One week ago I had to put our beloved Bichon Frisee to sleep. Such a gentle euphemism for ending (it felt like taking) the life of the sweet little white bundle who adored each member of our family as only a dog can.
When you’re Jewish, the phrase “To Life!” permeates every celebration. How can I reconcile ending McKenzie’s life with that two-word directive so powerful, it conjures infinite rings of friends and family, their voices and wineglasses raised in affirmation and joy?
Fifteen-years-old, McKenzie was blind. And deaf. Her kidneys were beginning to fail. Each morning I gave her a pill for anxiety and one for an imbalanced thyroid. And one for her hips in addition to the vitamin E and the fish oil. Then she began turning in circles in an obsessive solo ring-around-the-rosy that broke our hearts. “To Life!” yes. But this was no longer life as McKenzie had lived it for a decade and a half.
Before the vet came to our house, I walked McKenzie through each room in our home, stopping by the windows she could no longer see out of, placing her on my daughter’s bed to inhale the scent of the girl now grown who insisted so long ago that she couldn’t, “live one day longer without a dog.” “Send me a sign that you’ve arrived safely,” I whispered into one silky triangular ear, knowing that even if I keened my plea she wouldn’t hear it. I hoped her soul would feel it.
I held her in my lap as the vet administered what we agreed was the most compassionate course. When it was over (will it ever be over, will I ever stop reliving those final moments?) and the vet left with McKenzie’s body, I remained in her spot on the patio beside my husband’s chair. And as I looked out across to the yard’s far corner in what had been her sightline, a small white butterfly flitted into view. Two, three, four, five minutes it perched against the dark green branches of an arborvitae, fanning the delicate white triangles of its wings. Sign? Coincidence? Both or neither, I take that tiny creature’s appearance as a toast — to life made evermore precious by its inevitable twin, to fifteen years of mutual love and adoration, but most of all — to McKenzie.