Animalia: Letting Go of Grace
When we say “Good-Bye.”
by Carol Koleman
The old girl came to us late in her life. She was found wandering the streets, mostly deaf, blind, arthritic and a bit senile. The animal rescue who took her in figured that she was about 15 years old, a long life for a large golden lab. She was in bad shape and seemed close to death, but they didn’t want her to end her life in a cold shelter, far from the good life she had once shared with her humans. It was obvious she had been loved and well cared for by her sweet demeanor and good grooming. Only she knows what brought her to this abandoned state, depending on the kindness of strangers.
The rescue put a call out that this sweet lab needed a home to live out her remaining days; they considered it a “hospice” situation, maybe a month or two. I looked at the old face in the photo and my heart melted. She appeared so confused, so in need of some loving, yet she also had such a tender and patient look: “Here I am, graciously willing to accept some help, or not.”
Though I have a household of creatures running and flying around freely (my house sometimes seems like a wooded glen), I felt compelled to invite this dog to be part of our family, no matter how brief the time.
She adapted easily to our chaotic life. The confusion she must have experienced, considering her limited sight, hearing and cognitive abilities, didn’t seem to phase her; she had an amazing ability to just “be.” This is how she came to be named Grace.
One month turned to two, two to three, and so on until the year anniversary of when Grace came to us—quite fittingly, Thanksgiving-loomed before us. Grace had flourished in our home, becoming an integral member of the family. The other dogs adjusted their behavior to accommodate her slow movements and an annoying but endearing habit of following us everywhere. I guess we were her guides, since she could only see light and dark.
She was the only one of the dogs who would withstand Timothy the rabbit’s incessant amorous advances, and who seemed to enjoy Stella’s Pogo jumping before going out each day. She was always the calm in the eye of the storm, offering a wagging tail, a kind gaze (foggy as it was) and dog kisses.
I figured when we adopted her that we wouldn’t get too attached, considering her advanced age and the knowledge that she didn’t have long in this world. I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I didn’t know until the day my vet said that it was time, how devastating Grace’s passing would be. I realized, there is no statute of limitations when it comes to love. Grace was as bonded to us, and we to her, as if we’d had her her entire life.
I asked the vet to give me a month with her. She was not in pain, things were just shutting down and she walking was extremely difficult. Grace and I spent this month in constant contact, I even loaded her in the car and took her to work with me. We enjoyed hours of lying together and just “being.” As I said, she was good at that.
During this month, I kept asking myself, “Who am I to say, ‘it’s now your time to go?’” I believe strongly that charity does not stop when it becomes inconvenient, yet I questioned my motives; did I agree too quickly at my vet’s advice? Grace had been difficult almost from the start, with daily accidents and needing much more care than the other dogs. But I had promised her I would provide all the love and care that she needed. And now I felt I was betraying all of that. The vet said I needed to come to terms with whether I was I keeping Grace alive for her, or for myself.
It was obvious that she wasn’t doing well and found little joy anymore, except for maybe at meal time. But there was that! (Third stage of grief, bargaining.)
When is it time to say good-bye to our beloved pet? It’s never a good time, we never have long enough. But we must consider the quality of life our pet is experiencing. There’s no question when pain is involved, but what about conditions when there isn’t pain? When they can’t walk anymore, when they can’t hear, or see, or understand? When the light has gone out of their eyes.
Our month ended. Grace and I spent her last day lying by the fire with our arms around each other. We had our photo taken together. It was a good day at the end of her long, good life.
I realize now that in the year we spent together, Grace taught me to get past my own attachments and be more like her; accept what comes, accept what goes, it’s all good. Thank you. Grace.