Saying Goodbye

January 23, 2014

It’s my last night with my boy Chester. Tomorrow the vet will come to the house at 12:30 and they will kill him. The nice thing to say is “put him to sleep” or “let him go” or “euthanize him,” but the reality is that they will stop my boy’s beating heart and all the Chester that is in him will suddenly be gone. And I will never see my Chester again, not the way I want to see him: here next to me. Just in memory, which is not at all a good substitute.

The vet is coming to stop his heart because I called and asked her to, because I can’t bear to see him like this any longer. Weak and falling down and afraid and confused about why his body just doesn’t work anymore. He is almost blind, and mostly deaf, and sometimes a bit senile, but the hard part is that he is still Chester. He is aware, and alert, and wants his crock-pot beef dinner, and wants to go outside with everyone even though he falls on the ice and shivers. He wants to do all the things he has always done. His mind is still Chester, but his body is giving up.

These are the hardest ones, when they are not ready in their own minds. When they are still just going about their days like they always have. The ones that I have lost to cancer have been ready to go, and have told me as clearly as if they could speak words. Chester is not ready. I know he isn’t. But there is nothing more I can do to make his little body support him. He has already fallen badly enough to injure himself more than once, and I am afraid to leave him alone for even a few moments. I cannot let him be hurt and scared and alone.

So I will hold him tight while the housecall vet does her thing and tries not to look at me while I am sobbing into his neck. And I will tell him it’s okay and that I love him and that he should rest now. Even though the first part is a lie, and it is not at all okay, and I am broken. Again. And slowly he will stop breathing and the part of him that is Chester will be gone in that last breath. It will be up to my memory to try to recreate the exact way he moved, and the exact sound of his bark; and maddeningly these things become diluted over time.

At times like these I desperately wish that I could believe in the Rainbow Bridge or something like it. I never have, even as a child, but oh god to have that comfort now. To think that he will be young and whole and playing again. To think that someday I will see him – see ALL of them that I ache for. I wish I could believe it. But as it stands my only comfort in this is the absence of pain. The absence of fear. For him, thank goodness, although not at all for me. With each one lost the pain seems unbearable, but there is no choice except to bear it. And with each one lost, the fear is the same: that I will forget some essential detail that made him who he was. That the quintessential Chesterness will be lost to me, both in reality and in memory, forever.  That he will die, and then keep on dying.

So tomorrow I will give him the only thing left that I can give him: the absence of pain and fear. And I will hold his head in my hands, and I will try to fix in my mind the exact softness of his fur which makes it unlike the fur of any other dog but Chester. The way the top of his head smells, the weight of his paw in my hand, the way his tongue pokes out of his toothless mouth. Things that photographs can’t remember for me. And I will try to wrap my head around the fact that he is really and truly and utterly gone from me, that what I have just done is irrevocable. No bargaining with the universe or god or my own mind can make it turn out any differently. And at some point I will have no choice but to get up from his dog bed, empty now, and go on with the day.

I have 10 years’ worth of memories of him, so many good and funny and wonderful. There will be moments with him that I’ve forgotten that will sneak up and surprise me, little gifts of him dropped into my lap. And in time it will make me happy and sad and then happy again to remember them. But what I want, what I really really really want, is for my boy to just stay here with me.




  1. RIP Chester, be happy and run like the wind made you

  2. crossing the rainbow bridge – have been there 3 times so far- the pain and genuine grief we get from the lose these remarkable creatures is worth it- Years of sheer joy- much luck.

  3. Thank you for this. My heart is heavy/full with our life with Oliver, and to share in human experience is comfort.

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