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Words Of Bereavement


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It is so hard to write right now, that I am surprised I am trying. We had to face the euthanasia of our sweet pet on Wednesday.

Our dog, named Petey, was unusual - the most unusual dog we had ever owned - in his intelligence, his very specific preferences, his uncanny ability to understand what was being said, his ability to learn quickly. Feisty and with the ability to make us laugh often with his antics, which he recognized we would enjoy, he was a gift to us, which we never earned nor deserved, but was brought to us through the very special grace of God. My husband and I are childless: this little dog more than filled our house with companionship and love.

He was a Jack Russell Terrier mix with a constant 'doggy smile' on his little furry face.

He came to us a castoff, rescued from a family whose children were torturing him. He had remained locked in a shed behind their house for days, his front top teeth having been so ruined by attempts to escape the shed, that they had to all be removed. This never affected his appearance or his ability to eat or get along though. He lept over this issue like he could leap over anything that came his way. He was a survivor, a soldier dog. But at first he was just scared. He came to us at the age of 3 or 4, a beautiful dog - we often commented he looked like a show dog in his stance and bearing. But within the house, he tried to hide beneath the furniture, and had odd growling issues around certain events, which we came to figure out and unlock, and to bring freedom and peace to him where there had been fear and pain for him. He blossomed, once free of his old home and the torturous first years of his life, revealing the truely wonderful nature and intense intelligence and kindness which lay beneath the pain of his early years. We knew his previous owners must have been blind to have missed out on him. He learned a brand new life, celebrated it, and made new friends. His world had become happy at last, and he had found a soft place to land.

We had him for only 5 brief years....the shortest 5 years of my life, I think. Far too few years. In March of this year we began to notice certain indications of pain....without going into details, vets around us helped us to understand what we were facing. Petey had cancer. Aggressive, fast cancer - way too fast.

I will skip the days of stuggle, except to mention one day, when I was aware only of his pain - he was walking only when necessary, now, measuring when and how to use his energy. He slowly made his way outside, and sunbathed, stretched in the grass, and then went under his favorite tree to experience the shade ~ a soft wind blew past, through the limbs of the tree, and for one moment Petey lifted up his head, stretched his neck, mouth open and eyes shut, smiling, drinking in the wind with joy. My heart almost broke. I sensed that Petey was dying - not that moment, but very soon, and I sensed he knew it too. To see him experience one beautiful, happy moment like that broke my heart, because I perceived there would be few remaining ones. I wanted to give him life and joy forever and to escape with him this thing that had invaded our lives together.

Pain led to difficulty defecating, difficulty moving, and difficulty breathing. Petey was a fighter, never one to give up, he still got up each day, still went outdoors, and drank water to the last day. But his sweet little eyes began to become bloodshot from the struggle with pain, and his eyes met ours with serious questions.

It was so hard to accept - cancer. It was so hard to accept that he could really be dying...after all, it was too soon, too soon...

He began to have difficulty walking. We began to carry him more often. He became quite weak, and could not step well on his right front foot at all, from the pain in it. The final few days before we had him euthanized, he began to refuse food, and most painful of all, his breaths became even a bit more difficult to take. It had been a tremendous struggle to read his will and needs, whether to live a bit longer, or to leave this earth. During this same period of time, we experienced some of the most intimate and precious moments with him, at his initiation. He snuggled us; he came to us; kissed us often. If we left the room, he looked for us. He wanted us to be with him. He wanted to spend a little more time with us. He took control of his last days, and seemed to make decisions as to what he wanted to have during his final time on earth. Once uncannily, he sat up and looked at me. Then, he looked at his side where we believe the cancer to have spread - he looked right at the spot - then at me again. Then, a second time he looked at the spot, then at me. It was very thought out, very direct and intentional, not an itch or a normal dog distraction. It was as if to say "what is this thing...what is happening?" Petey was uncanny like that. He understood things, we sometimes thought, that no dog should.

Then came the day - the day when we knew: we would have to set an appointment right away to have him euthanized (this past Tuesday). For his sake. We had to. It was the most difficult and painful decision we have ever had to make as a couple. I felt sick at the thought of it, but something stronger overcame my personal desires: love. I could only think of Petey's needs: I no longer saw my own.

We took him to the college veterinary office, which was wonderfully set up for this situation. Arriving, they whisked us instantly to a private room with couches and wallpaper and photos of those who had gone before. We had wrapped Petey in his favorite soft blanket, with our smells and his smells on it. Giving us some time alone, a woman then arrived to explain to us what would occur: two medicines would be given - an anesthetic and then the barbituate which would stop his heart. Urine or feces could come out. There could be a final heavy breath or sigh. She was very gentle in her detail, but I cried too hard; perhaps I missed some of it. She said she would return with a gurney to take Petey to place an IV in his arm in preparation for the medications and then she would return him to us. But first she gave us a little time with him again. Then she and a nurse took him for his IV placement. It seemed to take a long time. They returned him to us, panting very hard. Although I had told him all day, that he was going home today to see other dogs and God, and he had gotten a positive feel from me up until that point, and been at peace, I realized that now, he had grasped what was coming; something intensely stressful, for he felt it in the energy of the room. He was sitting up, now, on his own, looking very strong with his ears forward. He hardly looked ill, but I realized it was adrenaline that was giving him a momentary boost of strength. I went to him immediately when he came in; carressed him and kissed him and spoke to him. I stroked his head, wanting to reassure him somehow. The vet had arrived, and was explaining to my husband again about the two medications.

They asked me where I wanted Petey to be, on the couch or on the gurney. I indicated the couch, where I was seated. They lay a cloth across the seat next to me. This surprised me.

My husband and I had already agreed that my husband would stay only for the first medicine, not the last. He did not wish to see the last medicine. So, I was not expecting my husband to want to hold Petey. But I wanted to hold him close to me, to comfort for a few moments and to speak some final things into his ear about my love and our future together after this life. I also wanted to deeply express my compassion to him. So, I thought they would place the cloth across my lap. I understood the cloth: it was there in case Petey loosed his bowels at the end. But they brought Petey and placed him on the cloth next to me, where he sat up immediately, panting very hard. I took his little arms gently and asked him to lay down trying to help him to do so, but he did not wish to do so.

The vet said "I need to get in there", and I moved away so that he could sit where I had been. I thought, to prep Petey a little more before the procedure started.

My husband had reached over once already to touch Petey, but I turned to ask him again "don't you want to say goodbye to him before you leave?". He had just done so, he explained. I turned around, looking at Petey. I realized he was frightened, but our little soldier dog did not wish to show it. But his adrenaline was due to fear. I wanted to hold him right that moment, but the vet was still beside him. I spoke gently to him as I waited for the cue (that I could now hold him). He looked like a little boy - a fightened little boy, wanting to be brave. And then, he suddenly began to lay down on his own, stepping down from his sit position...I think I was even thinking "he must be so tired from the fear", when I realized what was occurring. He fell the remainder of the way to the couch, his little head slid off the couch slightly, his eyes looking straight at me. "There he goes", said the vet. I fell to my knees, shaken, and gently moved his sweet little head onto the couch, then embracing him gently around his whole body. Only right then did it register that the process had already begun. That had been the shot of anesthetic. My mind spun, and I hoped he could still hear me and know I meant to comfort him. I wept, and spoke quietly into his ear, words of love and hope. I stroked his soft small face and kept my other arm about him. I heard the vet say "he's gone".

"He's gone?" I asked in wonder and shock. It all happened in seconds. I hadn't gotten to connect with him .... to comfort him. And in seconds I had to digest the complex truth of the goodness of his quick passing versus the fact that I had missed the most important moment...one of the most important moments of our lives together. That of holding him and speaking to him as I wanted to do, comforting and soothing him before the fact so that he would leave, knowing we loved him, feeling more secure and at peace. "May I still talk to him even though he's gone?", I asked, mostly to make sure they would let me. They gave me space, and I wept over him, and told him over and over I loved him and not to be afraid, even though it was after the fact. I told him I would see him again, and that I would miss him so very much. I had wanted him to hear all of these things.

The staff was so wonderful to us, and the woman walked out with me around a different way than through the lobby, and hugged me and reminded me that we would receive a paw print from Petey in the mail.

But I have been haunted these last two days knowing that I did not hold Petey at the most important time in his life when he needed me. He was so frightened, and had to face that doctor, alone at the moment when he needed comforting the very most.

I missed a step in our dance of life.

I wrote this poem, or song, about it today. It is not a song of resolution, completely. It is instead an expression of where I am, today right now - an expression of my apology to Petey and my sadness.

I will revise it in future days a bit if I heal some from my trauma of betraying my dog, who I had promised to always love and protect......


All I wished was for my arms to hold and comfort you

All I wanted was to ease the fear that you went through

How could I know five little words would separate our touch

At the very instant when you needed it so much

I misstepped in our life’s dance…

What could ever be the chance…

Don’t be afraid, sweet baby, I am with you till the end

You’ve been the dearest love, and you’ve been my sweetest friend

I’d never want to hurt you, or to frighten your sweet heart.

And if I could have the chance again, I’d hold you till we’d part...

Right when you needed me the most, it seemed I wasn’t there

But my eyes were always on you, and my mind reached out to care

My heart never left your side at all – it was going through

Beat for beat as one with yours, what you were facing, too

…I hope you saw it from above,

when I flew to you in love…

For the instant that I realized the misstep and its harm

My entire being rushed to you to take you in my arms

I held you close, beholding you through prisms made of tears

Caressed your sweet soft head and neck and whispered in your ear:

“Don’t be afraid, sweet baby, I am with you till the end

You’ve been a dear, dear love to me, and been my sweetest friend

I’d never want to hurt you, or to frighten your sweet heart.

And if I could have the chance again, I’d hold you till we’d part...”

I thank the Lord He’s with you now...

no earthly fear shall ever mar

again that gentle spirit nor inflict any harm…

And in Heaven I will hold you…hold you…hold you….

In Heaven I will hold you....

With all my tears and my love,

Your Julie

(A friend asked me yesterday "were you holding him?". My father expressed "it is so good to know you were holding him" - I have not been able to tell my father the truth. Petey was a very loved dog.)

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Dear Julie,

I can tell by reading your post that you have a HUGE heart and I know Petey loved you. Your post also brought me to tears because it is so much like the experience I went through with my cat, Dinty, who left me on May 3, 2009. Everything from the private room, the time alone, the explaination from the vet, when they took him to put in the IV, and especially how fast it all heppened. I held Dinty in my lap and I never really said "good-bye" before the first medicine, while he was awake. I had my hands under the blanket that he was on and I didn't pet him or talk to him during the last seconds. It is really amazing how fast it happens. I keep telling myself that he knew I was there even though I would love to change the way I handled things. Petey knew you were there too.

Your poem/song is very moving. Petey was lucky to have you and you were lucky to have Petey. I really feel your sadness, it is so hard losing someone so close. I, too, don't have any children and he was my life.

May you find peace knowing that Petey is out of pain.

My best,


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Dear Karen,

Thank you so very much. It's really hard. I am coming to realize, with help from your words to me, that Petey did know I was there in the room with him and was not going to leave him. Karen, I know that your own precious cat Dinty, knew this too. They have an animal wisdom, I think, and are amazing at sensing things like how we really feel. I know that Dinty felt your love and your compassion reaching out to him even when your hands were not touching him. It was a wonderful love you had for him, that you chose to be with him until the end - there are many who are just not able to do this with their beloved pets. And I know that Dinty was aware it was your love that held you there with him, until his last moment. I am sure of it, and this reassures me about Petey, too.

It was amazingly fast. Even though they had warned me, I did not realize that all of it would be quite that fast - even the anesthetic, too.

Thank you for telling me that I did not betray him. It does help.

I pray that we both heal and have sweet memories and dreams of our loved ones.


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Hey Julie. I cried when i read your post. I am sorry for all that you have lost. I am also dealing with my own loss. I wasn't able to go to the veterinary hospital when my baby, Ebony, was put to sleep. She had bitten me in the face overnight and i was home dealing with my own injuries. My husband and stepson didn't stay with Ebony when she was put to sleep. I feel really guilty for that. I wish i could have been with her. I can understand how difficult it is to feel like you've failed your pet.

It has been nine days for me and i still look for Ebony everywhere i go. When i take a shower in the evening, i get out expecting to see her lying on the floor waiting for me. I miss her underfoot in the kitchen. There is no one to like my oatmeal bowl in the morning. No one runs circles around the house and my legs when i get home. I miss her so much.

Julie, i don't think that you failed Petey. You may not have been holding him at the moment, but your heart was holding him all the time. Petey knew you loved him. He knew you were his mom. Dogs take in so much more than is always obvious. Though it was awful, you died the best thing for him. He may have lingered on for days in extreme pain. You were there for him. You took care of him. I don't think that you have anything to feel guilty about though i know it is sometimes tough to believe that when you are hurting and missing someone like Petey.

Hang in there, Julie. I am hurting with you.


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Yes, Julie, you brought up a good point about the anesthetic being so fast. I guess I was thinking after the first shot I would have time to say my last goodbyes, but he was "asleep" immediately.

Thank you for your kind words!

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