We got a dog when I was fourteen. He was a Scottish Terrier named Trevor. It took some debate, but we were finally able to come up with a name that the whole family agreed on- an impressive feat for a family of six. One day my father dropped me off at home on his way out to run an errand and I ran into the house. I wasn’t greeted at the door as by Trevor as usual, so I called out and started looking around the house for him. I finally found him up in one of the bedrooms, convulsing on his side. I picked him up and ran down the stairs, out the front door, trying to signal to my dad across our large front lawn as he drove away. I ran stumbling, weighted down by the rigid body of my dog, carrying him in one arm while awkwardly trying to wave the other. My dad didn’t see me and continued on his way.
I brought Trevor inside and lay him on the floor. I called my friend who I knew had dogs and told her what was happening. “Something’s wrong with my dog,” I said. “he’s shaking and biting his tongue.” She didn’t seem to understand and suggested putting a blanket on him because maybe he was cold. When we got off the phone I found a blanket and covered him. I tried to dislodge his tongue from his clamped down mouth and in my efforts my finger got caught between his teeth. A blood blister began to form. The phone rang and it was my friend’s mother. My friend had told her what was happening and she said she’d be right over. When they showed up in their minivan, I walked down our front walk with Trevor in my arms, covered in the blanket. I carried a wad of tissues with me, but was unable to reach my tear-streaked face while holding my dog. A few steps before their car, Trevor’s body went slack and I felt a warm wetness spread through the blanket in his final release. We continued on to the vet and I sat in the waiting room with my friend while her mom took the dog in. When she returned, she confirmed what I already knew: My dog was dead.
Later that day my dad told us my Nana had died too.
My first experience with death. It would not be my last. I would later go on to lose my three other grandparents and my aunt. I would dissect human cadavers in my college anatomy class. I would hold stillborn babies.
But the day my dog died was the first time I held a living creature in my arms and feel life slip from of its body. I thought it would be my only time.
Holding Trevor, I was scared, confused about what was happening. I was alone, a vulnerable teenager trying to comfort him with a blanket as I witnessed his last moments.
Holding Mabel as we took out her vent, I was well aware what was happening. Chris at my side, I was surrounded by family, far from alone. I took off her shoulders the blanket we had chosen for her, so my hand could rest against her bare skin, as much of me touching as much of as possible. I was a mom with a brave face and sad heart witnessing her child’s last moments.
I have held two living, breathing, loved creatures in my arms as they died. If I had to do it again, I would. I would be there with Trevor, so he would be with me, not alone, while he died. And I would hold my daughter again and again as she took her last breaths. I would hold my daughter forever as she died.