I walked into my daughter’s room at 9:00am, stood there quietly and watched her sleep for a few minutes. I had to wake her up with some bad news, and I dreaded it. I stood there for a few minutes, then quietly backed out of her room and let her sleep. The memories were just too deep.
Four years ago, a few months before we lost Andrew, I had gone through this pain. Our beloved lab of fifteen years, Daisy, had grown old and tired. She had lay down one afternoon and decided it was her time. She stopped eating, stopped drinking, looked at me with her tired eyes, and closed them. She was still with us but we both knew her time had come. I had to let my son know.
I called him that evening. Not dreading the conversation, but dreading the aftermath. I had to tell my son that our family pet, that had been his companion since he was nine years old, that slept with him, that licked him when he was sad, that comforted him and loved him unconditionally, was about to pass away. And Andrew was so far away at college. It killed me that he would not be able to hug her, hold her, or be there to comfort her in her last hours. He was far away, and alone from us. I could only imagine the pain and sorrow he felt. I could hear it in his voice when I asked him how he was.
That killed me. To this day, almost four years later I remember the call I had to make the next night. We lost Daisy about 10PM. She passed away in my consoling arms, while we lay together on her bed. I could tell the end was near, so I held her close in her last few minutes, comforted her like she had comforted everyone in our family so many times over so many years. But there was nothing I could do to help her, nothing I could do to forego the inevitable, nothing I could do but to ease her uncertainty. She was not in any pain, which gave me a lot of solace. But she was gone.
I cried for a long time, feeling empty, as we all do when losing a cherished family pet. But what I dreaded was causing my son the pain and anguish I was feeling. But I had to do it. I pulled myself together and made the call. We both cried on the phone for a while, then we hung up. It helped knowing that Jovi was there with him, that he was not alone. Dorothy was here to help me. But I wept that night. Not only for Daisy, but for how Andrew was feeling. As a father, I never want to see my children cry, especially for emotional reasons. Nor would I ever want to bring them bad news that would cause them that kind of pain.
But here I was again, standing next to my beautiful sleeping Nicole, having to wake her up with similar sad news. A few minutes earlier I received an e-mail that my mother-in-law’s cat, Stanley had passed away early that morning. We knew Stan was going to pass soon. Last summer he was very lethargic and could barely walk. After a vet visit, Stan was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, given some medications and was doing well for the past year, but over the past few days he had relapsed and was losing the battle. My mother-in-law was all alone in the house with her beloved cat and companion, and her grief. Someone had to go over and be with her.
Nicole is very close to her grandma, visiting her almost every single day when she is home. She also loved and cared for Stanley very deeply. She would go to grandmas and cook, and garden, and spend hours playing with Stanley. When she returned home she would come with stories of what grandma said that day, and what the cat did. I have tons of pictures on my phone of Stanley that Nicole had texted me over the years. About as many as I have with Andrew hugging Daisy.
But I backed out of her room. I took a shower, got dressed, got my composure (made some unnecessary loud noises) and went back for a second shot. This time when I walked into her room, she was sort of awake. I took a deep breath and told her the sad news of Stanley. She was upset and saddened, but it was also expected. What was more important is that she was eager to get up and go to grandma and comfort her and be with her. That made me happy to see that selflessness and compassion that she so readily possesses. I went back to my room to get ready for a client as I heard her leave the house to be with grandma.
Seeing our kids in pain is one of the worst feelings a parent can experience. But seeing the joy and compassion pets teach our young children makes the pain of losing these family members almost tolerable – almost.