I awoke this morning to see a large black bird atop my neighbor’s roof, stark against the new snow that covered the house. Immediately, the lyrics from a song by Sting, “The Lazarus Heart,” came to mind. In it, he speaks of his mother’s impending death, using the following image:
Birds on the roof of my mother’s house
I’ve no stones that chase them away.
Birds on the roof of my mother’s house,
Will sit on my roof someday.
This image is especially poignant to me this morning because, yesterday, I had to look into sweet Pebbles’ eyes (she was my sister Diane’s schnauzer) as she closed them for the final time. For well over a month, she had been having increasingly frequent grand mal seizures and mini strokes due, her vet believes, to a brain tumor.
It only makes sense to release a beloved animal companion from pain, fear and certain death when you witness his or her obvious debilitation. Trouble was, the day her euthanasia was scheduled to take place, I walked into my sister’s house to see 12-year-old Pebbles running, jumping, wagging her tail and happy as a puppy!
My sister was, quite naturally, beside herself with second-guessing. She sobbed, “How can I do this to my baby when she looks like this?!”
The vet had watched Pebbles’ symptoms progress and had told Diane quite honestly that, despite medical intervention, they would only get worse, and probably quite soon. She had already agonized over waking at night to Pebbles’ violent seizing, her heart breaking during the day as her darling girl was falling down, walking in endless circles, or just ’s having to permanently tilt her head remained to remain upright. Diane knew what the vet had told her was true, and it was on this that she based her most painful of all decisions.
But surely this wasn’t the same dog we were seeing before us today!
If I thought Diane were making the decision to put Pebbles to sleep prematurely, I’d have told her so. What I knew in my gut was happening was “The Arby’s Effect” (see my book’s chapter by that name for a full recounting/explanation of this phenomenon). In short, Pebbles and we were being blessed by her final rallying. Humans and animals alike often have these moments of clarity, coherence, apparently spontaneous healing—only to have it followed by a swift decline and death shortly thereafter. My dad, my mom, my stepdad, my dog Tuppence and my cat Genevieve all exhibited this before they died.
I told Diane we were to be thankful for this blessing of a final memory of Pebbles as she was in her prime rather than during a grand mal. We shouldn’t cling to false hope and keep her alive long enough to fully deteriorate before our eyes. Sure, we’d be certain the decision to let her go had been right, but waiting for that, in this case, would have been totally self-serving. As it was, my sister showed astounding strength, courage and selfless love in letting Pebbles go when she did. (And she claims she’s a wimp!)
Pebbles licked away our tears and did her best to show she was OK with her upcoming transition. When her mama had said her heart-wrenching goodbyes and left the examining room, I stayed behind with this beautiful little girl who’d brought so much laughter and love into both our lives. I’m so very glad I did, too, because I was able to tell my sister, “Pebbles was ready. She wasn’t afraid; she didn’t struggle, flinch, or cry out as she got her shot.” I’d kneeled in front of her and held her head in my hands and looked into her eyes, showering her with love and prayers that our mother (“Gamma Lu,” who art in heaven with all our past pets) would lovingly gather up Pebbles in her arms. Those sweet eyes gently closed and she went on to her next life.
Alone in the room with Pebbles afterward, I sent her on with blessings and thanks (and oh, lordy, such tears) and I asked her to send us signs that she was all right.
My visit from the rooftop bird was my first sign. “The Lazarus Heart” song goes on to say, “Everyday another miracle. Only death will keep us apart.”
And that separation, in the grand scheme of things, will last only a twinkling of an eye. It’s just that in this life, it feels like we’re alternately living in slow motion, prolonging the pain of loss, and fast-forwarding through the wonderful times, making them seem all too fleeting.
I need to work on reversing that process.
Thank you, Pebbles, for opening my eyes to that need. We’ll always love you, sweet dog.