What would you do for someone you loved if you knew the exact moment when they were going to die? Would you take them to visit all of their favorite places? Would you make all of their favorite foods for them to eat? Would you arrange for family and friends to come and say their goodbye's? Would you spend every moment with them until that last one? Would you explain it to your children before or after that someone was gone?
Now what would you do if that someone you loved was your dog?
My husband and I were sitting on our porch a few nights ago enjoying the beautiful night sky. Not wanting us to become lonely, my daughter came out to join us. Soon after, my son came out to see what he was missing. "The whole family is here!" I said. "No, silly mommy," said Lindsey. "Abby isn't here."
Abby is our 14 1/2 year old black lab. She was our first baby. A "practice child" some people might say. We met Abby after returning from our honeymoon in Hawaii. She was a gift to Rob's mom from his brother. She was three years old at the time, and still very much a puppy. I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but honestly, I could not stand her! I think dogs know when someone is not too fond of them, and they do everything they can to turn you around to being their friend. Abby loved to jump on me, lick me, and eat my food. At 80 pounds, she also wanted to be my personal lap dog. She really had no sense of personal space and simply would not leave me alone. (You see why dogs are often called 'practice children?')
So when we had just moved into our brand new townhouse and Rob asked if we could bring Abby with us, I have to say I was less than thrilled. Unlike Rob, I had never had a dog growing up. My mom said feeding and cleaning up after five kids was quite enough for her! But Rob had fallen in love with Abby from their first meeting. His mom was now too sick and weak to care for Abby anymore, and if we didn't take her - well, I won't tell you all the horrible things that my husband told me might happen to her. He really can be persuasive when he wants to be! The deal was that we would give it three months. If I didn't want the dog to stay with us by the end of that time, we would find her a new home.
Well, of course after three months I was in love. Not only was Abby living in our house, but she was sleeping in our bed and had taken residence in my heart. I couldn't stand leaving her when we went away and would call daily to check on her. We went on long walks together and I took her swimming in the lake. She received her own Christmas stocking filled with wrapped gifts, and more hugs and kisses than a dog could ever desire.
When Brandon was born, I swore Abby would never be ignored just because there was a new baby in the house. Of course this became impossible, especially after Lindsey also blessed our lives, and Abby ended up taking a back seat especially in those early baby years. But she was OK with it and as long as she had her place at the foot of our bed and food in her bowl, she was very happy. The kids soon became old enough to play with her, pet her, and even take her for walks. They have never known life without her and to them she is not a pet, but a member of the family.
Abby no longer sleeps at the foot of our bed. She can't jump high enough anymore to get on the mattress. She can't go swimming or on long walks anymore, as the arthritis in her hips has made her weak. Over the past six months, we have seen her tail wag less and less and it is quite painful for her to lie down. She falls a lot and has frequent accidents in the house. The kids have noticed that Abby is getting worse and Brandon has started to say that it makes him sad to see Abby hurting. It is time.
Many people said we would "just know" when it was time to put our dog down. I remember people saying I would also "just know" when it was time to get married and when it was time to have a baby. But "just knowing" has never really worked for me. I've always just worried about things and thought about things until I had to make a decision. Now I am at the point in my life where I am trying not to worry so much anymore. So I couldn't use that old crutch to help make this very difficult decision. Instead, I had to look at the facts, sit with it, pray on it, and then make the best decision I could based on the information I have at this time. Does that mean I am not worried about it? Of course not. But I am doing what I can to be grateful for the great gift I have been given - the many wonderful years with a treasured friend.
How will my kids handle this? How will my husband? How will I? Yep, I must admit I worry about that. Do we tell the kids before or after? What do we tell them? I suppose I will take all I have learned and take it one moment at a time. Approach the subject with gratitude for having had Abby for so many years and to find joy and comfort in our memories. I don't "have to" put Abby down. I "get to" say goodbye to her, hold her, hug her, and guide her lovingly on to what comes next for her spirit, her energy. I will let myself be sad, let my husband be sad, let my kids be sad. Embrace those feelings and then let them go when it is time. I won't try to predict how we are all going to handle it or try to control it. I will just try and accept it and take it moment by moment, emotion by emotion. Let my children show me what they need before reacting to feelings they might not be having. Thoughts they may not be thinking. We will breathe.
It is very strange to know the exact moment that you will say goodbye to someone you love. But if we can accept it with grace and gratitude, it may be a moment of great love and peace.
May your heart be at ease,