by Mindy Love
I knew the moment I picked her up in my arms that Daphne’s time was swiftly coming. We set out on a walk much like we did every evening. Always excited to be out doing her favorite thing [taking a walk] I was contented to make her happy. She took her time sniffing and so we plodded along slowly, as she did with more and more frequency in those last few weeks.
By the time we rounded the bend on the lap back to the house she started dragging her feet more and her gait became unsteady. Once we came around the next corner she struggled to walk and finally stopped. Hobbling another step she couldn’t finish the walk. I could see it in her eyes, so I picked up her frail frame in my arms and cradled her to my chest. We made our way back to the house, where I set her gently on the sofa.
Tears stung my eyes as they were wont to do those last days. The day I dreaded for months had swiftly approached. I knew it in my heart and there was nothing I could do but prepare myself as best as possible for that final moment.
My friends came to visit me in what ended up being Daphne’s last weekend. I was so excited that she made it to 16 years and so we had a Sweet 16 Birthday party for her. The dining room was decorated, a pink champagne cake was baked and the party favors were ready for the celebration. One off -key birthday song later and the cake was served. With her shiny tiara delicately resting on her head, my sweet Princess nibbled her cake from the comfort of her bed.
Daphne hadn’t eaten since Sunday. I made her every food I thought she would eat to no avail. While this wasn’t exactly odd for her (she was always weird about her food), it seemed unlike her normal food aversion this time.
By Wednesday morning everything seemed different. She still wasn’t eating and the thought of her going another day without sustenance pained me. I could tell she was hungry by the way her tummy grumbled and that she wanted food but her ability to eat had waned. The realization that the day I dreaded most had arrived made me sick to my stomach.
I called the vet once they opened hoping they would be able to come to my house for her last moments. She hated the vet’s office and I wanted to spare her the upset of having to go there. However, it wasn’t in the cards. Knowing I was going to have to take her to the place she dreaded most was upsetting. But I knew it was necessary. She couldn’t continue on in her current state.
Once I heard from the vet I left work to spend some quality time with her. I thought a treat might be welcomed, so I stopped by McDonald’s and bought her a cheeseburger and an ice cream cup. Certainly she would want to eat the special treats, right?
Wrong. Not only did she not want the burger, but after two licks she stopped eating the ice cream. That was when I knew the decision was the right one. Ice cream was her favorite special treat. One that she normally would lap up in minutes until she had brain freeze. She wouldn’t touch this one at all.
So I did what any mom would do and picked up her leash in an attempt to make her happy. We started off on a walk instead. She was excited and danced around as best she could in her old, worn body. We walked a full lap, albeit at a snails pace, but she finished. And she loved every minute. She sniffed, her tail wagged, and she almost seemed to rally. Almost.
When we got back I tried giving her some ice cream again. She still wouldn’t touch it and tried to nudge it off her bed. Instead, we snuggled on the sofa and I gave her rubs and love until it was time. Before we left to go to the vet I took her on one last short walk around the block. She was much slower this time, but she enjoyed it just the same.
By the time we finished our lap it was time to head to the vet. I snapped a few last photos of my sweet girl and tried to hold it together as best I could.
There were no rooms available at the vet, so we waited in the car until it was time to go inside. As was her nature, she chilled out with me in the back of the car. The hatch was open and she sniffed the air while I rubbed her ears and told her how much I love her.
My friend Renee left work to meet me at the vet. I don’t know what I would have done without her. I was by myself, and it was good to have her there for support.
Once we went inside I couldn’t hold it together any longer. They sedated her, which is good, but at the time they didn’t tell me that was what they were doing. The tears flowed freely and a wept over her. The vet tech came back and apologized for not informing me so when they came in again about 10 minutes later my heart broke all over again.
I knew she was gone. I could sense her essence slip away. And I wept uncontrollably with a broken heart. Daphne was 16 years old. We adopted her 15 1/2 years ago. Over 15 years is a very long time to have a dog. In my house, pets are like children and they are spoiled and loved. It’s a very pampered existence. I’ve often joked that when I die I want to come back as my own pet. Their lives are that good.
It’s funny to me that the guys didn’t want to be there for the end. Neither my son, nor my ex wanted to be around for the hard stuff. I guess it’s understandable. Watching the life of a beloved pet come to an end is horrible. I was dreading this day for months. But for me, although I’m hurt by her passing, I couldn’t imagine leaving her in those last final minutes. I comforted her as she comforted me all these years past.
All of this made me think of one of my favorite movies, Steel Magnolias. After M’Lynn’s daughter dies, she tells her friends, “I find it amusing. Men are supposed to be made of steel or something. I just sat there. I just held Shelby’s hand. There was no noise, no tremble, just peace. Oh God. I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.”
What you’re never prepared for in death is the finality of it all. I knew it was coming with every week. Daphne was on borrowed time. Nothing prepares you for the death of a beloved pet or the emptiness you feel inside. Nothing. Her decline came swiftly. One day she was perky, the next she was walking a little slower and then in a flash she was gone.
I wasn’t prepared for coming home to an empty house. Or how quiet it is in the house now. It’s painfully quiet. Up until a couple months ago she slept in bed with me. After a while she couldn’t get comfortable so she started sleeping on the sofa or on her dog bed. She seemed less restless there. For several days after she died I would hear her in the living room. It would wake me up. Was it a dream….? Was she there in spirit….? I don’t know.
What I do know is that my heart is broken. A little piece of me went with her that day. I can’t stop asking myself questions: Did she know I loved her? Did she know how much joy she brought me every day when I woke up or when I got home from work? Or how much I loved our walks and adventures? Was she sad? Did she know it was the end?
Hopefully one day I’ll feel less heartbroken. I still cry every day. I try to keep my mind occupied so I don’t feel sad all the time. Sometimes it works. Other times it doesn’t.
By chance a couple weeks ago I came across a cartoon video by Red & Howling entitled “You Will Always Be My Best Friend.” I think it sums up my feelings perfectly. Grab some tissues before you watch [in the link above], because you’re going to need them.
This week marks one month since Daphne got her angel wings. It feels like it was yesterday and an eternity all at the same time. It’s hard to express all the emotions I feel. Her paw prints were left on my heart and I will carry them with me always.
“I never met a dog like you.
You filled my life with adventures and indescribable joy.
You made me a better person….
I will never let you go.
You’re tucked in my heart like a precious jewel.
You were and always will be…my best friend.”
~Red & Howling