25 March, 2010

Letting Go

I have written several times of the emotional expenditures involved with saying goodbye to the attachments of my old life and creating a [relatively] blank canvas for my new one. This point was very painfully and articulately driven home earlier this week.
I went out of town this weekend to visit my grandfather in Kentucky, and to meet my parents who were there to help a friend box up her deceased husband's clothes. All things considered, it was a nice trip. I was able to take a lot of walks around the town where I spent the earliest years of my childhood. And that gave me a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. I started thinking about Charlie, my canine companion of 11 years, and my best friend in the world. I started wondering if anything I was doing with his diet, his skincare, his supplements was helping to make him feel better. I started thinking the thought that had been nagging at me for weeks, but to which I was too mortified to give conscious thought: Am I being selfish by hanging on to Charlie when he might be much more grateful to be released? The thought, of course, filled me with varying flavors of guilt, heavy sadness, and a heartache like I scarcely remember ever feeling. And that was just thinking about it..
When I returned home on Sunday night, greeted by my ever faithful Charlie at the door, I realized something that I hadn't fully noticed when being in the house full time: The house smelled very strongly of 'sick dog'. The odor hit me like a thrust from a prize fighter. I knew what was coming next. But, I still wasn't ready to admit it.
The next day, I forced myself to really consider Charlie. I wanted to try to put myself in his skin, and think about how I would want to be cared for by my companion. I could almost hear him telling me that he was only still hanging around because he knew how much I needed him. He didn't want to let me down. He was afraid to leave me. I knew he'd been miserable for some time, and even though I tried to tell myself that he was showing little signs of improvement - a slight patch of hair was starting to regrow; he was falling down not quite as many times as he has been - I knew that his eyes had been telling me what I didn't want to know. There'd been no joy in his eyes for months. When I looked at him, I only saw an exhausted determination to keep trying to make it through the day.
I had my answer. I had a silent exchange with Charlie, and I could swear that I saw relief in his eyes..
I called my parents to ask for their thoughts on the subject. Would they think I was a monster if I helped Charlie to find the peace I finally knew he needed?
They were wonderful and supportive.
I asked my sister the same thing. She said she was surprised I hadn't made the decision a while ago. She was totally understanding and a great pillar of support.
I asked my mother to make an appointment for us that same day.
So, on Monday, the whole family (mom, dad, sister, and me) all went to the veterinary office with Charlie. I asked mom to make him some bacon. I asked sister to bring him a banana. I shared some buttery toast with him before we left. He rode in my lap all the way there.
Charlie has never been a big fan of visits to the vet. He doesn't get crazy, but he's usually pretty tense and cautious when we have to go. This time he was cool as a cucumber ... which was surprising all the more, since his family was surrounding him with tearful attention like he'd never experienced. At first I thought he must think we are all crazy to be so sad. After all, he was receiving love, attention, and bacon from the people who love him. But, I think he just knew why he was there, and was ready to say goodbye.
He was tranquilized first, which was hard enough. And then we all gathered round him as he was given the injection that would stop his heart and give him the peace I knew he'd been wanting for so long. He didn't look scared. I stayed at his head and kept looking in his eyes so that I would be the last thing he would see, and he would know that he was safe. Then, his eyes rolled back, and it was over.
I think this was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do. I have cried and moaned and wailed in the deepest, most gutteral tones of unadulterated grief. But, I have been supported by my family and friends. My sister, especially, has been a great help to me.
And, it's also fortuitous that the yard sale I'd already planned is this Saturday, so I have had lots of distractions in getting ready for that. Clearing out the house, and seeing it look less like a home is actually a great comfort to me right now. The hardest moments for me are when I come into the house, and he's not here to greet me. Eleven years of having him at the door when I enter it ... it feels very lonely to be without that.
So, it must really be time for me to learn the lesson of Letting Go. It's a bitch of a lesson, but I'm trying to handle it with as much grace as I can. And with that, and a little help from my friends [and family], I know I'll find my way.

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