Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Blazer

It's been almost a year since he died, and I still cry every day for my boy.

Blazer wasn't just a dog. He was my soulmate. He gave me so much more than the usual unconditional love we get from pets…..he taught me how to care for someone more than I care for myself. He taught me the true meaning of love and responsibility, and made me a better person in the process. The bond we shared was incredible….to be so closely connected to another living being wasn't something I had ever experienced.

But this isn't Letters to Pushkin.

The dark side of this love; the part no-one wants to talk about, is the end of it. That time when they finally ask us for something: the only gift we can give them in exchange for all those years of joy and devotion.

But how do you do it?? How do you look into the eyes of your best friend and make the call to end his life right then and there?

I'm still not really sure. It's almost a year later and I can't believe he's gone….I can't believe that this amazing dude I spent my entire adult life with, my partner in crime, isn't here anymore. I still expect to hear him stretch in the morning with that funny yawn, or to see him tear across the park chasing birdies. I sometimes smell something that reminds me of his breath, or pluck a ginger hair out of a sweater that's been hanging in my closet for a year……and I just can't believe he's gone. But he is. He died, and I helped him along. It was his time.

All I ever wanted for him was to enjoy life, and I did my best to shelter him from pain and stress. And I could do no less for him at the end. Blazer had cancer. And although my veterinarian presented me with some options for going forward, I decided that, at fourteen years old, I couldn't put Blazer through the pain and torment of further diagnostics and surgery. He hated strangers, and the vet's office was a source of sheer terror for him, so leaving him there, away from me to endure his very worst thing all alone....I just couldn't do it. And if he had made it through the procedures, he would have maybe gained a couple of extra months at best. I made the decision I knew he wanted me to make, which was to enjoy his last few weeks as much as he could; at home with his cats and his humans.

It is so excruciatingly hard to make the decision to end your pet's life. It's an unnatural thing to have to do, because we care for these creatures the same way some of us care for our human children, and there's nothing more unnatural than a child outliving a parent. And to actually have to be the one to say, "ok, pull the plug", well….that's just impossible to bear. Yet it's not. It seems impossible, but it has to be done, and so we do it. It is the final, and most important act of kindness we will ever do for them. It's horrible for us, because it's the beginning of our pain, but please remember: it is the end of theirs.

You can't tell someone to euthanize their dog; people are ready when they're ready. Only that's kind of the problem: you're never really ready. You can't possibly be ready to end someone's life. But you can ask yourself if your dog would want to continue living, given their quality of life. If there's one thing I know Blazer wanted, it was to live and die with DIGNITY. And so I promised myself that when the time came, I would do what needed to be done.

So I will tell you what I think Blazer would have said if he could talk. He would've told me to make sure that he didn't have to live in pain. He would've told me that a life without walks and fetching and tail wagging wasn't a life worth living. He would make sure that I knew that if he was incontinent and skeletal, he would have lost the dignity that helped define who he was. He would have said, "Mom, I don't want to walk anymore. I'm too sick. I don't want to eat anymore…..Mother Nature is telling to stop trying; that my time here has come to an end, and I'm ready to go."

It's an amazing thing that when an animal reaches this point, we are able to assist them and end their suffering. The fact that we can't do the same for our human loved ones is inhumane, in my opinion. But you don't have to agree with that.

Part of what makes it so hard is the way our pets hide their pain from us. Even the sickest dogs still seem to enjoy and show interest in certain things, and they often seem alert and even happy at times. They sometimes rally near the end, with brief spurts of energy and life. And when we see these glimpses of what they once were, we are tempted to put off the inevitable, to their great disservice. They are so strong, and so brave compared to us….it can be hard to fathom that they are truly at death's door.

I've talked to people who live with the guilt of extending their pet's life for their own, selfish reasons. They put it off another day, another week, another month, because they couldn't bear the thought of saying goodbye. And then they end up watching their beloved pet suffer, and sometimes die on a cold metal table in an emergency clinic rather than in the comfort of their own home, with their loved ones surrounding them.

The days that follow will be almost unbearable. There is no way around that. I wish I had some tips or advice on how to get through it, but just take it one day at a time. I completely fell apart; I could hardly get off the couch, I lost almost 20lbs, and I really had little desire to continue on with my life. I think what got me through was being surrounded by people who not only loved me, but also loved Blazer, and understood what devastation his passing has caused. The fact that they felt it too, and mourned him as I did, helped a lot. And here's the most important thing to know: when your pet finally passes after being sick and in pain, you both share something precious: relief. Embrace it. It doesn't mean that you didn't love him with all of your heart and means quite the opposite.

As I see the anniversary of his death looming, I don't feel his loss any less acutely, but I have fewer breakdowns and I guess that's a start. I also never thought I could love another dog, but I was very wrong about that, so don't bother trying to close yourself off to it - if it's gonna happen, there's nothing you can do about it. My puppy CeCe can never fill the void that Blazer left, or compare to him in any way, but that's ok, because she doesn't have to. Blazer was a once in a lifetime companion - my first true love. And I'm finally able to accept that loving CeCe doesn't take away from that. If he could, Blazer would give me his blessing.....I know that with 100% certainty.

And if Blazer could say something to you, he would tell you to please listen to your pet. Thank him for all he has given you, and give back in the most important way, at the most important time. Don't wait too long. Don't wait until it's too late to help. Guard and protect their dignity because it is precious, and when it's gone, their essence goes with it.

Blazer was beautiful, and proud, and noble. He was a creature to be admired, and loved, and appreciated for everything he was. He died at home, with his best people around him. I had a vet come to the house. There was a thunderstorm immediately after. It will always be the worst day of my life. But I know that if he could thank me, he would. And I have no regrets.

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