On Thursday I scheduled a date with death. It was easy. A simple phone call, a brief conversation. “Yes, it’s time.”I said. “Saturday at 11:00, does that work for you?” She said. That was the easy part.
Sitting with the idea for two days became increasingly difficult as day became night and I sat quietly reading with my little dog in my lap. He is frail and getting weaker, his muscles wasting away until the effort to stand showed in his bowed legs. He stands back arched all four feet turned outwards in an effort to gain better footing and more stability. Steps that shifted irregularly into circles and meandering paths while ricocheting off walls and glass patio doors became normal. Frequent bathroom breaks are forgotten mid stride somewhere in the middle distance between doorway and grass. Most nights begin and end with frequent barking at the blankets, or bedding that never seemed to be comfortable enough for sleep. Was he barking in fear, in pain, in frustration? All of them together? He’s not saying and my desire to understand is not patient. His eyesight has dimmed with the shade of cataracts and his body shakes at the shadow of a friendly hand. Wrapped in an old towel he sits quivering and avoids the slightest touch directed at his grey head and muzzle. We sit like this together most nights, it’s the only human interaction he gets these days, the only human touch he can comprehend and accept.
Friday night I began counting the hours, like the calendar on the wall that reminds you that your days are numbered. Those numbers have dwindled from days to hours and he’s blissfully unaware. I wish I could be too. My evening began with a thorough cleaning of the hallway that he calls home while we’re at work. He’s forgotten why he’s been allowed outside in the rain and the time between coffee and dinner has become too long to wait. We sit as always in the great brown recliner, both of us tucked under a lap blanket using each others heat to keep warm. I know that this is the last night, his last night and try to sit still so that he settles down to sleep comforted in the smells of home that we’ve established these past 18 years.
Saturday morning came right on schedule despite my resistance. I find myself hiding in the bathroom door closed, sitting on the only seat available, with tears streaming down my face in anticipation of the task ahead of me. This isn’t right. I know with absolute certainty that my decision is correct, but this feels so wrong. A younger me would have loaded a pistol and headed for the quiet of the woods nearby thinking that this choice is also my responsibility. I think of ways that I could smuggle my gun out of the house without Jill seeing me and I know it’s impossible. I’ll get caught and have to explain my actions. She’ll say I’m acting crazy. She won’t understand my sense of honor, or dignity. But, delegating death to an office visit, one scheduled days in advance feels like a dereliction of duty. This doctor has no real connection to my dog yet this is how it’s done in the modern world and time is short and flying towards the appointment I made 2 days ago.
This morning we drove together in silence, both of us anxious and fretful. Abernathy never did like car rides, and today was no exception. “This way,” the receptionist said as she shuffled us into exam room 2. Words are generally my friends, but they abandoned me to nods, and short one word answers. The doctor was kind and compassionate and quickly came to the crux of our visit. Then came the questions that no one wants to answer and the actions that no one wants to watch.
Answered and watched, I left the office without paying, without saying goodbye or thank you. It’s been a quiet day here at home and the tears come at random intervals as I reflect on my day.
Rest in peace Abernathy Hibiscus Campbell, you were a good dog and I love you.