Last week we said farewell to our family dog, Dottie. She was 13 1/2 years old, and she’d been a part of our family since long before the divorce. (That’s her with my young adult “kids” just before we left for the vet’s office.)
Making decisions as a divorced mom can be a challenge, even once that first hard decision to divorce has been made. Deciding to let Dottie go reminded me of the struggle to decide about divorce, though that choice has, of course, had far more long-term consequences. Here’s how the process played out, including some surprising results.
Making the decision that it was time to let her go brought back strong memories of having to make the decision to divorce. The decision was essentially mine to make, though it wasn’t one I wanted to have happen. No one was going to be happy about it, but in the long run it was in Dottie’s best interest, as I eventually came to see.
Dottie had arthritis, and her hips and back legs hadn’t been fully functional for several years. I’d known this time was coming, but I had been hoping Dottie could last through my youngest son’s graduation and departure for college. This was somewhat like my original hopes that I could hang on to my marriage until all my kids got through high school.
Dottie did make it through graduation, but she went quickly downhill from there. Over the past month her mobility became more and more limited. Each day I wondered if she would be able to make it up the stairs for breakfast or out to the yard and back. I did what I could to limit her need to move and gave her medicine to try and keep her as comfortable as possible. But the end result was inevitable.
I prayed for clarity about the timing and for courage to make this difficult decision and follow through. The kids didn’t want to see her struggles, and I knew they would not be happy. I anticipated a lot of flack, which I dreaded almost as much as actually taking her to the vet to be euthanized.
About two weeks ago, just after I’d returned from my backpacking trip turned rescue excursion, I watched Dottie struggle to stand while eating her breakfast. I got the clarity I had been seeking that it was time. I talked to the vet, who was quite supportive. Then I talked to the kids and discussed scheduling.
Much to my surprise (and relief), there was no flack – only a lot of sadness. I think they all knew it was time, but no one wanted to say it. We decided to schedule the farewell vet visit for her 13 1/2 birthday, which was June 25, 2015. She was a Christmas puppy, and she came to us at 12 weeks old, on St. Patrick’s Day in 2002. I told the kids they could be there, or choose not to be there, as they felt they could handle. Initially no one wanted to go, so I figured I would be taking her on my own.
On her last day, she got lots of good food and the opportunity to hang out in her favorite places in the yard. The kids and I gave her a lot of extra love and attention, including an impromptu photo session in the front yard before we left for the vet. All of the kids decided to go, so it was a full family gathering. One my sons even let my former husband see Dottie via Facetime before we left, so he, too, had his chance to say goodbye.
I won’t write much about the time at the vet. Suffice it to say it was heartbreaking and very difficult, yet peacefully and kindly done. Dottie was gone in 3 heartbeats, finally able to run and play again over the rainbow bridge.
For me, the hard part was making the decision and then being present during her last days, knowing the end was near. But once she was gone, I was at peace, knowing she was ready to go and is no longer suffering from the debilitating pain that limited her ability to do the things that brought her joy.
For the kids, the goodbyes were harder, and the adjustment to life without her more difficult once we got home. This, too, was much like our experiences with divorce.
Dottie brought us all much joy (and left a lot of white hair wherever she went). She was a faithful and loving companion, especially to my boys, and a large part of their growing up years. In her passing she continues to gift our family: She allowed us all to learn to say goodbye, to face painful losses without looking away, and to come together in kindness and to support each other in our sorrow. She helped me take responsibility for a tough decision and to find the courage to communicate about it with my kids.
Most importantly, she allowed me to be present in every moment – and to savor them all. Especially the surprises I encountered on her last day: all the kids deciding to accompany Dottie to the vet and be there to say farewell, and the love I saw among them all for each other and their beloved family dog.
Though we didn’t say a formal prayer upon her departure, my prayer is that Dottie is now restored to health and wholeness, that she knows our love and gratitude for her presence in our lives, and that we will be joyfully reunited one day. (Click here to read some lovely prayers for pets, especially #1.)
And my prayer in life after divorce is that we live lives we love, savoring all our moments, the joys and the sorrows, with courage, wisdom and love.