November 3, 2013

How Can I Possibly Deal With My Best Friend Dying?

Dog selfies are the best selfies.
Dog selfies are the best selfies.

Like every dog owner, I think I have the best dog in the world. My brother breeds labs and brought him over when he was small enough to curl up and fall asleep in my palm. I locked myself in a closet with him until everyone gave up and my parents paid my brother and said I could keep it.

He was so immensely helpful to me in those formative years when I was in my very early 20s and had graduated college and didn’t understand a single thing about where I was or what I was doing with my life. We would curl up in bed and go over my anxieties or walk down to the river and swim, which is a favorite activity for both of us.

I’ve known he was going to die sooner rather than later for a long time. He’s only 11 but he started having seizures about four years ago and even with a $3 per day pill cocktail it’s only getting progressively worse. I’ve never seen a human have a seizure, but it’s one of the worst things I can imagine– having to watch helplessly as someone’s body contorts, and then as they come to their senses slowly having drooled and peed everywhere, so there’s the added sympathy of knowing they are also embarrassed.

I’d try to get him up as soon as possible so he could go outside and go to the bathroom before he did it in the house, and often times this meant when he started walking he’d fall over to one side again, because his brain wasn’t functioning correctly yet.

Last year he started falling down the stairs occasionally, because his legs were getting arthritis. He still went up and down the stairs with me each time I left the room, but you could tell he was pushing his body past what it was able to do. The vet said he has dog cancer now too, but given his seizures and arthritis and diminishing hearing and eyesight, it wouldn’t progress fast enough to kill him before the other stuff did. So, he’s got a date with death, it’s this Thursday.

My brother will take him to the vet, I can’t imagine being there.

Because he’s been sick for so long, I’ve had the luxury of ensuring a lengthy and complete goodbye. But I haven’t felt satiated by any of them. I keep waiting… waiting to feel like I have done “enough,” that I’ve been able to fully communicate to this animal how much love and happiness he has brought into my life. How helpful he’s been whenever I’ve gone through difficult times, how important it’s been to have someone to say all the things to that are too embarrassing or complicated to a person who may or may not understand, or continue to love and respect me after I say them.

My problem is that as many times as I try, I don’t think “enough” is coming. He’s a dog, he can’t understand, he just likes hearing me say his name. Maybe if he could comprehend my goodbyes I could get to a point where I could stop saying them.

I’ve never had anyone I was very close with die, maybe it’s like this all the time. It’s like this when I imagine a parent dying (a frequent whatever-the-opposite-of-fantasies-are in my life). Like, I understand that the hardest part of death, being afraid to die, is absent entirely from a dog’s experience, so there’s really nothing sad about it. He’s just going to get a lot of treats and attention one day, and then go to sleep. Rationally, it’s a very easy thing to accept.

I’m not worried about missing him. I will, but that’s the kind of thing you get over. I’m just stuck on this “enough” thing. It’s normal grieving, I’m sure. It just blows. TC mark

A drawing Becky Lang made of my dog and I.
A drawing Becky Lang made of my dog and I.