Even when we know it’s coming, death catches us unprepared.
Quince had been doing pretty well, all things considered. A little slower in the step, to be sure. But still, jumping up on the bed to greet us in the mornings. Standing sentinel at the door in case he was needed for a trip to Sonic.
Then one night, he kept coughing while trying to eat, and walked away from a full bowl. For a corgi, that’s serious.
We switched to soft food, but the cancer had spread, keeping him from controlling his jaw. He bit his tongue, and it lolled out like a prize fighter who had been one too many rounds. Still, he would bob his head up and down with that tongue out, trying to offer broken kisses as best he could.
We knew, hearts broken, that it was time to let go. I made a final vet appointment, and the night before, as he shuddered to breathe, my daughter and I sat with him until early in the morning, both crying and petting him. And she, in the wisdom only a child can have, prayed, “God, it’s OK. I just don’t want him to hurt anymore.”
She told Quince, too.
“You can go. We’ll miss you so much, but it’s OK for you to go.”
Between sobs, we talked about whether or not there would be dogs in heaven, and I told her “yes, I thought so.”
And, as I often am for so many reasons, I was grateful that I have spent a decade of Sunday mornings listening to Max Lucado preach. Because Max believes there will be pets in heaven, too. And although it is hardly the most pressing theological issue of our time, early Monday morning as I cried with my girl, it was the most important one in the room.
Quince settled in and slept that morning, and eventually, so did we.
When it came time for his appointment later that day, my husband and I met at the vet’s office, barely holding back tears until we got to the exam room.
Our vet, Dr. Kyle Crowley, was gentle and reassuring. He joined us in petting our brave little general, and told us what we needed to hear, that this excruciating choice was the bravest and kindest we had. That cancer was killing him, we were sparing him pain. We stroked Quince gently while Dr. Crowley gave him those final shots, and we told him what a good dog he was over and over until we knew his heart was not beating.
And then, I told him a few more times. Because he was such a good dog.
We stayed for a while, and then, the vet came back in and told us to take all the time we needed. We gathered up his collar and leash and turned to go. But Dr. Crowley stayed, and he kept petting Quince so that we would not have to walk out of the room and leave him alone.
I will tell him, when I trust my tears to let me talk, how that small kindness was a balm to my bruised heart. That sometimes the simplest moments of compassion mean more than we can imagine.
But because I can write and cry at the same time, I will tell you the same now. Your comments and emails have been a reminder of all that is sweet in this world, a reminder that has made the bitterness of loss easier to swallow. Thank you for that.