Standing in the emergency vet lobby, nearly blinded by tears, I again dialed my husband’s cell phone and once more heard his voice mail. In my mind, I envisioned him sitting next to our middle son at the Red’s baseball game, his cell phone turned off in the pocket of his cargo shorts. For a moment, anger welled up within me. I felt alone, having left our teenager in charge of our 3rd grade daughter while I drove our dying 14 year old golden retriever to the night time veterinary ER. She’d had several seizures over the course of about 15 minutes, couldn’t stand and was having trouble breathing. I hated being the only one making the decisions about our beloved family pet, Daisy, with whom we all enjoyed so much.
I realized, however, that my anger was a childish and selfish response, probably based in fear and my own sadness at the situation. Honestly, sometimes I just hate being a grown up. Especially by myself. In the words of Winnie the Pooh, sometimes it’s just “better with two.” My husband carried no ill-will and unintentionally left his phone off. Given the global nature of his job, people called him from all over the world at all hours of the day and night. Weekends usually silenced his phone, but only because he set it that way. He had taken our son to the game and simply forgotten. And his heart would break as mine was when they returned home and discovered I put Daisy down. For a moment I felt so sad for him, because although he knew she was old, this was a surprise and there had been no on-going illness. Just the day before we played ball in the back yard with her and she stole one of his socks when he took off his shoes. He was missing an opportunity to see her one more time, and I needed to remember that where I was, while hard, was a privileged place indeed.
The vet told me it was time to say, “Goodbye.” “I’m so sorry,” she said. “She is such a sweet girl, we just love this breed and I know it must be so very hard for you to see her like this.”
I couldn’t even answer her. I stroked Daisy’s blond head and looked into her eyes one more time. “You are a good girl, baby, it’s time to go home…and we’ll miss you, but you will be young again. It’s okay, Daisy, be a good girl and go Home.” She wagged her tail, sighed, and closed her eyes. The vet and I made eye contact and I knew she was gone. “All dogs go to heaven,” I choked out, hoping that all of His creation, especially this one, would be there when I showed up. “Do you want to spend a few minutes with her?” the vet asked. “She’s not here anymore,” I said, turned, and left the room.
I paid the bill and walked to the car, sobbing like a five year old with a skinned knee. And I didn’t care who saw me.
My father’s death resembled this one far too much. “It’s okay, Daddy, just go,” I had told him. He sighed and gave up the fight. At that time, God had given me a gift of compassion for my mother, who was now a widow. And while I grieved for the rest of my family who didn’t get this chance to be with her in the last moments like I did, I was primarily focused on the loss of someone I deeply loved who had loved well and was now gone. Always cheerful, always encouraging, always smiling, our Daisy brought light into a room every time she entered it. When people visited, she nearly burst with barely controlled enthusiasm, as if they were the most important person on earth. Every day, she greeted us, not just once, nor upon return, but literally every time we re-entered a room, she was thrilled to see us. I often think golden retrievers are a gift from God to us to help us understand His character. Who loves or listens like that? It’s amazing and barely fathomable.
So while I love Daisy, she is my 3rd dog. So I knew that if I got another one, within a few months, my love will transfer to the new pet. Two days after she died, I drove to Indiana to acquire a 13 week old golden retriever puppy. While we did talk about getting the pup as a family, and Jim and I were in full agreement about her, he did make the comment, “So, the dog gets two days and she’s replaced…I’ll bet you’ll have me replaced in two weeks if I croak!” He was kidding, but I chose to take the opportunity to reassure him that it was different because she is, well, a DOG. Replacing a soul mate is entirely different. This month Jim and I celebrate 20 years of marriage, and we’ll start this 3rd decade with a new pet. I do like the new puppy (Lucy is her name), but she’s not Daisy, and I’m still shedding tears. But I also know how this goes, and am content to wait a few months for the love to transfer. She took one of Jim’s socks the other day and I called her, “Daisy,” when talking about her to a neighbor. The grown up in me knows it’s just a matter of time and I won’t hurt anymore about losing our family friend.
Jim and our kids needed to have some closure and see her. The vet kept Daisy’s body overnight for us (we were having her cremated) and I took everyone up to see her the next morning. One of my sons didn’t want to go. “I don’t want my sibs to think I’m wimpy,” he said. “They’ll think you are cold and heartless if you don’t go,” I said. “I don’t want to go,” he said. “It will make me sad.” I put my arm around his shoulders. “I know it will, honey, but this is what families do. We’ve suffered a loss, and we need to cry together. Families share joy together and they share pain. We need to suffer together. It’s what families do. You can’t stay home. I know it will be hard, but we are all doing this together.” And so we went. And they let us be with her in a room for a few minutes. I’m glad I made him go. I’m glad we cried together and talked about funny things she did. And we’ll have a funeral in a few days and bury her ashes. The children plan the pet funerals and Dad gives a touching eulogy. And we cry together. Sometimes there’s a song. Sometimes someone reads something they wrote. This time we’ll plant the Daisies my friend Gail brought us. And we’ll cry some more. It’s all good.
I will also tell you that I love how God reveals His character in small specific ways daily if we are looking. And if we know Him well (that’s a relative term, I think “knowing Him” continues to grow in depth and breadth and width as we spend time with Him), He will tell us things we couldn’t otherwise know, like, “This is it,” so we can encourage our 9 year old daughter to give one last hug, giving her a gift of one last, “I love you,” before the dog she’s known her whole lifetime leaves this life forever.
He is good. All the time.