Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Eyes Have It

They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and that's how I knew she was gone. We'd lain on the floor with Daisy most of the morning, reassuring her, petting her, reassuring ourselves. I was looking at her when it happened: her eyebrow and right eye had been twitching but she'd watch me when I moved, then her eyebrow slowed and suddenly she wasn't looking any more. Within two minutes, her body tensed, her eye rolled up, her tongue came out, and she was dead. It was hard to sit with her, hard not to call our excellent and generous vet and have her put Daisy "to sleep". Hard to gauge whether Daisy was suffering, any more than a being on the verge of death would suffer, feeling her body shut down. I'm sure it wasn't painful. Her breaths got shallower. She seemed at times to be dreaming, as her paws would twitch, though her eyes were open. I will remember staring into those eyes for a long, long time.

There is closure, and there is completion in life run its course, all the way to death at the finish line. We cannot know what any other being wants, whether that other is human or canine. Even if someone writes down their wishes, we can't be 100% sure that the-person-who-wrote-those-wishes will feel the same as the-person-who-is-facing-death. With a dog it becomes infinitely harder. So we went with our gut, knowing we had a conflict of interest, wanting to keep her with us longer, wanting it all to be over so we could get down to grieving and get on with our lives, sadder but also no longer angst-ridden trying to figure out what she might eat, since she couldn't tell us that either.

Witnessing a loved one's death isn't for everyone. We surround ourselves with animals, so we've had more than our share, and we've got a rough decade ahead of us as the remaining 3 cats and 3 dogs "go to college." I'm awestruck, saddened beyond words, grateful, all at once.

Daisy came to us 15 months ago from the Seattle animal shelter. It was clear she'd been an only dog, and it took her a while to get used to being in a pack. The beach was new to her. But those eyes, man. Mischief. Curiosity. Love. Determination. Happiness. She would greet me gently when I came home, waiting for the other, more rambunctious dogs to finish. She'd come up and put her head between my knees, and I would scritch her head, down her back, and end up at her butt as she sidled between my legs. I will miss her more than I thought I would. Go in peace, and good luck at college, love.

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