The day after Christmas. Friday December 26th, 2019.
The morning was dull. Numb. Lifeless. Feet dragged. Eyes squinted at light too bright. I had woken up into a nightmare.
But life moves on.
The chores still needed to be done. Animals needed fed, and let out of their pens.
I didn’t want to say a word because I knew what the most important thing was that day, and I thought if I did open my mouth, it would come out and once again I would be hurtled to a ledge a thousand feet high and dropping into hell. It felt like if I just ignored everything, it wouldn't catch up to me. But I was wrong.
I stood in the shed where we keep the bucks and bags of feed. It’s like a strange little haven on our farm. Though the outside is constantly battered by rabidly hungry chickens or mooing cows and goats, the inside is somehow calm. Many an hour I have spent out there with my mother, talking about life, emotions, relationships, world events. It’s been a place of tears, of joy, of silence, of long talks, of brokenness and healing. And that day was no different.
My mother had been quiet all morning, waiting until I said something, but now she spoke, knowing that if she didn’t ask first, I would never say it. So she asked me if I still wanted to take Tron in that day.
I thought I was going to throw up.
I knew of my conviction the night before but to be standing in tomorrow, for the day to be upon me, I balked. Perhaps I had been wrong. Perhaps, just perhaps I didn’t have to do it today. Perhaps we could wait. But something came over me. I was weakening. If I didn’t do this now, I wouldn’t have the strength to later.
I had made my choice the night before and I couldn’t let my weakness overcome me.
I said yes.
She called the vet.
I wanted to take her phone and smash it against the ground. I wanted to take back my choice. I wanted anything but this. I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. I just stood there, rooted to the spot, silence, unmoving, staring at the phone against her ear, wishing I could hear but glad I couldn’t.
She hung up and told me they wouldn’t be able to get him in for a euthanasia until the coming Tuesday. That would be another three almost four days, unless someone made a cancellation for today.
I didn’t want to do anything of this. But most of all, I didn’t want to wait that long. I had to do it now. I had to. Or else I would never be able to. I didn’t want to wait, didn’t want to stress if I was spending enough time with my baby or not. I just wanted it to be over. I just wanted this hell to end.
“I sorry. I’m so sorry,” my mother whispered and I cried bitterly into her shoulder.
I hardly remember what I did for the next few hours. It passed by in a haze, a horrible, dark haze, until we were once against standing in the feed-shed and my mother’s phone rang.
It was the vet’s office. They had a cancellation for 3:45p.m. My mother told me, asked if this was what I wanted, said only I could make that choice.
Only I. Only I. So alone … all alone. I wanted to scream that it wasn’t what I wanted, how could I possibly want it? I knew the right thing to do. So, instead, I nodded.
Part of me rejoiced. I wouldn’t have to wait until Tuesday. I wouldn’t have to live in this hell any longer, dreading, constantly dreading every day. But reality crashed. Today was the Last. The last of … everything.
Panic. Panic. Panic. A pounding heart. A rising nausea. A chasing dread.
Death was coming and we could outrun it no longer.
I told myself, at noon, we’ll take a walk, we’ll go into the second pasture, let Tron run around, have fun. We’ll play, just like we used to. We’ll be together, we’ll be happy, just like we had been. But until then, I was in denial. I couldn’t bear to look at him. Because if I did, it would be the beginning of the end.
The word echoed. Haunted, stained my hands, my heart, my mind.
“It’s noon,” my parents told me. I did nothing. Didn’t move. Didn’t say anything. If I sat still, if I pretended I didn’t exist, that none of this was real, then perhaps it wouldn’t be. Perhaps time would stop.
But it didn’t. It just kept ticking.
The hours, the minutes, the seconds, were slipping through my fingers. The hour glass had broken, the last of the grains had begun to fall, and I could reach for them no longer. We were at the end.
I patted my thigh, asking Tron if he wanted to go for a walk. He wagged his big tail and slowly followed me to the back door. Together we walked outside, my parents close behind. He joyfully bound outside and started playing with the other dogs. But after only a few seconds of playing, he stopped and watched them play with each other, just barely barking or snapping. That wasn’t him. A darkness settled in his eyes. He couldn’t play, be a dog, like he used to. He couldn’t do the things which made him happy. His pride, his joy, had been robbed from him, just like it was from me.
I called him over, opening the gate. He came happily, but I wondered if I should let him play with the other dogs more.
I pushed the though away and we strolled into the paddock. My mother asked to take a picture. I had brought my own phone for pictures, but she knew I would want pictures of me and Tron together.
I knelt down, petting his head, his back, and under his collar. His leather collar. Tears spilled over. I had bought that new, fancy, leather collar only months before. Maybe only three months. I had bought it for him as a gift to show how far we had come and how much he meant to me that I replaced his old nylon collar with a lovely leather one. I had thought he would be able to wear that collar until he got old, that the leather would wear with him, telling the stories we shared. Instead, he’d only been able to wear it for three short months.
I threw my arms around him and cried.
We made our way into the second pasture. The other dogs came with us and they bounded ahead of Tron into the field as he merely walked, lacking the energy to do much more.
I snapped pictures, took videos. The dogs played, chased a rabbit, and followed the scent of another. I let Tron run around, not wanting to take away from this moment. This was what made him happy, and I didn’t want to get in the way.
It was the last time he would run around. Last time he would play with his pack. Last time to stalk the perimeter fence guarding. Last time to chase a rabbit.
I choked back my tears, my horror, and focused on taking pictures.
He was beautiful, out there in that field. Majestic, stoic, strong. But underneath, he was rotting away. He wasn’t how he should have been. And you could see the regret, the sadness, the confusion in his eyes.
That pasture didn’t have a good fence around it, just a small electric fence in a very small section of it. It had always been my hope that we would get a new fence up and Tron would have that much more space to roam in. It would never happen. It was another thing I had failed to give him.
When he grew too tired to run with the other dogs, he came over to me, and I petted him. I blew on his face and laughed when he barked and snapped at him, covering his face with his paws and chewing on my hand. I scratched his belly, squeezing his paws like he always liked, scratching in the right spot that always made him do the ‘magic foot.’ And I tried to push that horrible word out of my head, but it lingered—last.
It was the last time I would walk through the field with him. The last time I would play with him. The last time we would be together like this—happy and free.
I couldn’t hold the tears back any longer.
But it was time. It was time to go.
I cried, begging to stay just a little longer. My parents agreed. But those minutes were bitter. I could put it off, put it off, put it off, but it would chase me, drag me back, push me over the edge. There was no escaping. Not anymore.
When we could wait no longer, we walked back down to the house.
Last time to go through that gate. Last time he played with his pack.
I got his leash and grabbed my purse, called him out to the vehicle. He was excited, thought we were going on a fun car ride.
I was betraying him. I was killing him. And it was, somehow, my fault. I couldn’t protect him from this disease. It was my fault. I had failed him.
It was the last car ride.
We arrived at the vet’s office.
I had Tron on a leash as I let him walk around the grass surrounding the vet’s office. For a dog, this was the most exiting part, sniffing all the smells from previous dogs. I let him have as much time as he wanted to sniff around and frolic. I had to drag him away, and though I had no more time to give him, I wondered if I had let him sniff long enough.
The nurses were all so sweet, so sad for us. They had been with us through so many hard times with our animals. They had seen Tron and Ronik come in as puppies, had treated Tron after he was shot, and they were here for the end.
We were taken to the private room.
Tron was so nervous. The tumors made it uncomfortable for him to lay down on the hard floor. He paced and whined. I held back my sobs as I petted him, talking to him, lied as I told him everything was okay. Everything will be alright.
The doctor came in, asked if we wanted to be with Tron during the euthanasia process. I was angry that anyone would think I didn’t want to be there, but I only nodded numbly, my parents speaking for me.
She took Tron back to insert the I.V. tube.
I sobbed, my parents holding me in their arms.
The seconds ticked. I moved closer to the edge, closer to the end, to a time, a moment, that I could never go back on.
The door slid open. It sounded like the gates of hell swinging open.
Tron came in, nervous. He smelled terrible. Fear, death, sickness, clung to him. It was overwhelming. It was horrifying. It was terrifying. Even the vet said that it meant his body was dying slowly. It was mercy, to put him down now.
But all it felt like was murder.
The vet explained they would give two shots. The first was just to relax him, put him into a gentle, sweet sleep, a sleep that was only inches away from death, and the second would be the end. She had brought a towel so he could lay on it and be more comfortable, told us to take as much time as we needed to say goodbye.
We did. I told him to lay down on the towel and he did so and he rolled over, wanting a belly rub. I obliged, knowing, it was the last.
My parents told me they were only waiting on me. That they would only call the vet in when I was ready.
Oh God, how could I ever be ready?
When I knew that if I didn’t proceed now, I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would never be more ready, I told my parents and they called in the vet.
She was so sweet, so kind, so understanding.
I had Tron lay down, laughing bitterly as he thought he was going to get another belly rub. I took off his collar, knowing it would make him more comfortable.
He grew nervous as if he knew what was happening, and I grew to hate myself.
I whispered to him, “It’s okay. You’re okay. Everything is going to be okay.” But I knew, oh I knew it was all a lie.
Traitor. Murderer. Lies. Regret.
The Vet knelt down with the first syringe. She looked at me and asked if I was ready.
I murmured yes through my tears.
The moment she put the needle into the I.V. slot, I felt a rage, a horror rise in me. I wanted to rip her hand away, crush the syringe. I wanted to scream in protest.
As soon as she would empty the syringe, it would be over. Everything would be over. I would never be able to take it back.
Everything I had wanted to become with Tron had faded away into what we were at that moment. I would never be able to come back. Never.
But I knew, that Tron wasn’t happy. His life had been stolen from him. The only future he had was one of rotting away on a dog bed. It wasn’t a future I would wish on anyone, especially on such a prideful, strong dog as he, who only ever wanted to live life to the fullest.
The syringe slowly emptied.
Tron struggled a little, wanting to stand up, but I pulled his head into my lap, crying shameless onto his face, telling him it was okay, that everything would be okay now, whispering that I loved him. And that I was sorry. Sorry for everything that had gone wrong. Sorry that I couldn’t protect the dog that had saved me so many times.
Gradually, his breathing slowed, his eyes flickered closed. He relaxed. He grew heavy in my arms.
He was leaving me. Leaving me. And he would never come back.
The vet injected the second syringe.
In that moment, as I looked down into his peaceful face, I knew I had done the right thing. I knew in my heart, that I had been strong enough to do what needed to be done. He wasn’t suffering anymore, and he knew, I think, just how much I loved him.
His chest rose, shuttering, one last time before he exhaled in one, big sigh, and never moved again.
It was done.
I cried onto his still form for a long time.
So heavy. The weight of him, resting in death was more than the weight of the world. Oh it was so heavy.
When my family had said goodbye, I brushed my hand across Tron’s peaceful face, rubbing the soft ears speckled with little brown spots one last time. I kissed his cheek, whispered ‘I love you,’ and ‘goodbye,’ one last time. I stood, squeezed his paw and looked down at him one last time.
And turned to walk out.
It was the last time I would see him. The last time I could feel his soft fur beneath my hands, the last time I could smell the way he always smelled, like warm fur, dirt, and dog. It was the last of … everything.
I barely remember anything through my tears, except handing a piece of paper over the counter to one of the nurses. On the paper was what I wanted on Tron’s cremation urn. It read:
“Tron. My Greatest Friend who taught me to run with the wolves.”
Thank you so much for reading the third installment of my writing advice series "On Writing Grief!" I hope it helps you, whether its for research purposes or for healing in your own life.
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If you're new to this series, make sure you read part 1, 2, and 3 to get the full story!
May the suns smile upon your presence.
A couple of the last videos I took.