Today, we helped my beloved India pass. I wrote the following this morning because I knew I would not be able to put these thoughts together tonight. Though we knew to some extent that this day was coming, you are never really prepared for its reality.
As I write this, my beloved India is sleeping at my feet. Her breathing is soft, but a little labored. True to her demeanor, her breath is gentle, rising and falling in a steady manner. But each exhale falls like a slight surrender.
Today we will help her pass. It is a difficult decision because every bit of my girl’s life is present in her and luminous. But she’s been in very acute pain the past couple of days, having finally lost the use of both of her back legs quite suddenly on Monday. Putting her weight on her front legs has aggravated the arthritis that never leaves her shoulders. Tuesday, stomach bloat and urinary and fecal incontinence began. She is experiencing high levels of anxiety. Particularly when I am called away from her side. The past two days were afforded to see if she would improve. She has not. We’ve gone decidedly in the other direction. Our vet assessed her yesterday and his prognosis was quick and firm. The reality is that she has traveled a long distance at my side, but I am aware that it is time to let her rest. I recount the details because I am trying to give myself permission to be at peace with letting her go. And it has been extremely hard.
India is approximately 15 years old. I say approximately because she was adopted several years into her life and we don’t really know when she was born. Even the strange mix that she was, greyhound and dachshund – portended some very practical questions.
During the 10 years she’s been with me, she has experienced a lot, including two very real physical challenges. There was the dog attack, in which I fought the aggressor off, rolling around in mud and ice. Her skin was broken and torn, but she ultimately recovered. In February of 2021, India impulsively launched herself over a snow drift on a walk around our house, and with me unable to follow, she found the end of her leash and fell on her back. This triggered a spinal injury that ultimately seriously impaired the use of her rear, right leg. There have been numerous bouts of digestive difficulties. Still, despite it all, she’s traveled on with me.
Kaylin has patiently watched me struggle in a constant way these past several years. Each of India’s challenges has triggered a part of me that I can only describe as obsessive troubleshooting. I cannot think of anything but how to help her. How to make her experience easier for her. How to rebuild and restore her. The longer we go, the more it has become apparent what the source of that response is.
The first time I met India, at the end of June 2013, we were in a dog park in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Rachael, Ava and I had met India and the woman who had fostered her, just to make sure we were all going to get along. She had been placed for adoption because her previous owner had passed away and the surviving family didn’t know how to care for her. India, true to her character, was sniffing around the park a little oblivious to us. Doubtlessly, India had noticed me watching her. Finally, after several moments, she met me in the middle and we made eye contact. We had a moment. I knew in that instance that I was going to be the one to care for her for the rest of her life. And however strangely, I told her so explicitly. She held that eye contact for a beat, and then went back to her exploration. I took that as her either affirming she was okay with it, or she already knew.
That’s the funny thing with India. She’s incredibly perceptive and clever. She is the canine embodiment of the expression, “Still waters run deep.” While you see her beautiful, quiet brown eyes, behind those eyes India’s mind is working. And her primary thought is always about food and how to get it. Early on, Rachael returned home to find a destroyed package of raisins and India looking sheepish, which triggered an adventure in peroxide-induced vomiting. There are numerous stories of her cleverly finding her way into a closed jar of peanut butter, or capitalizing on Ava’s often unattended bowl of food. She’s twice snuck herself into a bag of plant food (because it contains ground up dead stuff). Her hunger has been a constant, endearing character trait. Last night, my India declined her dinner for the first time. She does not seem to anticipate eating breakfast. It is yet another sign that this isn’t going in a good way.
The potential for letting her pass has been on the table since her health problems accelerated this year, but we’ve had so many rallies from despair. I haven’t wanted to give up on her, but I don’t suppose anyone ever does. So much of my girl is still here and present as she looks up at me from her bed. She’s so soft and sweet and gentle. She is still my sweet India. But she’s also very scared and confused. All I’ve wanted is to make this better for her but I’m recognizing now how powerless I am against the truth that has fully arrived. I can’t troubleshoot or fix this. This is the inevitable, and no one ever defeats it.
So here we are.
The source of my obsessive troubleshooting has been my refusal to truly accept that she was going to one day pass, however much I couldn’t logically deny it. No matter what I do, I won’t make this go the other way. In my heart of hearts, I have been trying to push away the truth, even though I’ve known the futility. I have pushed back because the time we have is always fought for. But this morning, she’s hurting and those brown eyes are asking me to help her and all I can do is acquiesce. Kaylin observed that India and I are both incredibly headstrong. Surrender isn’t something that comes easily to me, and given all she’s been through, that’s obviously the case with her as well. But my sweet girl is telling me she isn’t sure what else she can do but surrender. I am simply going to have to defer to her better judgement.
Ava and India took a young man who was still figuring out how to truly love another person and taught him how genuinely selfless true love is. They’ve shown me a capacity for it that I did not know I possessed. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I know I was somewhat dysfunctional in this regard for much of my life. My explicit commitment to India on that day contributed to such a vivid, new understanding of what loving anyone or anything really means.
As we take the difficult steps that will transpire today, I accept that this is meant to be my final expression of that love for her. Love and life are beautiful for the way they are inexorably intertwined with death. We celebrate the good days because we know they cannot last forever. So I am finally here, the last of my days with India. As my final, direct expression of my love for India, I will weather the grief and pain of letting her go. Helping her to survive was comparably easy. This part is so hard.
Kaylin, Ava and I will be a smaller family, but we will pull close and hold up our India in our hearts collectively, consoling ourselves with the beauty of her having shared her life with us. Whenever I have watched one of my friends deal with this loss, I have taken it as a reminder to go pull my girls close and appreciate the opportunity to do so. Allow me to encourage you to do the same. There are only so many.