It doesn't get any easier...

to lose a beloved pet.

This Friday I took my mother to the vet to have their dog, Max, put to sleep. He was the sweetest dog. He never complained, he never argued, and best of all his temperament was amazing. Kids could crawl all over him and he would never make a sound. He loved babies and kittens, and licked both with equal zest.

But as much as you think your animals will be with you forever...they just can't be.

There comes a time when they get sick. Really sick. Max had a very strange cancer. One of the cells from his salivary glands traveled up into his forehead and became cancerous. By the time we noticed anything, it was too late.

The lump above his left eye just appeared one day. And then his eyes started bulging out. The doctor said he had glaucoma, so we started giving him glaucoma medicine. The doctor said he had Horn's disease, and the lump should go away on its own. Then the doctor said, "Let's do a biopsy."

It turned out to be cancer, and the doctor said he only had a couple of months to live.

And Max never complained. Not once.

Until Friday. He bumped into Mother's leg and cried. He was in serious pain. And his right eye was bulging and looked rotten. Obviously the tumor behind the eye had cut off the blood flow to the eye itself. It was time for him to go.

We took him to the vet that afternoon. Mother was crying and saying that Max was acting like a puppy, running around and eating like normal. But I knew, just like I knew the lump wasn't good.

It only took a few seconds. Max slowly relaxed and went to sleep. And he didn't make a sound. Mother was holding his chin in her hand because she couldn't hold his head. It was too painful for him. The doctor placed his head on his paws, and he looked just like he did when he slept at home. I don't know if that was comforting or not.

I feel a lot of guilt about Max. He wasn't really my dog, since my parents got him when I was 20. He turned 15 this month. But I feel like I maybe talked Mother into doing it, if only for *Max's sake*. I couldn't stand the thought of that sweet dog turning mean because of the tumors pushing on his brain. I couldn't stand the thought of him going through seizures, or dying in more pain than he was already in. And I really couldn't stand the thought of coming over during the day while Mother is at work and finding him dead.

Mother had hoped he would die in his sleep, so that she wouldn't be forced to make one of the hardest decisions of her life, but he was tough.

My daughter, Alyssa, has been hit the hardest. Max was around for 4 years before she was born. He was her best friend. We lived with my parents for several years and Max slept in her room. She took him for walks, and in every family picture we have, Max is in her lap. Alyssa can't stop crying, and I don't really know how to comfort her except to say that I know how she feels. I have been through the same thing and, although the hurt never fully goes away, it does get easier. That deep, rotting sorrow eventually fades into something more managable.

One thing I didn't tell Alyssa was that Max went to Heaven, or *Crossed the Rainbow Bridge*. I did tell her that Max is wherever makes him happy, doing the things that made him happiest when he was alive, and he is in no pain. Someone suggested giving her a copy of the Rainbow Bridge poem, but I just can't do it. I realize that it makes it easier for many people to deal with a beloved pet's death, but to me *Crossing the Rainbow Bridge* sounds like the animal is on the path to Big Gay Al's house. Too much South Park I guess.

I just can't stomach anymore euphemisms. Phrases such as "passed away" or "crossed the rainbow bridge" or "euthanasia" or "put to sleep" just covers up what really happens. We can tell ourselves and our kids all we want that someone "passed away," but in the end we still have to realize that they're dead. There is no other way around it. And it's easier to explain death to kids the first time than when they come to you later and say, "You said he was sleeping!"

I realize how harsh that sounds, but everyone deals with death in their own way. When Misty died 15 years ago, I spent 3 days in bed sobbing. I thought I would die from grief over that dog. And then there's Shadow, who's now 14. My cat has been with me through 3 husbands, 2 kids, many moves, 2 college degrees, 2 hospital stays, and 1 nervous breakdown. 14 is pretty old for a cat. I don't want to think about taking naps and not having her snuggled under the covers with me. Because one day she'll be dead.

And it doesn't matter what *nice* label you put on it.

1 comment:

Erin said...

I'm sorry to hear about Max. My 6 year old kitty, Staccato, died in February, from a whole host of complications that *could* have been diabetes....or liver failure....a case of one thing masking another until her little body just couldn't take it anymore. She died at the vet's office, after I left her there for some bloodwork and tests. I unashamedly sobbed for hours after the vet called to tell me this. Little "Sticky" had been with me through grad school, my first job, my first single apartment, marriage....I sometimes think it was her job to look out for me until I found my husband. :sniffle:

Anyway. Sorry to babble. And I'm so glad that you are being honest with your daughter, too - it is so much easier that way, I think.