I feel like I am torturing you guys with my tear-jerker dog stories. But, every story has an ending. I feel I owe it to you – and Ellie – to share the end of her story.
After a few days of watching Ellie decline, Phil and I decided it was time to end our dog’s life. We called the vet and made “the appointment” for the Friday after Christmas. Phil and I took turns being the one that freaks out and the one who says, “We just need to have faith that we are doing the right thing.”
But what does even mean?
Anne Lamott says that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. I find this comforting, because the older I get, the less certain I am about anything.
On that Friday morning, I stood in the shower until the water ran cold. I prayed, Please tell me this is the right thing. Please tell me this is the right thing. This is the right thing….right? Can you send me a sign?
I have a deep but amnestic faith in God. My signature prayer, the one I say every morning, is one of the ADD variety: Good morning G-Money. Please help me find you today, and then please remind me to look, or that I even asked you in the first place. Amen.
We declared Friday a “lump day,” a day spent lying on the couch like a lump. Ellie, who in 9 years was never allowed on the furniture, got the best spot.
Phil and I picked Ellie out together, and we needed to say goodbye to her together. Me, Phil, and our friend Jameson.
The walk into the animal hospital was surreal, Ellie still half-heartedly sniffing the grass as she stopped for a final pit stop. Despite the vet’s reassurances, my silent prayer for help played on a continuous loop in my mind: Please tell me this is the right thing. Give me a sign that we are doing the right thing.
And then something weird happened.
Ellie was really Phil’s dog. He is the master, the alpha-male. As females, there was always a low level of competition between Ellie and I….a desire for Phil’s attention, I guess. When Phil would travel for work, Ellie would get pissed, and let me know by eating garbage, specifically tampons. There has to be some symbolism to the tampons, right?
But as we sat down next to her on the floor of the vet’s office, she rested her head in my lap. Not Phil’s, mine. She looked up at me with those big, pooly brown eyes and with them said to me, “I need you right now. Not as a substitute for Phil; you. I need you here right now, holding my face. And please don’t look away. I need you to not look away.”
Maybe it was the whiskey talking, but I was pretty certain that was my sign.
The doctor talked us through the process as she injected the medication. I held Ellie’s face and she stared into my eyes with a look of pure trust – so intimate that it almost became too much for me, and I was tempted to look away. But I willed myself to hang in there. Within what was probably a split-second – but seemed so much longer, as if in slow motion – I went from looking deep into her brown eyes to suddenly seeing my own face reflected in them. And I knew that was it. She wasn’t seeing me anymore. She wasn’t there. As the deluge of tears ran down my face, I tried to picture her soul rising up and running….running like she used to, chasing a skunk like a bat out of hell.
Why did she come to me? In The Art of Racing in the Rain, the protagonist -a dog named Enzo – says: “There are things that only dogs and women understand because we tap into pain directly from its source.” Maybe that was why.
Or maybe she chose me because she knew I needed it. I needed her to forgive me for flipping out about the tampons. I needed her to know that I loved her. I needed her to tell me that she was going to be ok. And she did.
The next morning, after reading the book Dog Heaven with the girls for the 58th time, we decided to draw our own versions of Dog Heaven.
When we asked Phoebe to describe her picture, she explained: “Well, that’s me and Ellie surfing, and over there is Nannie and Aunt Terry having cocktails.” Of course.
Emma’s spoke for itself:
Much of the research I found says you should be 100% honest with your kids about death; that any watered down version is to rob them of the death experience. Maybe. But my gut feeling was that to describe euthanasia and cremation to my young children would be to rob them of something…of their sense of wonder, of their version of faith and God. Maybe I will regret that decision one day, but right now I have to have faith that it was the right one for us.
John Lennon said: “I believe in everything until it is disproved. So I believe in fairies, myths, and dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind.”
So if my kids want to put their faith in a dog heaven where cocktails are served and doggie treats fall from the sky into the peanut butter river, who am I to say that it doesn’t exist?
Five days later, I am still seeing Ellie out of the corner of my eye. When I walk on the beach, I think every dog is her. When I slice an apple, I wait for her to come running for her share. Then I remember. And the sadness is crushing.
But then I think about her running through grassy fields to the peanut butter river, and I smile.