Friday, January 25, 2008

The Toughest Decision, Ever.

Lesson Number Fifteen: If You Love Someone, Set Them Free part three

In the first week of April 2003, Bijoux’s rapid breathing was happening even when she was sleeping. We decided that the following Saturday—April 5—would be the day that we would have her put down. It was the day I had been dreading for years.

When we made that decision, we also decided not to tell Dylan and Jason what was going to happen until it got closer. It was a rough week. On Friday, I loaded the camera with film before the kids got home from school. After they put their backpacks down and got settled, I suggested that we take some pictures with Bijoux. Though it was very difficult, I am so happy that we did it. I kept telling myself how lucky we were to have this opportunity. I took several pictures of Dylan and Jason sitting next to Bijoux on that Pottery Barn rug, which was the perfect accessory for the photos. Dylan told me that he really didn’t feel like smiling, and I told him that it was okay, he didn’t have to. It was just heartbreaking.

After I took the shots I wanted, Dylan told me he wanted to take one of me with Bjioux. I got down onto the rug and laid down behind her, wrapping my arm around her and pulling her face toward mine. Dylan snapped the picture, and then another one. I took the camera from him and finished the roll that day, so that I could take the film to be developed immediately.

That evening when Jim got home, we wanted to tell the kids what was going on right away, so that it wouldn’t be too close to bedtime when they heard the news. We sat them down again and told them that we would be taking Bijoux to the vet the next day and that she wouldn’t be returning home with us. We told them in very vague terms what was going to happen. They were, understandably, sad, but it was a lot for them to try at their young ages to comprehend.

The next day, Saturday April 5, I was scheduled to teach my 7:15 spin class and then to work. It was all I could do to get through the workout and then work at my desk in the membership department quietly for the morning. Naturally my thoughts were elsewhere, and I was exhausted from not sleeping much. Julie and my parents were coming to say goodbye to Bijoux, and I wanted to spend some time alone with her as well, so I left work around noon.

Jim was working in the garage when I arrived. I entered the house and Bijoux was, as usual, on the family room couch. She was completely covered by her blankets and was sleeping peacefully, but was happy to see me when I greeted her. I went upstairs to change clothes and returned to her. I sprawled out on the couch, and she curled up with me. I petted her as I cried quietly, wondering how I was going to get through this. At one point, she shifted her body and rested her head on my chest, gazing into my eyes. I told myself I would never forget the coarse feeling of her fur, the shape of her head, and the way she fit her body to the shape of mine. Jim and the kids came in and out of the room, but mostly left me just to be with her.

A short time later, Mom, Dad, and Julie arrived. It was close to the time Jim and I had to leave to get to the Animal Hospital before closing. I wanted to stretch out my time with her as much as possible. When we couldn’t hang around anymore, I got up to get Bijoux’s collar, which she hadn’t worn in a couple of months because she had a fatty tumor on the front of her neck and I hadn’t wanted it to get irritated. As I was retrieving her collar and her leash, my parents and Julie said a brief good-bye. I felt as if I were in a total fog as I walked over towards her. As I kneeled down on the floor next to her, I leaned over to put her collar on, and let out a cry as I fastened it around her neck. I buried my face into her body and just hugged her, and I heard my Mom telling the boys, “It’s okay…”

I stood up and when Bijoux saw the leash, she did jump up, just like Dr. Staudacher predicted she might. My parents told Dylan and Jason that they needed to say goodbye to Bijoux, and they each did so quickly, with a little kiss and hug.

I felt completely wretched as I walked her out to the car. She was so excited to be “going for a walk”, and here I was, taking her to die. I’m not sure that I have ever felt that guilty in my life, although deep down I knew we were doing the right thing.

Jim had set up her blue blanket on the back seat of the car. When I saw it I knew he meant well, but I thought to myself, “He’s got to be kidding!” There was no way I would not hold her on my lap! I grabbed the blanket from the back seat and sat down in the front passenger’s seat, where I held Bijoux for one of the longest fifteen minute drives I’ve ever experienced.

Jim didn’t say much; I’m sure he didn’t know what to say to me. He just kept his hand on mine when he could, and petted Bijoux every now and then. I knew he was hurting too, and I felt bad that I couldn’t comfort him like he was comforting me. He asked me if I was sure that I wanted to go into the exam room with her; he knew it would be very, very difficult to take. I told him that after all of the joy Bijoux gave to me, after all of the unconditional love, I felt that it was absolutely the least I could do to be there for her until the very end. I told him that he didn’t have to go in with us if he didn’t want to, but he told me that he wanted to be there for me.

When we were a couple of minutes away from the vet, Jim called to let them know we were on our way. We walked right up to the counter and I filled out the paperwork, indicating that we didn’t want to take her home with us afterwards. I paid for the procedure, and the receptionist led us into an exam room immediately.
We sat on the floor with Bijoux, stroking her and crying. I still hadn’t quite figured out exactly how I was going to get through this, but I knew that it would all be okay.

In just a few minutes, Dr. Grant entered the room. She greeted us, and asked if we would like a bit more time before she got started. We both answered no, dreading the procedure but wanting it over with all at the same time. Dr. Grant explained what would happen, and I found her manner and her voice to be so completely gentle and soothing. I was so thankful that she spoke slowly, making sure that we understood everything. She asked if we had any questions, and when we didn’t, she left the room briefly to get what she needed.

When she returned, she also brought another woman with her. This woman was a technician who would help hold Bijoux for the procedure. She lifted Bijoux onto the table, stood her up, and held her against her chest. As Dr. Grant prepared her paw for the injection, Jim and I stood at Bijoux’s head, talking to her and petting her.

Dr. Grant gave her the first injection and we waited for something to happen. Bijoux seemed to relax just a bit. Dr. Grant said that she would have to give her another one, and as she made her preparations, I continued talking to Bijoux. She just looked a little woozy to me, and she didn’t take her eyes off of me the entire time.

Dr. Grant gave her the second injection, and within a second or two, Bijoux’s legs completely relaxed and her body sank down onto the table. The technician eased her into a natural position while Dr. Grant pulled out her stethoscope. She checked Bijoux’s heartbeat and said that she was almost gone, but that she would give her a third injection after we left. Jim asked her to do it while we were there, and I am thankful that he thought of that. Dr. Grant said, “Oh, of course.”

She injected Bijoux one last time and this time when she checked, found no heartbeat. She told us that Bijoux was gone. I asked her if Dr. Staudacher was in the building, and she said that he was. I asked her to please tell him that we had been in, and to thank him for me; that his advice really helped me feel better. She smiled and said she would pass on the message.

Jim and I turned to leave, and I kissed Bijoux on the forehead one last time. I picked up her collar and leash, and we left the exam room for the last time. I was grateful that we had taken care of all of the paperwork ahead of time as we walked out into the bright sunshine of the day as quickly as we could go, to get out of there.

We were stunned and quiet on the way home. We kept telling ourselves that we had done the right thing, but everything felt so strange. Everyone was still at the house when we got there, and Mom, Julie and I went out to the store. It was nice to have a diversion.

After they all went home that evening, I started gathering up Bijoux’s things. I put her food and water dishes on the kitchen desk and rolled her leash and collar together, placing them in one of the dishes. I threw away her dog treats. I put her bed aside, as I planned to pass it on to Minnie.

That afternoon, I dropped Friday’s film off at Walgreens for One-Hour developing. When I returned to pick them up, I was pleasantly surprised to find that so many of the photos we took turned out great. My favorite shot was one that Dylan took of Bijoux and me. I am laying behind her with one arm draped over her back and under her front paw. Her face is against mine. She’s looking off to the side, and I am looking at the camera, just barely smiling.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and although I can tell now how obvious her state of health was at the time, looking at this photograph causes so many memories to come flooding back to me. Bijoux was truly one of the blessings of my life.

It seemed as though for several days I couldn’t stop crying. Every little thing made me cry:
• when I dropped food on the floor and she didn’t come running to clean it up for me
• when I returned home and didn’t see her laying on the couch
• when I left home and didn’t see her little head peering out the living room window at me, just waiting for her chance to jump on the good couch
• when I went to bed and she wasn’t in the room
• when I looked through the window into the backyard, knowing that she’d never walk through my flower beds again
• when I went to use the bathroom and didn’t hear her nose try to push the door open
• when I looked at pictures of her—puppy pictures and “old lady” pictures

I needed some sort of plan to deal with my grief, even though I knew that what I was experiencing was normal. I felt horrible much of the time. I had an intense need to turn all of the negatives into positives. A flood of healing was about to take place, and I was the one who could make it happen.