As I had waited alone in the exam room for the vet to get the necessary injections, I held Gracie tight and began to whisper to her in tone I hope she understood that: “There is a dance. A dance that one day each and every one of us will dance. The dance takes place in a grand ballroom with a fabulous orchestra.” I continued to hug her and feel her warmth as first the tranquilizer took effect and Gracie laid her head down on my right thigh as her breathing slowed. Then Dr. Hodgdon injected the fatal drugs and the breathing stopped.
“You see there is an end to the dance. There is an end to the music.”
I am home now. The emptiness of the metaphorical ballroom that exists as described in the play The Actual Dance after the breathing stops is found in the silence of a now empty house. No more yapping. No jingle of the metal tags hanging off the dog collar as she follows us everywhere. No more obsessive licking of her own paws and our faces. I already emptied the food and water bowls. I took the doggie bed and the plastic yoga mat we used to protect the floor and put them away. The house sits “achingly, intolerably empty, silent. Almost in black and white. Hollow!”
This is not the first time I have been with a living being at the moment of the last breath. It is though the first time since The Actual Dance was written and performed. I was able to be there with Gracie in a wholly new and meaningful way. I cried, a lot. I feel very sad and emotionally drained. And yet I know it was an incredible privilege and act of love to be able to do this most difficult of tasks. There is and was beauty and dignity in the process.
The Actual Dance is about love. The ultimate act of love is to hold the paw, hug the dog and provide the most reassuring energy of love possible.
Gracie was a great partner in the process. It was so difficult to know what to do. We spent the last two nights at emergency appointments with vets. First because of a hypoglycemic attack, Gracie was a diabetic. The second because the blood sugar surged to 630. Then last night after the first visit was over Gracie had a vascular incident where she fell over, could not at first get up and then could not walk normally. We learned, though we had suspected, that some sort of brain issue emerged. Tumor, stroke, clots, TIAs, no way to know. She stayed overnight at a special emergency vet hospital called The Hope Advanced Veterinary Center
Susan and I had decided after the conversation with the vet at the Hope Center to put Gracie to sleep, and set the appointment with our own vet for today. I picked Gracie up and took her to our vet and of course Gracie seemed just fine. We – Dr. Hodgdon and I – talked for nearly an hour. First I said yes. Then as Gracie seemed fine and ate one of the vet provided doggie treat, I changed my mind and decided, let’s wait maybe a day. So back home went Gracie and me. While in the head I knew it was time, my heart wasn’t letting me say so to Dr. Hodgdon. In the most urgent sort of way I wanted Gracie to say it was time. Yet she was acting like a normal, healthy dog.
Then Gracie told me what I needed to know. At home, standing over a dog-treat I gave her, she suddenly fell to the ground, stumbled around desperately seeking her balance, her back legs collapsed, and when she could get up she couldn’t walk straight. Her right paw and foot were sticking straight out. Then the incident was over as suddenly as it began. Gracie had let me know that it was time.
Good night, Gracie. You were a wonderful, funny, furry friend and companion. Thank you for teaching me and Susan that we could give you insulin shots twice and day and manage your diabetes in a way that enriched our own confidence.
Most importantly, thank you for the chance to hold you close and to love you then more than I ever loved anything or anyone – just for that last instant. A lifetime in the universe.
Gracie (dog) Simon 2001 -- 2015