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A Good Death – and a Reluctant Letting Go

Milo’s work is done. We said goodbye to him on Monday morning, as he went to sleep photo copypeacefully. He had the help of our vet on his journey, the last hugs from his boys before they left for school, and our tears soaking into his fur.

It seemed easy for him, compared to the struggle to walk down the stairs or take a slow walk around the block. For me, it was among the hardest things I have done.

A good death is peaceful, and as hard as it was to let go, I believe we did the right thing for Milo. But in these last days, I have struggled to know whether it was time. I knew things were challenging for our pup, and I gladly carried him up the stairs at bedtime, down again in the morning. How long could he hold on – with our help?

What our dog had was the present moment. He did not understand that the discomfort he was feeling was a large tumor. He did not realize why we were trying so hard to get him to eat the supplements and pain relievers along with his breakfast. Milo did not know to do anything other than what felt right.

Vina Kay

Vina Kay

I remembered my father’s last days and how until the end, he fought for life. At one point in that week he asked the doctor about the possibility of a lung transplant. Not a realistic option, we all knew, but he asked anyway. He wanted to keep living. It was us who said no to the ventilator when that time came.

Death is a community project, at least in our human world. We decide with and for each other, and weigh decisions together more than the idea of human autonomy might wish. Our vet said that in the wild, a sick animal would go off on its own to die, walking quietly out of this world. Would Milo have wanted that? Perhaps, but here where our human-dog worlds intersect, we could not have it that way.

So this is how we do it. Milo did step lightly out of this world, leaving just a red collar and a leash and our sad hearts.

A friend told me that months later, her husband came down the stairs calling for their dog. I expect to be calling and looking for Milo for a long time. After my father died, I did just that and still do. We are human, we do not step so lightly, and we are reluctant to let go.

This poem I wrote for my father now seems also for my dog.

I knew it would end somewhere,

and watching you go, without me,

I could only imagine the place.

Might it be thin and cottony,

gauzy fabric waving in the

air, brushing me softly as

I pass next to it?  Or does

it blow invisibly, like wind,

bending the black trees at

Storm Point?  Is it in the

mysterious power of water?

Walking along the beach, I

have felt the push and

pull of life and death.  Shells

of crabs wash up on shore,

and the bodies of thousands

have melted into ocean water,

while tiny particles of life

swirl about in the dark below.

Is that where you are, moving

easily in a world where

living and dead coexist?  Or

are you in my dream from

last night, in a sunlit world,

going home?  I do not have

the answer.  So this is where

it rests:  in the life I keep

living, while feeling the mystery

of death brush by in the wind.

You cannot take me with you,

and so I let go.

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About Vina Kay

Vina Kay is Director of Research and Policy at Organizing Apprenticeship Project (www.oaproject.org). She is a graduate of Carleton College and the University of Minnesota Law School. She is a writer of poetry and creative nonfiction (www.vinakay.com), and a filmmaker working on a documentary called Building the Pink Tower (www.buildingthepinktower.org), which reimagines schools and learning through the lens of Montessori education. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, two sons, and two dogs.

3 comments on “A Good Death – and a Reluctant Letting Go

  1. Chris Lewis
    October 27, 2013

    This is so eloquent and heart-wrenching. I have been through too many final goodbyes…it leaves a person more fragile, I believe, with sadness that doesn’t ever really go away.
    Milo will be forever missed.

  2. Gloria
    October 16, 2013

    So sorry for your losses. Thank you for sharing your loves.

  3. Leslie Parker
    October 15, 2013

    I worked as a Vet Tech for several years. It was not so easy as it seemed for us either. I left that world to pet sit. And I am there withe the family, as a part of it, as we let a four-legged family member go. It’s never easy. But you are so right about our pets living in the moment. We decide for them and live with the questions that almost always come later. I lost my mother this year, after a long illness, I feel that she was ready to go, but….as her caregiver, did I do enough to let her know how much I loved her? Losing her was devastating, so I could not show too much…I wanted her to know that it was o.k. To leave. I loved your poem. Thank you.

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , .

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