Today Luna has been gone for a year. I can’t say it or think it without a little catch in my throat, still. A year without getting to pet — ever so gently — her bony little back, feeling the knobby rises of her spine and the strange, hairless plane of her hips. Seeing her increasingly bare, almost scaly tail and feeling both immensely protective and just a little repulsed. Hearing her coughs and hacks and those surprising rare sharp barks. Cleaning her mukes, even. Staring into her unblinking, too-large eyes and feeling such a rush of tenderness.
I can look at photos of her just fine, usually. Yes, they fill me with a bittersweet sharp longing, but seeing her face is better than the alternative. I can even watch the videos, watch her perform her bizarre roll on the rug to scratch that bony back. I can engage in a staring contest with past-Luna that I know ends when she gulps and looks away. Remembering her spirit, the idiosyncrasies of her movements, is better than the alternative.
But what I can’t handle is thinking about the day she died. I watched a documentary recently and suddenly, without warning, there was a euthanasia scene. All of it, down to the dog’s tongue lolling on the table when it was over. It hit me so hard.
Because what haunts me now, one big reason my throat catches when I think of her, is the fear that we made the wrong decision. That we could have saved her. It all happened so fast — she was swaying on her feet, we took her to the emergency vet, the vet delivered the news, we had to make a decision. Her kidneys were failing and they didn’t know why. She was septic and wasn’t responding to fluids. They could have admitted her and put her on an aggressive treatment plan for the sepsis, but even if she had come through that (which was unlikely), there were still her failing kidneys to deal with. Given that fact, given her other ailments, I asked the vet, “Are you saying we should euthanize her?” Not unkindly, the vet told us that was probably the best thing we could do for her.
But of course now I wonder, could they have treated the sepsis? Could she have gotten more time out of those kidneys? Did we do wrong by her? She was so tough. She fought through everything else; why not this? We could afford it. It wasn’t about the monetary cost.
In the moment, though, here is what we pictured. We imagined her getting admitted for sepsis treatment and being confined to a crate. We imagined her hooked up to IVs and monitors, getting blood draws and injections. We imagined her not making it through the sepsis. We imagined her in unrelieved pain, dying alone in a cold crate at the emergency vet. Without comfort. Without us.
And that, I know, would have been unbearable. For her and for us. More unbearable than this continued worry that I still have, that maybe we didn’t make the “right” choice. I didn’t want her to die alone, in pain, without her people.
So instead she died with us, literally in our arms, swaddled in a blanket and placed on a pillow like the princess she was. My little baby. She was out of it, but she recognized us. I want to imagine that seeing us was a comfort, that she slipped away feeling a measure of relief. That she felt our love, not our worry or our guilt or our pain.
It was about the incalculable, unmeasurable, indefinable cost of her comfort. We all throw around the term “quality of life” in discussions like this but I don’t know how to define it. Maybe she had kidney disease. Maybe kidney disease wouldn’t have been so bad. Or would it? My childhood chihuahua died from it, a long, slow, drawn-out disengagement with the world that ended with her slipping away in my sister’s bed. Was that our alternative? Fighting the sepsis, stabilizing her, bringing her home, giving her comfort until her organs, finally, gave out? Would a death at home have been “better” for her than one at the emergency vet, wrapped up and bathed in our tears?
Of course there is no “right” answer here. Of course I say this with a secret and shameful desire for absolution, for compassionate people to tell me that we made the best decision for our girl so that she wouldn’t suffer. It’s what I would tell anyone, any friend, any person I cared about, anyone who told a similar story to me. And of course that doesn’t matter; we judge ourselves far more harshly than any loving friend or family member would.
I don’t want to be haunted by these regrets. I don’t want them to color my memories of Luna, which are plentiful and sad and painful and happy and every other adjective. They are rich. She was so special. It’s difficult to articulate why, but if you met her, you felt it. Like many small dogs, her personality outstripped her size. But she had none of the swagger, the bluster, many small dogs seem to adopt. She was serene and accepting. Put her in a front pouch and carry her around that way for 30 minutes after she ate? No problem. She didn’t struggle. Wrap her up in a blanket burrito after a meal? No problem. (Though she did, occasionally, bust loose after a while.) Yet she was so strong. She didn’t bark or bare her teeth or growl often, but when she did, you had to back off. You knew she meant it. She didn’t show affection often, but when she did, you cherished it.
Her influence lingers. I know I am more patient because of her, because of the constant mukes we cleaned up, because of the recurring health problems we had to diagnose and treat. I know my patience isn’t perfect; the weekend before she died she was extra gurgly and I was so, so annoyed that I had to keep cleaning mukes off the sofa. I hope she knew my irritation was transient, that affection and love and a fierce protectiveness could overpower any negative emotions I felt toward her. I like to think she did.
A year later and I feel like I haven’t properly memorialized her, like I need to ink her into my skin to keep her with me. Instead, this. A reflection, a few words.
And a photo. It was uncanny how many people commented, upon meeting Luna, that she reminded them of an AT-AT. Even folks who weren’t Star Wars super fans would do a double-take then say, “She reminds me of something…” Inevitably, that something was an AT-AT. Especially when she started losing fur and all her angles came through. But it wasn’t just her looks. It was also the way she carried herself and the way she walked, sometimes.
So, for Christmas a few years back, I commissioned this amazing Etsy artist to make her into one for real. I had a couple prints made and gave one to Steven, framed, for Christmas. It’s too good not to share.
I did mention the painting, briefly, last year. But it deserves to be shared again. The print is up in our living room now, in a little memorial area with Luna’s tiny collar. (We used a cat collar on her, a little pink one with a bell.) I smile when I look at it.