Back in August I wrote about a near-miss with my oldest dog. I had thought it might be time to put her to sleep, but fortunately I was wrong…. then.
She had been struggling with all sorts of weird health symptoms for months. Late last fall we discovered she had diabetes. After changing her diet, giving her insulin and getting her blood sugar regulated, Sass was a new dog. She became playful again; her coat took on a new gloss, her eyesight even improved. She made it to age 13 in January, a chipper, happy old lady. Sure, I was giving her insulin shots twice a day, and her arthritis still prevented her beloved long walks and lizard-chasing, but she was enjoying life again.
As I said last August, I had dodged a bullet then, but the gun was still loaded. Last week, I came home from work to find old Sass in bad shape. She wouldn’t eat (which is unheard of), and could hardly stand. I rushed her to the vet, who kindly stayed open after hours to see her. We couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, but it was obvious it was something serious and taking her down fast. We agreed she likely wouldn’t live through the hour-plus drive to the emergency veterinary hospital in Glendale. After much discussion, tears and worry, I made the decision to put her to sleep.
Sass died with her head in my lap, looking at me with her lovely dark eyes. I cried all the way home and most of the night. My best friend for 13 years was gone.
The next morning, still weepy with swollen eyes and aching head, I knew I had done the right thing.
I have watched death too closely and too often. I was at my mother’s side for the last year of her life. She died as peacefully as possible after losing an ugly battle with lung cancer. Her last days were spent in the loving care of hospice. I held her hand as she left this earth.
I was at my father’s side too, five years later. He lived with me for the last months of his life as he fought a rare and deadly cancer. I watched and wept as the hospital’s intensive care unit kept him alive for three weeks, promising me he’d recover. Finally, an honest doctor answered some of my hard questions, and I removed Dad to hospice. There, he have me a wonderful last hug, told me “thank you” in a hoarse whisper, shut his eyes and left this earth.
I was at my daughter’s bedside too, when the doctors said she’d never recover from her injuries. I held her hand as her brain activity declined and vanished. In agony, I kissed her and sent her spirit on its journey with my blessing and my tears.
I was there when my teenagers’ grandmother struggled with heart issues too massive to survive – and again the ICU unit kept her alive for months, when, in my opinion, she should have been allowed a dignified death. We were there moments after she passed.
As I sat on the floor with Sass’ head in my lap, petting and talking to her as she crossed that “rainbow bridge,” I knew I had done the right thing. I was heartbroken once again to lose a beloved family member, but it was her time to die.
I believe that to allow a loved one to suffer at the end of life, just because we can’t – or won’t – believe “it’s time,” is morally wrong. This planet we walk on is a temporary place where we are supposed to learn a few things, hopefully. Most of us believe our souls journey to a better place after this life. Why are we so reluctant to allow our loved ones to go there, when it is clearly their time? The answer is selfishness. We don’t want to lose them; we don’t want to miss them; and maybe we’re a little uncertain about that better place?
“There is a time unto all things, and unto all things there is a season.”