NOTE: If you choose not to read this series I understand. I will resume normal posts on December 8th.
This is part 1 of the toughest post I’ve ever put up on this blog. As you read it you will see why: it details the final week in the life of my beloved dog, Maisie. This is set to go up on the web during the week after we have her put down. I know I won’t be up to writing anything new for a few days.
I started writing this on Friday of the week before her death. When I woke up Saturday I knew there was much more to say and decided to make it a journal of my thoughts and feelings during that last week of our lives together. Her life is so intertwined with mine that where her gray butt begins and my gray beard ended was often indistinguishable. One big lump on the couch, one snoring mass on the bed, one contented ball of fur and drool on the carpet, and one love so deep that my head explodes when I think about it now.
Please hold us in your prayers. There are three grieving souls at this minute and one who’s gone on to wait ahead for us. Because if Jesus can count the feathers on a bird, I know He certainly has a fresh bowl of kibble and some water for a Sheltie. He’ll take good care of her until we can join her down the road.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23rd, 2012
On black Friday people across the nation headed out to spend lots of money on stuff they probably didn’t need all that much.
On black Friday I stood sobbing like a little girl at the cash register of Petco. Why the meltdown? I realized it would be the last time I ever bought a bag of dogfood for both dogs to share. And the overwhelming sadness of that realization nearly brought me to my knees. When the clerk offered me a choice of the large or the small antlers with my purchase I started crying and I couldn’t stop for about 10 minutes. I cried all the way out to the car and just sat there sobbing for a long time. I didn’t care who saw me at that moment, my heart was breaking.
The woman in the store was very kind. She let me choke out my story between the sobs and the sniffling. She said, “We’ve all been through it, and if you can’t tell that part of your heart here where can you do it?”
She was right. I was among people who’d understand my sadness and guilt. Guilt over outliving another of my dogs. Guilt over being healthier. Guilt over leaving her buddy Edzell alone in his canine world. And, probably most of all, guilt over having to be the one to decide her time of death.
I have prayed about and for Maisie since she was a little puppy with serious health problems. I should be glad to have had her for 10 years of my life. I remember the dark days when I spent every morning driving her out to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital to find out what was causing her fevers and extreme pain. I was overjoyed the day I finally had enough money to get her eyes fixed (she went blind at about 1 year of age.) I bought the sweater she never wore when much of her hair fell out. The surgery to repair her blown ACL and the various things that have come along during her time with us. She’s the most expensive dog I’ve ever met, but priceless to me.
She cemented her place in my heart during those trips to the University in her first months with us. One morning she was so sick and so weak that I was sure she wouldn’t last the week. All she wanted that morning was to be allowed up on my bed and to be comforted. I cried that day. I am crying now. I will cry again during the next week.
After I got the bag of food I went to my doctor appointment. It was a good appointment: the migraines are not so bad anymore. But it allowed me time to plan my next stop. Her doctor’s office.
Years ago, when our first dog got old and really sick, we waffled about when the time was to end his misery. We probably waited too long to do it and his last two weeks have haunted me ever since. I miss him still and only today, at the counsel of a very wise friend, did I forgive myself for not giving him that exit sooner. But a part of that long decision making process was that we arrived at a protocol for when to end our pet’s lives when the time came. It is as objective as you can be about such things. And today I went over that checklist after talking to my mom and realized that it was time.
The decision was hard. But when the tail quits wagging and the eyes are sad it is no longer fun for them. It’s a struggle to make it outside to even bark and take a poop when you hit that point. And to top it off, she no longer wants to play “the paw game.” Feisty since day one, she hates having her paws touched. This week she put up no struggle, no playful batting away of my hands or mock biting to back me off. She just laid there and looked at me with those big, sad eyes.
My wife is struggling with this as well. She feels guilty because she physically can’t carry the dog up and down the stairs to the yard. Now I have two females I love in pain over the same issue. It is time to decide.
I walked into the Doctor’s office and managed to speak English and keep my composure. I cannot say enough nice things about Stephanie and how supportive she was while I clenched my jaw and got the words out. I scheduled the apointment for next week. I was actually relieved that Dr. Mark will be gone that day. He’s a good man with a big heart. A few weeks ago we talked about the end drawing near. He confessed that the process is as hard on him as it is on the family sometimes. I think Maisie, with all of her repeated visits, might be one of the ones that would hurt more than others. He’ll be spared that pain. That makes me feel a bit better.
I need some time to say goodbye and love Maisie some more before she leaves our lives. That might be selfish, but I don’t think she’s going to mind. It will be a week of special treatment and love that every dog should have in their lives. Both of my dogs, Edzell & Maisie, have been cherished and honored members of our family.
And because of that love and honor I will have to do the tough thing next Thursday. I will have to say goodbye to my little friend while there’s still some spark in her eyes and a wag or two left in that bony old tail. And then I will cry and sit in my place on the couch knowing that she’ll never again fall asleep with her head in my lap. I might look tough, but that day I’ll be a humbled and sad man.
And to my friends – it’s going to be fine. But please don’t call yet – I’m not ready.