It’s not easy to make the decision to say goodbye to your best friend. Even when you’re doing it for them. I remember the pain so acutely even though it has been years. The time passed barely dulls the ache. I remember the river of tears that flowed for the days, weeks, and months that followed. The guilt. Oh, the guilt. I kept teetering between that was the best thing for him, to put him out of his misery and what have I done?
To say my dog was my best friend is a disservice to him. He was, is, a piece of my heart. I got Coffee when I was young and he was a sprucy “little” puppy. I say “little” because although he was young, he was anything but small in stature. He was a beautiful golden orange like a sunrise and had white sock feet. He had a huge bearlike akita head and was the sweetest giant you’d ever meet. He taught me patience, unconditional love, and unwavering loyalty.
But just as you’d expect from all animal-human friendships, it often ends too soon as the disparity between our lifespan and theirs becomes a glaring neon light in their final years. They go from springy, hyper puppies to mischievous teens to laid back, wise adults in a decade. A fraction of our lives. Just a blip in the grand scheme of things. It happens so fast too. One second you’re trail running with them and the next, they’re content just to cozy up to you on the blankets in front of a movie.
If you know what I’m talking about, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry you had to be the one who decided when they would drift away forever out of your arm’s reach. Maybe it was old age or cancer, but whatever it was, it doesn’t make it easier. I know you probably asked a million questions before you decided, or maybe you knew because you could see the way they were peering at you through their aged eyes. That look of understanding and acceptance. That look that spoke volumes, that moment when you knew they forgave you and it was okay and they were ready, even though they were the one suffering and you didn’t forgive yourself.
You say to yourself, “They’re going to a better place.” But you can’t convince yourself to believe it. You look at their frail body struggling to breath or eat and the sadness settles because you know what you have to do. Keeping them at that point is selfishness. There’s no quality of life at that point. It’s the right thing to do, even if it’s hard and you don’t think you’ll ever recover from it.
So you sit and cradle their head in your lap as the doctor takes vitals and drones on about what to expect, but you can’t hear the words above the pounding of your heart in your ears. Tears start to fall and you nod because the doctor keeps asking if you understand, but you really don’t. You don’t want to say goodbye, and why do you have to? Why is life so unfair? In a few seconds, it’s over, and the sweet doe eyes staring into yours close forever. Your heart shatters into a million tiny pieces.
Years will pass. Some days will be easier than others. At first you might deny ever wanting another pet again in your life. But then you’ll begin to heal and you’ll remember all the fond memories of first baths, adventures, and cuddles. One day you will be able to look back and remember all the things you learned about yourself when you two were together. Maybe it was being brave enough to hike a challenging trail. Maybe it was learning responsibility. Maybe it was knowing that even if you were having a shit day, you’d get home and everything would be better as soon as they jumped on you like you were the only person they wanted to be with.
And you know what? You were. Know that you were their first and last thought every single day. They loved you even on your worst days. You were the center of their world, and you did everything you could, even if it meant breaking your heart so they wouldn’t suffer anymore. It’s such a difficult decision to make. But you made it with your heart in the right place. I hope you find some small comfort in that.