Four months ago we said goodbye to our beloved Toby. He had been diagnosed with cancer on November 2, 2011 and was gone in less than two weeks.
When we were given this horrible news, we were not sure where the cancer started, or how fast it was growing, but we knew one thing, we were going to fight this horrible disease with everything we had. Everything!
After all, when we brought him home, we had promised to love and care for him. We were bound and determined to keep this promise. No matter what!
So we put together our plan of attack. We spent the last week of his life meeting with various vets, including highly regarded oncologists and a world-renowned homeopathic specialist. We were prepared to do anything to save our boy. At the young age of ten years old, we were not ready to say goodbye.
But sadly, it was out of our control.
Toby entered our life when he was just two months old, and from the moment we laid eyes on him we were in love. He was our best friend, our doggie “soul mate.”
We always knew in the back of our minds that we would outlive Toby, but be it naivety or denial, we did not expect it to be so soon. We were sure he would live at least 15 years. After all, he was our life, our “child.” We had given him the very best of everything, the highest quality food, the best medical attention, our endless affection.
Needless to say we were devastated (still are) when he passed away.
This, i suppose, we expected. We knew we would be heartbroken when he died, that was a given. However, there was one emotion that cropped up the moment Toby took his last breath. This emotion, I did not expect.
This emotion was guilt.
I had heard and read about people who had felt guilt when their pets died, but that was guilt that they had not done enough to save their friend. Or in the case of tragic accidents, the guilt that they were irresponsible in some way.
Neither of these categories of guilt fit I what I was feeling.
What I was feeling was directly related to the last moments of Toby’s life, and the guilt that I/we were the ones that gave the order to end his life. To end our best friend’s life!
I won’t go into the details, but on the last day of Toby’s life his body had deteriorated so much that he could barely walk, was urinating blood, and was drooling profusely. Toby was in pain.
The progression of Toby’s deterioration was meteoric. Just two days prior, he had been romping and playing with one of his best two–legged friends, his pal Jeremy. But today, in the early morning hours of November 15, 2011, he was nearly lifeless.
So when we arrived at the emergency room, our Toby was already gone. His heart was beating, air was passing through his lungs, but his soul, his spirit, it was gone. The toby we knew and loved had already crossed the rainbow bridge.
After a long, stressful examination, the vet delivered the grave news that there was nothing she could do to help our boy. In her opinion, it was time to say goodbye.
She could not tell us what to do. It was our decision, our decision alone.
This is where the guilt comes in.
As a human being, it is against our nature to end life. Instinctively, at the deepest, darkest depths of our being, it is our soul’s intention to live. Not die. So to actually go against that was something close to blasphemy.
I thought to myself, we must save his life. That’s our job. When we brought him home 10 years ago, we made a commitment to him, a commitment to care for him, and to love him. Giving the order to euthanize him seemed wrong, it seemed like we were breaking our promise. How could we possibly break our promise to our best friend? How could we betray him?
After a long, emotional discussion with my amazing husband, Corey, and having all the medical data presented to me by a very caring vet, I came to accept the harsh reality, it was time to “break that promise.”
I was there with toby till the very end, holding him, and talking to him, just as I had done his entire life. I was there for him as he closed his eyes, and took his last breath.
It’s been four months since the day we said goodbye, and for the first three months this guilt was daunting. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this feeling because I thought I was the only who had ever felt it. I dug through all my grief books, and scoured every “expert” site on the web, but could not find anyone talking about this guilt. So I concluded that I must be the only one. I must be the only one feeling this.
But then something happened, I started talking to people. As a dog trainer, I have the amazing luxury of talking to lots of dedicated dog lovers every day.
So i did just that, and quickly and surprisingly, found that what I was feeling was the “dirty little secret” of most dog parents who had made this heartbreaking decision.
Knowing I was not the only one feeling like this did not give me complete peace, I wish it did, but it helped. It helped a lot!
I wish I had a brilliant answer as to how one “fixes” this feeling, but frankly, I’m still going through it, still learning. But one thing that has given me solace is recognizing that I DID NOT break my promise to Toby. In fact, keeping him alive that dark night, alive because I couldn’t bare to say goodbye, that would have been breaking the promise.
When we bring one of these beautiful animals into our lives, no matter the age, the promise we make is to care for them, protect them, teach them, and love them.
We also must be there for them when they are in pain, and recognize when it is time to say goodbye.
It’s the hardest promise you’ll ever make, and toughest one to keep, but in the end, it is the most important promise of all.