If you knew you were going to die in 24 hours, what would you do?”
Most of us have entertained an answer at one time or another.
But have you ever thought about what you would do when given 24 hours before taking someone else’s life?
What if that person is a loved one, incapable of knowing your plans, but having always trusted you to make wise choices?
This twist on the old question isn’t as easily answered as one may think.
My adult daughter drives in from Pittsburgh; my in-town adult son hangs around the house for the inevitable family conference. I tell them the next day our vet will put down the only dog these kids grew up with — the third child who’s kept the sounds of alive.
Lucy has been a part of our routine for 13 years. Determining the routine, we follow when death is imminent says a great deal about what each of us has become as a person and about what we value as a family.
Do we take one last walk, even if it’s out to the back fence, or one last car ride with fresh wind blowing in our faces? Do we even leave the house when Lucy clearly just wants to rest? Or do we just keep watching and thinking, helplessly facing reality? What do we do to affirm a life near death that has so often affirmed ours?
We let go. We free the life we love. We have no other choice. But we do have a choice about accepting the final lesson that pets are meant to teach.
If we have the power to free a beloved friend, maybe we also have the power to free ourselves.
Lucy taught us to fear less and love more, regret less and dream about what can be, be kind instead of being right, and to sing “Amazing Grace” when it is most needed.
More importantly, Lucy’s loyalty taught my family the golden rule more than I ever could.
She sat nearby when one of us was having a bad day. She greeted whoever walked through the door with a full-circle romp, friend and stranger alike. She taught us to stretch before and after taking a nap, and that unconditional love — not time — heals all wounds. It’s amazing what an old dog can teach if we’d only listen.
The house is empty now. When I step in the door, I call out and then stop mid-sentence. Old habits die hard.
We are meant to love God’s creatures without any conditions — yet another way to free ourselves from human frailties.
I know the hurt will fade and the sadness will lift. But I’m not quite ready to remove Lucy’s bowls.
I still need to remember nourishment isn’t always physical.
I need to remember the lessons she taught. I’ll take a walk around the neighborhood alone tonight, but tomorrow I will try to do a full circle romp for someone who just might need it.
I’ll accept the challenge and be the person my dog thought I was.