What’s Left

Pippin and Zoe, December 2014

Pippin and Zoe, December 2014

Death has a color, and for now it’s a washed-out gray blue – in fact, it’s exactly the color of the sky is as I write this, the 5:30 sky of a hot east coast almost-summer evening where it seems to be clear but if you look close, the blue’s shaded with a wispy, uneven layer of cloud. God, I hate this heat – the air’s thick with it, I’m sticky with it. I feel dirty in summer, my skin like flypaper that all things unseen cling to. I can’t get clean – whatever’s washed off in the shower is waiting for me when I get out. I don’t like summer, where I can taste the smell of rot and moving is slow and heavy. I feel fat in summer, feel like every fold of skin is filled with sweat, feel the food sit undigested in my belly, like it’s too hot to make its way elsewhere.

And the bugs – the huge mosquito in my hallway, the dining needle by the front door, the spider winding its web down from the ceiling, the creepy-crawlers crawling around as I sit on my front step trying to write this. It’s up to me not to let what I have no control over not bother me, but I’m not doing a very good job of it.

Maybe death took on this fading color because Pippin is fading and I have to decide whether to speed the process. When to speed the process.

I took what’s left of Pippin to the vet for his yearly checkup and shots. He can’t see or hear. He has chronic ear infections which makes him rub his head on the rug. Neither antibiotics nor the constant cleaning of his ears help. He’s on three medications for a collapsed trachea. He paces, he whimpers. My vet said it’s anxiety because he can’t see or hear. It’s like living in a tunnel. She prescribed anti-anxiety medicine and decided with all the meds he’s taking she didn’t want to vaccinate. He’s gained two pounds in three months – water weight from all the water he drinks? Enlarged heart? We can’t tell without further testing and he is not up to it. But his main problem is that his vision and hearing are gone – and there isn’t anything going fix it.

Go home, my vet said. Talk to Natalie. Write down everything that makes Pippin Pippin, see what’s left.

That’s the thing. He used to always have to lead when we walked. Now he won’t walk on leash because he doesn’t know where he is. He used to play with Zoe. He used to take a toy in his mouth and not let anyone take it away. He used to play tug of war. He used to like the dog park. He used to go up and down the stairs. He used to not bump into things. He used to not poop in the house. He used to wag his tail.

He used to greet us when we came home. Now he doesn’t even know we’re there. And when we go near to pet him – he jumps from fright. He doesn’t know what’s coming at him.

He becomes disoriented. I’ll bring him outside to pee, carry him down the stairs and to the lawn, where he’ll lie on the grass when I put him down. I try to stand him up and he sits. I’ll push him a little to get him walking, he’ll hunch down and refuse, sit right back down.

What an awe-ful decision to make. To be in charge of a death. I think of going to the vet and exaggerating his symptoms, so she’ll be the one who says it should be done. Am I then to live with that? If I think it’s time for him to die, then I have to take responsibility and decide. And I will hold him during the process; I will feel the life leave his body and that seems terrible and frightening.

It’s not uncommon to wish death for someone already sick and dying. It seems a relief for all concerned. Pippin is hard to take care of – thank God Natalie is taking care of him right along with me. So I think to myself, “Well, do I want his end so I’ll no longer be inconvenienced? But that wish is only part of the story. It’s tangled up with love for him and wondering how to prepare for what death takes and what death leaves.

And there is the voice in my head that Philip is asking me not to listen to. That voice focuses on one aspect of this and says I’m selfish and uncaring to even think of euthanasia. That I’m too lazy to care for him. My love for him, the fear I have of actually doing this – that’s lost in the stern, arms-crossed, head-shaking voice in my head that finds the worst and twists it into all that matters. It’s subtle, insidious and constant. I don’t notice it most times – it’s just the way I think. But when Philip says, “Let me be the voice in your head,” this is what he means. Why turn this into all-I-care-about-is-myself? Feeling that I want this over with is part of my humanity. As is the way I love him and the way I dread what I have to do. I mean, what would Philip say? Love him, care for him best as you can, look at what’s left and understand that the time has come.


This has been hard to write. I’ve been working it for a couple weeks. How to end, I wondered? What do I say, how do I feel? Yesterday’s visit to the vet was decisive. Tomorrow, 3:00, Natalie and I will bring Pippin to be euthanized. I’m numb as I write this. Makes sense, I think. Pippin’s still here, it’s all unreal. Being no stranger to death won’t make this easy; it will make it different. And as I said to my friend Pete, I’m okay now, but when I’m not – you’ll hear about it.

© 2015 Denise Smyth


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joyce McCartney
    Jun 24, 2015 @ 21:15:10

    my heart is breaking for you. I have two little guys and ever since Tom died I have lived in fear of losing one of them. It’s not selfish, it’s realistic, but it’s not easy and you seem to have a true handle on that. Much love goes out to you


    • Denise
      Jun 29, 2015 @ 18:29:56

      Thank you, Joyce; I hope you’re doing well. I think of you and I’m glad we’re in touch at least through Facebook. You’re someone my heart is open to. If we lived close I’d ask to meet you. Take care, my friend; sending you much love.


  2. jmgoyder
    Jun 24, 2015 @ 23:03:50

    Oh I am so so sorry.


    • Denise
      Jun 29, 2015 @ 18:31:06

      Thank you, Julie. It’s best for him, but being the one who made the decision…there is much to think about there and I haven’t even begun.


  3. Lucia Maya
    Jun 25, 2015 @ 02:43:36

    I am so sorry Denise. Your Pippin looks so much like my Tilly, also a sweet shih tzu, 14 years old, and my heart companion. The same expression, same sweet eyes…

    These dogs witness, love, and hold us through so much, and then we get to do it for them too… Even when we know it’s time and its the most compassionate thing, it doesn’t make it much easier. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow, and sending love…
    love, Lucia


    • Denise
      Jun 29, 2015 @ 18:33:57

      Thank you, Lucia. This was a strange experience and I’m writing about it now. Lucia, I can’t get at what I feel. I don’t know how else to say it. Cut-off, shut down? I feel aloof and I don’t know how to write from aloof. But I am, and we’ll see what it sounds like.

      You are a dear friend, Lucia. Thank you for caring.


  4. deeincollingo
    Jun 25, 2015 @ 04:08:31

    Denise, I am so sorry. Amy and I took our little Westie together. My heart is breaking for you and Natalie. ❤️ Dee


    • Denise
      Jun 29, 2015 @ 18:37:32

      Thank you, Dee. I’m so glad Natalie came. She’s taking it hard, still crying. I’m writing about my sort of non-reaction…I don’t know what I feel and that is where I write from. We’ll see what my next post sounds like.

      Your friendship and attention are invaluable. See, you are kind and there is nothing more soothing (as I write in my next post). Take care, be well, I wish some peace for you. Your heart is so broken it touches mine. I’m always here for you, you know. If you really do stop blogging and want to stay in touch, I would love that.


  5. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Jun 27, 2015 @ 10:19:29

    So sorry, Denise. Your little pup is part of your family and I know you love him dearly. We have experienced the worst loss possible, but losing a pet is also heartbreaking.


    • Denise
      Jun 29, 2015 @ 18:39:50

      Loss compounds loss. I swear I shut down – I can’t get at what I’m feeling. It’s what I’m writing about in my next post. I’m not used to this. I know what it’s like to walk with an open heart but mine isn’t right now. I don’t like it…maybe I just need patience.

      Thank you so much for caring – it matters. It really matters.


      • grahamforeverinmyheart
        Jun 29, 2015 @ 22:15:58

        You are correct – losses do add up and contribute to the weight we carry. Each loss somehow brings into focus the most terrible loss of our children. Experiencing new grief actually becomes more difficult instead of easier.

  6. mssharonmullins
    Jun 28, 2015 @ 21:53:40

    My thoughts are with you, I know what a difficult decision you had to make. Poor pippin doesn’t seem to be enjoying life anymore she knows how much you love her. Thinking of you tomorrow xxx


  7. Denise
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 18:41:57

    No, Pippin was not enjoying life. Part of the reason the decision was so hard was that he still ate and he still pooped and he still walked around. Jeez, is that what I’m reducing life to? He wasn’t happy – the reason he was alive was the medication he was on, but still – he couldn’t see or hear, and what must that be like?

    Thank you for your kind words. It helps not to feel alone.


  8. pedro
    Jun 30, 2015 @ 21:12:59

    I’m finding that we don’t have to feel alone, one way or another we all can reach out for each other.


    • Denise
      Jun 30, 2015 @ 21:55:45

      Yes, even when we don’t meet each other, we come to know others are there (but it’s even better when we get to see them at work and such ;o)


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