It was a mere two weeks ago that I shared that two of our three dogs were terminally ill and nearing the end of their days here on earth. I knew it was coming. I have for a long time. But in the 14 days between then and now, it has become abundantly clear that it’s time to help our boys cross over to what I believe is a heaven that includes the very gifts God gives us to love in this life.
After well over a year of knowing and caring for Sam’s heart condition, and after a summer of caring for Vito in the throes of cancer, their little bodies are saying “enough.” And though I’m an adult, I’m still the anxious little girl who is having a helluva hard time preparing to say goodbye.
In a way, we’ve been preparing for this for what feels like ages. When you care for a terminally ill being, there is always the gloom of knowing that what you are doing is temporary, and that one day your care will not be enough. You know you’re buying time, and that time has a limit to it.
But that kind of preparation doesn’t mean you’re ready. You may be intellectually “ready,” but emotionally? Never, really.
Sadly, we must face those emotions this week, as we know the time has come to put both of our ailing dogs down. And as we figured out the “when,” their little bodies have taken a turn for the worse, as if to reinforce our decision. But being “right” doesn’t stop the heartbreak.
Sam has always been a love muffin. Easygoing, accepting of everyone (except, for some strange reason, never a fan of the shoe covers that home repair people wear). I remember how sweet he was when we brought our newborn home. Though I was never worried that he might not like the new addition, seeing him give a gentle lick to our baby made me know that he knew what we brought home was yet another someone for him to love.
Seeing him now, though, I know it is his time. Still a sweet love muffin, his heart condition has made for labored breathing and fluid retention that’s needed draining multiple times. He has had episodes where his body—now so boney from muscle shrinkage—goes limp. He has difficulty walking. He’s wet himself and not even known it. He can hardly hear or see, and his appetite is only roused with chicken. He just seems so lost. Still, he melts into me when I rub his shrunken body…always eager to receive love. And as I give him that love, it tears me up. I can feel him responding to that love…and I know that because of that love, I must do the right thing. We must love him all the way.
Vito is my sweet pea. We rescued him from a rather eccentric shelter, and he’s been ours since moment one. He and Sam got along from the start, and they are our Salt and Pepper.
Vito has the softest ears…he lets me twirl them, and they are like a calming worry stone for me. If I stop giving him the pets he wants, his nose pushes my hand until I relent and pet him some more. He loves my lap—though lately, his emaciated body has a difficult time getting comfortable there, and he prefers to snuggle by my side. At night, his spot on the bed is in the crook of my knees, but lately he seems to need more space for his tender frame. And even though he is still beside me, I already miss the weight of his little body snugged up to mine. It’s like the Vito that we’ve known is already departing.
He made it through major surgery in the beginning of the summer only to learn he was far from being out of the woods. In fact—he’d never leave those woods. He’d just have a little more time to live there as his body was wracked with an unrelenting cancer. And now he is really only skin and bones because of that damn disease. But even with that major assault on his body, his tail kept wagging—until this past week. Now, along with the rest of his symptoms, he has trouble walking and even doing his “duty.” He is weaker and moves as though he is in growing pain. I swear he looks at me with eyes that plead, “Please Mom. Enough. I can’t fight anymore.”
And we will honor that plea.
Not exactly days to look forward to, but…days from which there are no escape.
My son, Tony, has experienced the loss of my sister’s dog, and while he handled it well, it still affected him greatly. Earlier this summer when we thought we were going to have to put Vito down then, it was the first time he had to face what it will be like when it is his own dog. We talked about the pain, and how much it will hurt. But we also talked about how much love there is for it to hurt so deeply. It was a bit of a “practice run” of the grief we will face. The grief we will face…this week. Even though I’ve been through the experience with other pets, it never gets easier. And to have to bear two within days? Excruciating.
Yesterday Tony asked me, “Why is God doing this to us?” It is a question that often arises when pain lashes out at us.
“Well,” I responded, “I don’t believe God is doing this to us. Free will exists, and that brings both good and bad. But I do believe that we are meant to learn something from the pain we go through.”
“So then what are we supposed to learn from this??”
“I don’t know, Honey. We have to go through it to know. If we knew ahead of time, we wouldn’t have to go through it. We just have to wait and see. But there will be something for us if we ask the question.”
The opportunity to ask that question and learn the answer is coming sooner than I’d hoped, but I know it is the right time for our beloved boys. The week ahead has the opportunity to teach us a lot through the pain—about ourselves, each other, love—and when we’re ready, I do believe we will be able to understand some (never all) of what the pain of life has to teach us.
These are hard, challenging lessons. Ones that we don’t get to choose…and though the circle of life doesn’t answer to our call…
…it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle…The Circle of Life