The last time I played with my girlfriend’s 10-year old golden retriever was on the day I was scheduled to fly back home after visiting her for a week in her home in Connecticut. I had known Monty, or ‘Montster,’ as Jane called him during very tender or very exasperated moments, for a total of 8 days. During those days he had come to accept me as the new pack leader, never leaving my side and being more obedient to my commands than to Jane’s loving affections. This hulking, wise, old dog that had watched over Jane after her divorce and had been her companion for ten years, was very sick. He didn’t eat much and lost 10 pounds during my visit. The diagnosis, which we received during that week, was advanced cancer of the liver.
Saying goodbye to a furry friend is never easy, even if you've only known him for a few days.
On the morning of my departure date I stumbled half-awake into Jane’s kitchen, where she announced with teary eyes that she wanted to put him down that morning. She wanted to do this while I was still there so she wouldn’t have to go through this ordeal alone. I wasn’t sure how to react. Should I be the strong boyfriend who could comfort her with his stoic demeanor, or the empathetic boyfriend who shared her pain? Instead I alternated between these two extremes and occasionally a third emotion overwhelmed me: fear. I had never faced death in person, and the prospect of seeing another being, one that I had bonded with, passing away, frightened me. And what does ‘passing away’ look like, anyway? I envisioned convulsions, yelps of pain, barks of defiance, a hysterical Jane wailing while beating my chest in frustration, a doctor scolding us for ending a life that still had a few good weeks in it. I was frightened of being in the sole position as Jane’s protector, companion and confidante, unsure whether I was ready for such a responsibility. As the new significant male in her life, would she have expectations I couldn’t fulfill?
So stoic boyfriend on the drive to the vet turned into empathetic boyfriend in the examination room, and into terrified boyfriend when the doctor shaved Monty’s leg to expose the vein into which she would administer the drugs. I wondered whether my life would end like this: in an empty room, surrounded by a few loved ones who are asked to look through a catalogue of urns while the doctor fetched the syringe. I couldn’t bear to watch as the doctor knelt on the floor and inserted the needle into Monty’s leg while he lay next to Jane. She was done in a few seconds. I expected to see Monty twitch and jerk, but he simply laid his head into Jane’s lap and closed his eyes. A few seconds later the doctor placed her stethoscope against his chest. She pulled it away from her ears, patted Jane’s arm and whispered: “I’m so sorry,” then stood up and left the room.
I was alone with Jane and Monty’s body, impressed by the speed and peacefulness of Monty’s death. Jane kept stroking Monty’s coat and whispered comforting words in his ear. After a few minutes of silence, interrupted only by my sniffling, Jane placed Monty’s head on the floor. He seemed to be at peace, as if he was sleeping. After one more look at him, we walked out into the hallway, leaving the door behind us ajar.
Ever since I penned my first short story (a detective story) aboard a train in Germany as a 10-year-old boy, I've considered myself an aspiring writer. I still do, 40 years later. And I still enjoy the process of writing immensely, even if nobody else reads my work (but secretly I hope someone does).
I’m not sure I read this when it was first posted, but it left me close to tears. In four short paragraphs you’ve brought us into that room with you and melted our hearts. Beautifully told.
Thanks John. Since then I’ve gone through that ordeal 3 more times and it doesn’t get any easier.