What I Learned About Making the Choice to Say the Forever Goodbye
Yesterday, we had to say goodbye to one of our closest family members. Our 13-year-old Akita, Kodi was in a lot of pain so my husband and I made the decision to let him go.
A constant stream of tears has run down my face since this time yesterday. I tried ignoring the ache that I feel but it's just there like a wrench pulling my heart tighter and tighter. And Kodi is our second dog in the span of four months to go through this. In November, my chihuahua mix of 16 years passed away unexpectedly. These two were companions - brothers. And since Chaz' passing, Kodi laid on the front porch waiting for his return night after night. His health deteriorated quickly. He'd cry more. And even after we adopted a new puppy, I could tell that life was leaving him little by little. The picture below shows just how close they were. And that's the trouble with soul mates - one's not much good without the other.
We had planned on yesterday being Kodi's last day. And it wasn't without careful consideration that we made this plan. Kodi had long suffered with hip dysplasia and the debilitating arthritis that came along with it. We had managed his pain with medication but when he started not being able to get up and would use the bathroom on himself, we knew it was time.
Confirming the day and time was the hardest part. What if the day after they come out with some miracle drug that will fix him? What if it's not the right time? What if, what if, what if... And I know my husband struggled with the same guilt.
But his condition would not change. And he wouldn't complain or tell us how bad he felt. But you could tell. So, on our last day together, I made a big batch of peanut butter banana dog cookies. He ate the whole batch with vanilla ice cream - something we've never let him do before. We went for a walk. He can't walk too far anymore so we went to the end of the driveway and let him sniff around as much as he wanted. Then we did a lap around the property for a final goodbye.
After he was gone and buried, I pulled up my own blog about grieving pets because though I just went through this, I felt it all over again. It is all fresh again. But this time, I have some new perspective if you have to make the plan to end your beloved pet's life out of love.
Remember that you did this out of love and you are allowed to grieve. My best friend once said, "When I die, I want to come back as your dog." I am one of those dog moms - they get a special fresh diet, regular walks by myself and our dog walker, and I've spent more money on my dogs than pretty much anything else in my life when you factor in surgeries, vet bills, special food, and everything else. They mean a lot to me and I take care of them the best way I know how. Making this decision was for him - not me. I would have kept him around forever - slobber and hair and all - if I could have. I have to remember that when the guilt monster creeps up.
Allow friends and family to be a part of the grieving process. I gave all my bosses and co-workers the heads up about what I had to do. They have all been gracious and kind with a lot of "I love yous." I couldn't make it through if there was a bunch of added stress. Most of them dog-people, they don't judge me for being sad today. There are moments when I feel kind of silly for grieving my dog's passing so hard. But according to The Washington Post a 1988 study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling found that dog owners placed their dog as close as their closest family member and the closest of all in 38 percent of cases. The article goes on to state that this notion that mourning a pet is silly can lead many to not grieve their loss properly. But research has shown that losing a pet can be as hard, if not harder, than losing a human loved one.
And my awesome co-workers have been pretty great bringing me treats to cheer me up. I'll 100% allow that today. <3
You don't have to wait until it's really bad. Kodi was in pain and had a lot of trouble getting around on his own - but he could. We could have kept him in the garage and fed him extra pain meds until he shut down completely but I didn't want that for him. I wanted his last days to be filled with happiness and love. I didn't want it to be overshadowed with gross amounts of pain and discomfort. I think it was the right time.
Take LOTS of photos - even at the end. I decided to take a lot of photos on our last day. I want to remember how happy he was and how much we love him. I will treasure them forever.
There's a new normal. Life is hard. Life without him is harder. But I can't just stop living. Big Bill Love wrote this note to me when my last dog passed and it resonated. "I don't know how he came too be in your life but unless he was born right in your home he most likely could have ended up with someone else or possibly no one. Your sadness right now is for yourself. The little one has gone on and is not unhappy but what you must remember is all those many years of happiness he gave you AND the years he got from you. I would bet that no dog ever placed on Earth had better treatment than he did. He didn't have much choice of 'owners' but he won the dog lottery when he got you. Our little friends don't require a lot. They need food and water and a good safe place to sleep and some attention. But some get lucky and get another feature--love. I know he got that in bunches from you. And you know he felt it. You will always miss him but it will get less with time. When you feel one of those episodes of missing him coming on, please remember what a great life he had. It was probably the best he could have possibly had. He thanked you for it every day."
It's okay to be happy again. I haven't reached this stage yet. But I will. It will be hard going home today and not having our daily "YOU'RE HOME" party. It will be hard not making up his dinner bowl. It will be hard not getting up three times tonight to let him go outside. (Yes, I did that last night.) But I will get through it and there will be lots of smiles and laughs and happy times ahead. And one day, when my special time comes, I know who will be there on the other side waiting for me. Because, all dogs go to heaven, right?!
If you are struggling with pet loss, there are resources to help.
Pet Loss Grief Hotlines:
ASPCA: (877) GRIEF-10. Available 24/7.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: (607) 253-3932, available Tuesdays & Thursdays 6:00- 9:00 pm Eastern Time.
Chicago Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) Pet Loss Helpline & Support Group: (630) 325-1600
The Rainbow Bridge:
"Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together."
- Author Unknown