couple guy friends over who shed some tears too, and when everyone had officially said their goodbyes, we walked her down the street.
We let her stop & sniff as long as she wanted. As it was, she barely could walk the normal paced four minute walk. She tripped up on her one leg a couple times at the snail pace we walked. Her legs had a palsy-like shudder every time she paused. It all confirmed what we were doing.
We were rather speechless with each other, my husband & I. There was nothing left to say.
The room felt too small & too big all at once & after bringing her back from being slightly sedated via intravenous, she was dazed already. We sat and held her to see a peace on her face, drug induced as it was, we hadn’t seen since her pre-pain days. The vet came back in and asked if we needed more time. We said it was fine, she could administer the overdose. She did.
Life is literally a spirit, a breath of God. The moment of death is palpable. It has a weight of ultimate disappearance. Her body was there, but her eyes were full of glass silence that spoke of that breath being completely returned to the Creator. Her soul disappeared. It didn’t hover. It didn’t linger. It simply was gone, as with all death. Only the husk of her lay there & my heart was both relieved & broken.
We left the room, paid the bill & walked home, empty leash & collar in hand. The decision had been the right one, but never had a good decision been so painful in all my life.
I can say, I’ve cried when humans have died. But that thing you must do, where you take life from a creature who has loved & trusted you unconditionally, no matter how ‘right’ it is, is so very different than time stealing your loved ones, despite your desire for them to say. The relationship is different & with humans, somehow, we feel, they choose when it is their time unless an accident befalls them. With animals, it seems, they ask us to choose for them. It is the last kindness that is asked of us toward them. It is the largest cost demanded of us for the years of loyalty & companionship, that we not let them suffer beyond reason.
Nysa was our first true family dog. She lived in my space with me everyday for nearly twelve years. She was there, 3am, in the crushing dark while I consoled crying babies & cried a little myself. She left her hair everywhere while I vacuumed to no end. She ran alongside my kids while we explored the river valley. She went on family road trips & camping trips & fiercely guarded us with all her heart. She snuggled Roxy & mothered abandoned kittens, seven of them & always wanted to simply, be with us. Who else in the world is always happy to just be with us & takes us despite our worst traits even on our worst days than these gifts of our pets.
So tho yesterday was one of the worst days, it was only one day in what was a beautiful journey I’m so thankful I was on.