On Sunday, our Littlest Who turned ten. The night before, he had a Minecraft-themed sleepover party (and by “Minecraft-themed,” I mean they played Minecraft and ate some brownie squares with green icing– don’t bother looking for the DIY tutorial on Pinterest). In the morning, they had more Minecraft, and donuts. The birthday boy opened his presents from us, and began planning how to spend the gift cards that were burning a hole in his pocket. I told him we could go shopping wherever he wanted, as long as I was back in time to bake cake for our dinnertime family celebration. In spite of a worrisome weather forecast that his Dad and I were keeping anxious eyes on, it was shaping up to be a very happy day.
Shortly after the last guest left, Patrick quietly alerted me that our dog, Fanny had taken a sudden turn for the worse. Fanny was an old lady–at least 15 years old, since she was an adult dog when I adopted her from a shelter in 2001. It’s been clear to us over the last month that she was winding down–she had all but stopped eating, and was sleeping almost around the clock–but she wasn’t in any apparent suffering or distress.We agreed there was no point putting her through the trauma of a visit to the vet until it was clearly time.
Clearly, on Sunday, it was time. As I sat next to her on her bed, it was plain that she was not resting comfortably anymore. After a brief period of hoping against hope that we might be able to postpone the inevitable just one more day, we gathered the boys together and explained that it was time to say goodbye.
I accompanied each separately. “I’ll have my birthday supper tomorrow,” my youngest said, as he wept. Our thirteen-year-old, who has always been the most nurturing to Fanny, stroked her fur in silence, his face ashen. Then he went to his room and lay face down on his bed.
My eldest son came with me to the emergency vet clinic. I’ve never been so proud of my firstborn as when that tall young man wrapped one strong arm around my shoulders, and kept his other hand gently stroking our dog as she went to sleep for good. It happened very swiftly and serenely. She was there one minute, and then she was gone.
It’s a holy thing to be present for someone when they die, I told him, remembering that we were both beside his grandmother when she took her last breath, him tumbling in the womb, yet to take his first. Birth and death, joy and grief, the coming and going of things, all mixed up together.
“Let’s have a birthday,” I told our not-so-little Who when we got home. “We can be happy and sad today. That’s how life is sometimes.”
And so we had a very happy birthday on a very sad day. Gift cards spent to the last nickel, extra big slices of chocolate cake, the declaration of a family rest day on Monday, and a special wish granted to a 13-year-old brother who is a friend to animals (even the orneriest ones like Fanny), and deserves his own phone. None of it to deny what was lost, but to celebrate all we’ve been given.
Goodbye, Fanny. You were a crabby, crazy old dog. And we miss you.