Saying goodbye is never easy, at least not for me, but sometimes remembering and reminiscing can lessen the pain we feel when we say goodbye after a loss. This past weekend I, along with my family, said goodbye to our faithful Irish Setter pup Winston.
Over the past few years Winston’s health slowly began to worsen. It was most evident this past year when he seemingly spent more time ill than healthy. My dedicated parents spent most of the past few years dedicated to taking the best care of him that they could. They hired a vet to make home visits. Took many a day off from work and lost many nights of sleep devoted to his care. Tried every diet and remedy they could to nudge him towards better health. Provided every comfort to him that they were able, and spent many hours cleaning up the frequent accidents in the house and clumps of hair that fell from his coat on a near constant basis.
But it wasn’t always like that. Not so long ago (or at least it feels that way!) Winston was a young, vivacious pup. One who was prone to getting himself in trouble when left alone. He had quite a personality and somehow deemed himself as higher up on the pecking order than me. I’ve also never heard of a dog with as many nicknames as he had; buddy, puppy, and moose just to name a few. I remember the day we came home from school to find that he’d destroyed his new dog bed and spread the stuffing out on the porch so that, from a distance, it looked like it had snowed. Or the one Christmas when I was walking through the living room, candy cane in my mouth, and he jumped up and snatched it right from my lips! Or the numerous times I’d walk in to my bedroom to find him sleeping on my bed often using my pillows or see that he had stolen a stuffed animal from my collection. Let us not forget his many jailbreaks from the house or his leash on walks and how fast he could run (especially if it was after bunnies)!
How about the time he was sitting on the sofa taking the whole thing up, except for the small corner where the throw pillows were, and how after I moved said pillows to make a space for myself he stretched out his legs and refused to move an inch to allow me a spot. And who could forget the frantic phone call to mom on the day Winston ate “Edna” (a plant) roots and all. Even as he aged he retained that sense of mischief long after his puppy days, but he also became a trusted confidant who was always there after a difficult day of school or work to listen while I complained or cried and offer solace. He seemed to grasp the immense difference his mere presence next to a hurting soul made.
Never having been though the experience of putting a dog down I wasn’t sure quite what to expect; I just knew I wanted to be there to say goodbye. It was perhaps one of the few times in my life where I’ve had the opportunity to say goodbye and have some kind of a warning and some iota of control before the passing of a loved one. I was grateful, truly grateful, that the vet was able to come to the house so that his final moments were spent in the home he grew up in and not some sterile office. I’m also beyond thankful that my parents were willing to let me be present during that time despite their own grief.
I don’t know that I want to go as far as saying it was beautiful because, to me, at the end of the day it was still a grief-stricken, emotional, somewhat sickening thing to watch life leave another being. But it was beautiful in its own poignant and sobering way. Knowing that my parents had spent the previous evening and morning trying to make it Winston’s best possible day; free of pain and full of ice cream (an absolute favorite of his) and love helped. As did being able to spend some time on the floor with him feeding him one last candy cane before the vet arrived. I’ll never forget the experience of watching my dad, one of Winston’s best buddies, laying on the floor and just holding him in his arms in a hug with Winston’s legs around his neck, my mom and I sitting on the floor next to him gently petting his head and paws. Winston slowly lifted his head turned it to each of the three one by one for one last kiss before he took his last breath. Much unlike the human deaths I’d witnessed Winston seemed to suffer no pain, discomfort, or struggle as he left this earth. It was the most peaceful departure of life from a creature I’d ever seen.
Honestly it was such an impactful moment that the photographer in me debated on whether I should capture this final, touching scene of Winston wrapped up in my father’s arms with my mother beside them both before the injection was administered. I decided against it due to the desire to respect how much buddy hated cameras and the crushing amount of grief my parents were shouldering.
I know I speak for myself and my sisters when I say how forever grateful we are to our parents for their dedication to Winston’s health, not just the last few trying years, but for all they’d given him since we brought him home. As I’ve learned having my own pup Mia, dog ownership is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor when done well. I wasn’t able to grasp this when we were young and pleading for a puppy, but now that I have one of my own I realize all of the money, time, and sacrifices my parents made so that we could have Winston.
So Mom and Dad, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all that you did to care for Winston and to make having a family dog possible.
And Winston…if you’re reading this from up there with the big guy..just know how loved you are by all of us and how thankful we are to have had you in our family for the past 14 years. You were the very best dog we could have ever imagined.
*Not all photos are mine. Additional photo credits go to Kim Crandall and Carla Crandall.*