Friday, February 21, 2014

Goodbye, Goo

As I wrote those words, "Goodbye, Goo," tears sprang into my eyes.  I got that oh-so-familiar lump in my throat... and the catch in my breath... the quiver in my chin... the sting in my nose... You see, for the past week, I've been grieving.  There have been many, many tears... lots of hard crying--grief crying--you know, that deep sobbing-and-choking sort of crying.

In our home, we are grieving the loss of a dear friend, a sweet family member.  In very many ways, we are grieving alone.  When we lost our last dog, Little, the outpouring of love and support was overwhelming.  She had been unexpectedly hit by a car, which had been witnessed by one of our children.  It was shocking and surprising and horrible.  We sent out word over Facebook and email, asking people to pray for our sweet children, who were missing their childhood pup, and especially for our sweet OG, who was processing what she had seen.  Comments and emails and notes and cards came in from all sorts of places, and we were amazed and comforted by the prayers of many, many people for us in our grief.

This time around, there have been no notes, no cards, no written expressions of sympathy or comfort.  That is not because our friends have suddenly grown cold or have stopped sending condolences.  No, this time we suffer alone largely because very few people know about what happened.  We did get the standard card that the vet sends out whenever he has to do this terrible thing, when his life-giving hand has to turn into the one that brings death.
The card itself is lovely, with a silhouette of a man and his dog sitting on a bench, looking out over a beautiful lake.  It is a striking scene, peaceful and serene. "It's hard to say goodbye to such a special companion.  Our thoughts are with you," says the printed message.

In the careful black penmanship of one of the veterinary employees are added the following words of comfort: "Please accept our deepest sympathies over your loss of Winston.  We know he was a special part of your family and will be greatly missed."

And so he is.  I am missing the constant, happy companionship of one who has been with me daily for the last four years, since we welcomed him into our home.  He was boisterous and excited and so very present in everything we did, so his absence is definitely noticed, all the time.

He was such a good dog, and such a "good boy"!  He had a real heart for obedience.  He wanted to please us and wanted to obey us... always.  If we said, "Sit," he did, right away.  If we told him to go to his crate, he would, immediately.  Even if he was barking his head off and wanting to greet the source of the doorbell, if you told him to go, he went.  Every night, when we fed him his food, he would run to his crate and sit bolt upright.  He would sit that way, head and torso up straight and tall, waiting for the feeder to arrive with the bowls, then staring expectantly at him until he was released to eat from the bowl that had been placed in front of him.  Only the feeder's impressed and happy, "Okay!" would release him from his stand at attention, drooling.

We all miss him terribly.  And we are suffering and grieving alone this time because of the awkward reality that, though we loved this sweet dog as a member of our family, we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize him.  That isn't the kind of thing you throw onto Facebook.  "Had to put my dog down today.  Miss him," just doesn't quite work as a status update.  It is awkward.  People don't know what to say.  Many disagree with your decision and choice, since they only knew and loved the "good boy" Winston and can't imagine this action was really  necessary.  Others, who agree with your choice, assume that since you made the choice, you must be fine with it.

Reality, however, holds something different.  Making the decision, knowing it is the right decision, moving through the execution of the decision, and living with the results of the decision are all very different things.  You can know that something is "what has to be done" and still choke on your own tears as you walk through the doing of the thing.

I have had to make this decision once before, with our sweet dog, Huckleberry, years ago.  I have sat once before with my canine friend, rubbing the ears and speaking softly and controlling the tears for his sake, watching as his breathing begins to come more slowly and then finally ceases all together.  I was prepared.  I do not think that my husband necessarily was, and I know that the children who opted to be present weren't ready.  They handled it fine, but it is exceedingly difficult to watch the dog you love, who trusts you for his very existence, bound happily into the vet for the next adventure, only to be met with an injection of a confusing sedative.  None of us were prepared for his agitated pacing as he began to feel it work, for his refusal to succumb to the strange feeling coming over him.  I had to coax him into lying down, and coax him further to rest his head on my lap.  He looked up at me with confusion, and maybe a little bit of fear.  But he trusted me, so he allowed it.  That's what is hardest, I think... the absolute trust of this dog that you won't let anything bad happen to him, even as you're paying the vet a few hundred dollars to kill him.

Yes, it's sometimes the right thing to do.  Yes, it sometimes has to be done.  Huckie was very sick and suffering, so that decision was easy.  Winston was healthy and happy and thrilled about life, ready to live another decade, probably, but he was suffering from an inability to control his impulse to bite people.  We're convinced that he probably had something going wrong in his brain, since this biting behavior had not occurred at all during the first couple of years we had him.  When it did start, it was always directed at strangers--men--who were approaching our property or entering our home unexpectedly (at least unexpected to him).  However, over the past year or so, it had begun to increase, both in frequency, intensity, and damage done.  We tried to manage it by moving his crate to the back of the house and locking him up anytime anyone was at our house but family.  This worked for a good, long while, but even in that context we feared for the time we'd forget, either to lock the front door at all times so no one just walked in, or to lock him up before someone expected did arrive.  In the end, the biting behavior even turned toward the other dog and toward one of the children in our home  We knew that it was just a matter of time before this sweet, obedient, happy dog had a moment of whatever-it-was-that-caused-him-to-freak-out-and-bite, and really hurt someone, physically or psychologically.  And so we made the unthinkable choice to end the life of the dog we loved.  We did it for us, yes, but we also did it for him.  We know that he would be mortified if he ever hurt one of these precious children he loved.

 And so we've said goodbye to another dog-friend.  It's still a little raw.  We still cry quickly and easily.  (At the strangest times, a memory will catch me off guard and the tears will spring to my eyes and nose.  I still don't wear any makeup on days that I'm home.)

We are all processing it a little differently.  The girls opted to go with us to the vet, while my son chose to stay home and not be there for the procedure.  He had said goodbye, and wanted to remember Winston the way he'd always been.  I respect that.  And I thank my son for the gift that was given as he let us see him grieve, too.  I will never forget seeing and hearing this 6'7" man taking his grief to the piano keyboard, playing and singing as we all moved about the house that first night. 

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord,
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be Your name

And so we sent him off... loving on him 'til his last breath... grieving his absence... smiling at his memory.  We loved you, Winston.  And we hope that in God's great providence and mercy, He chooses to let us see our beloved pets again one day in heaven.  I wouldn't mind throwing my arms around a glorified version of our sweet Winston and rolling around the hills of heaven together!   I know that many of you will roll your eyes at such an idea, so I share with you an article I found when Little was killed, entitled "Do Dogs Go to Heaven?" by Randy Alcorn.  Before you scoff, know that he quotes theological heavy-weights like John Piper and Joni Eareckson Tada, and leaves you with more than a little hope that you might get to see your special animal friend again one day...

*Entry 2, February - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge - the title is not from a song, but the lyrics quoted are from Matt Redman's Blessed Be Your Name