Today, I share words I cannot speak of. With great sadness, I was forced to make the single most difficult decision I have ever made; to end the life of my most beloved and loyal friend of sixteen wonderful years. Without question, it was by far the most dreaded and worst day of my life. To say it was gruesomely agonizing would be to put it mildly; a gross understatement that clearly has left a deep void in my heart.
Several times this summer I privately revisited a letter written over twenty years ago to me by my father when he too had to make this decision: He wrote, “Dear son, death comes to man and animal alike. But it seems so hard to make the final decision where the love is both ways and the communication is not. And yet I know if she could speak she’d say ‘thanks for not making me suffer any longer’. I know that what you are doing is because you do love me”. Still however, these words provided little relief. Although I was well aware of what needed to be done, and maybe even selfishly waited too long, I didn’t know if I had the strength to follow through. I tried desperately to come to terms with accepting the facts as they were in front of my eyes and told myself constantly that I too had to be as strong as my father had been. But where do we humans draw the line between suffering and living? How much longer can we wait until it’s considered too long? By what means do we determine a pets “quality of life”? After all, they have no voice to tell us, only eyes.
Buddy was more than unhappy. Stricken with discomfort and despair, we were both miserable actually as we pressed our heads together for the last times. My sobbing surmounted as I searched for understanding, support and encouragement that I was making the right decision. In June, I found Buddy laying under the deck on a hot afternoon. Believing that he was finally checking out on his own, I crawled through thick cobwebs in the dark to lie at his side in the dirt where he rested. It was my first hard taste of reality. With tears streaming down my face, I stroked his head and spoke to his tired eyes that starred me down without blinking. His breaths were labored as he recovered from a morning fall that left him in the same spot on the floor all day. But once again, in true Buddy fashion, he turned the corner refusing to give up. Not long ago however, his conditions worsened substantially.
After a sleepless night on the floor next to Buddy, he enjoyed his last ever Frosty Paw. Sobbing uncontrollably, I counted down the minutes and hours left before losing my best friend. We layed in the grass down by the river that morning next to a collection of favorite bones and toys. A short time later, he layed down beside his oil-on-canvas self portrait. It was time, and he seemed to know what was about to happen. But I was far from ready to say good-bye to my most devoted friend. Pressing firmly against him, I kissed him as many times as I could, reassuring and reminding him how much I loved him. With a final sigh, he rested his head on my arm and in less than a minute finally had some painless and long overdue rest. This was the first time that Buddy would not lick my tears away.
Every year, we liked to choose the final Saturday in September to climb Camels Hump.
This past Saturday, Buddy had a free ride inside my backpack as I climbed that trail we had so many times. And with each step, I traveled through sixteen Christmas mornings, countless camping trips, snowshoe jaunts, visits to the vet and so much more. Hours later while on the summit, I spread his ashes on his favorite resting point, an outcrop facing east.
On my decent, I pondered how different my new life would be without him. I thought of the young sapling back home in his honor; an enduring oak, that with my care will grow tall and strong in a place that only I will know and visit for the rest of my days. And each time I do, I will remind myself that while part of my heart is missing, it is only because it belongs to Buddy.