My job is walking women through their winter seasons of life. It’s holding their hands through the grief of letting go and gut wrenching endings.
I have not risen up to this calling however, without learning to master my own necessary endings.
Yesterday was one of those days.
I awoke to a normal day - the sun was bright and the temperature was perfect. It was a beautiful fallish day. Carter and I had a cup of coffee and headed out on a crisp morning walk with the dog, Apollo, like we had a hundred times.
We chatted and laughed and played with Apollo as we always did.
On the way home, Apollo stopped to pee about three times. At first, it was cute and funny. Then, it was concerning. There were only a few drops coming out and he kept trying. “Oh great,” I thought. “He must have a UTI.” I immediately scheduled him for a vet appointment and took him in.
Nothing could have prepared me for the events of that day.
I went about my daily affairs happily awaiting the call to come pick up my baby. When the call came, it was not at all what I expected.
My gentle vet’s voice was apologetic. “I know Apollo has always been a very healthy dog and this is such a sudden surprise.”
My heart fell.
“I’ve discussed Apollo’s results with my trusted radiologist and it appears he has a very large malignant cancerous tumor, taking up a significant portion of his abdomen. This tumor has almost entirely cut off Apollo’s bladder and what’s worse is it has gotten so large it is now causing serious internal bleeding.”
I blinked hard. My face felt hot and I thought I might throw up.
“Unfortunately, there are no options that do not involve a lot of pain and suffering. We could refer to oncology, but it would be a stretch to even get him through the bleeding and urinary problems just to start.”
Battling confusion, I stuttered. “I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to understand what this means. How can I keep him comfortable? Even if it’s too late for treatment, how can I be there for him?”
He’s voice was patient as he waited for me to catch up. “That is why I said there are no good options.”
“Oh,” I said. My voice was trembling and full of recognition I did not want to understand. “Oh, you are saying he needs to go NOW.”
The room was spinning now. My body was shaking and heaving uncontrollably.
“I’m afraid if you took him home for the weekend, it would only get worse and he would be in a lot more pain.”
I agreed. Knowing what I needed to do, I set the time to head over and say my final goodbye. I hung up the phone.
Then I collapsed in a pool of grief. I sobbed. My heart revolted.
My best friend was suddenly at the end. I couldn’t bear the thought of my days without him. Through all of my toughest days, he was there. Through years of traumas and loneliness and betrayal, he was there. He was so full of gentle, innocent, sincere love. He was neverendingly eager to receive my love and always had a heart full to give. I lived to protect this dog. I coddled him. I babied him and spoiled him. Wherever I was, he was. His sweet energy filled my home. He was my home and I was his.
Yet, this time, I could do nothing.
And I was not ready.
But when are we ever ready? We are called to rise at the most inconvenient times. My baby needed me to have the courage to END his life. It was excruciating. It was the most indescribable feeling of hopelessness.
Carter and I drove to the office and wept silently. We knew what we had to do but I would have given anything to avoid it.
The hour we got to spend holding my baby felt like a blur. Like the endlessly happy boy he always was, he wagged his tail, even while panting due to the pain he felt. His tenderness was increasing, even since the few hours I had seen him before. We gave him a can of cat food - the kind he always got in trouble for stealing in the past. I’m so glad he was capable of that small enjoyment in his last moments.
The gentle vet gave us the time we needed, then asked if we were ready. I could not hold back my tears. Everything in me wanted to scream “No, I’ll never be ready!” But I knew. It was time to be brave and let him go.
I held my baby as his body went limp. As the medicine entered his little body, Carter and I sobbed uncontrollably. I wanted a different answer. I wanted another way. I didn’t want to let go damn it. I didn’t want him to be in pain but I didn’t want this! Everything in my body screamed “No. No! I’m not ready yet. Please, I’m not ready yet! I just want a few more walks. I just want a few more movie cuddles. I just want a few more camping trips. Please. Please. Not yet.”
And then, he was gone. Still and quiet.
I had always said I could never lose him. I had always said I couldn’t bear to be there. I had always said it would be too much.
But the warrior in me did it. Because warriors make the tough calls. Warriors let go when it’s time to let go. Despite the grief. Despite the desire to hold on. Despite the strong wish to avoid it.
I’m left with a heart full of grief today and an empty house. My face is puffy. My eyes are swollen. My heart aches. The memories are painful. I will always feel the scars. I miss him. But I had the courage to be there for him and that is all that matters now.
Necessary endings take all forms. Marriages. Business partners. Jobs. Friends. Death. Each of them take courage to see the most loving course. Each of them take courage to be honest. Each of them take courage to face it in its critical moment, instead of running from it.
We are not promised the absence of necessary endings. In fact, we are guaranteed to face many winter seasons in this life. How will we rise? How will we activate our WARRIOR to step into the courage required of us?