A river as a metaphor for life is not new. It could be described as a cliché. So be it, because today I feel like a leaf drifting down a river.
We know there was a beginning and we know there is an end, but we only know about the section we have traveled. Other parts exist only theoretically.
Today I have to put my dog to sleep. That is a kind turn a phrase. It gives us a small comfort and gives us distance from the guilt. Those that have pets know this day will come even as we pick them out as puppies or kittens, but we don’t linger on it nor should we.
When should it be done? There is a fine balance between keeping them with us as long as possible and letting them go before their pain or complications become more than an animal should bear. Because they would bear it. They'd bear it for us, anything for us.
So despite the pain it causes you, the decision must be made and the act carried out. The act is kinder for animals than people. Until that last ride in the car, they are allowed to be home. Then they are put to sleep with the first injection and their hearts stopped with the second.
It's April 26th and I'm writing this in my man cave because I don’t want to cry in front of Ursa more than I have to. It causes her distress and she tries to comfort me. There are two hours before the drive and my daughters are spending time with her.
We will need to be careful in and out of the car. The bone cancer has made her left leg painful to the touch. Her decline has been rapid, yet she still is so full of love and kisses. Luckily she still has her appetite so we can spoil her with apples and watermelon, her favorite foods.
Ursa is Greek for bear and like the constellation that shows so bright in my northern sky, she is my Ursa Major. She's Labernese, black lab mixed with Bernese mountain dog. Her fur is glossy black with white spots on her nose, throat and chest. Her rear feet look as if someone ran a brush of white paint at an angle across her toes. Her chest is huge, required to hold a heart that is twice the size of most dogs. Her head is large and heavy and her tail is a solid and always thumping a greeting. There is a v shaped piece missing from her left ear tip, proof that she was a hellion as a puppy.
It occurred to me this morning that of our three dogs, Ursa is the last to have known my dad. He loved her as much as all of the dogs we’ve had, but didn't care for he constant need to kiss, especially our faces. Perhaps he loved her a little more since despite not liking it, he let her.
Six days from now is the sixth anniversary of his death. I put him down as well, though not as swiftly. For people it's called Hospice, an ever farther removed term that means letting someone die.
After eleven months of struggle and several complications that included strokes, double bypass surgery and the removal of his colon, he got an obstruction in his small intestine that refused to clear. After my last consultation, I agreed to move him to Hospice. The last thing he said to me was "quit crying, I'm not going anywhere".
What happened to him next was pamphlet. I've decided that if textbook can be a word then so can pamphlet, since in hospitals that's what they give you to explain complex or difficult issues. The pamphlet explained that when he was taken off all of his medications, he would have a day of euphoria. He would feel better than he had in months and be convinced that he could go home. The feeling would last a day, no longer, after which he would likely fall into a deep sleep, no injection needed.
I told him all of this before I left. I never saw him awake again. I was at work during his elated state, but all of his remaining friends chose that day to visit, most for the first time since he entered his first hospital. By the time I got there, he was sleeping. I'd seen him sleeping in a hospital bed dozens of times that year, but I'd never seen him so peaceful. On the day he died, I visited him, kissed his forehead and said goodbye. That night I got the call that his pamphlet predicted decline had started and that I should hurry. Before I finished dressing, the second call came.
His heart stopped, also without an injection. But instead of being at home, surrounded by his loved ones, with his boots on and eating his favorite foods, he spent eleven months being cold, poked, injected, cut on, reduced, humiliated and in a constant state of discomfort that ranged from moderate to agony. All the time we hoped. For hope I did that to and for my father only to end up in the same place as Ursa.
When my journey on the river stops, I pray that I will be at home. I pray that no one will love me the way I loved my father. Better to be loved as I love Ursa.