Reflections on Living, Dying and Our Little Dog, Sammie

This has been a strange day indeed. We went to the vet this morning with our Scottish terrier, Sammie, only to get the diagnosis we feared: a cancerous mass in her belly and another on her lung. No pain now, but pain would be coming very soon.

I was prepared to allow the vet to put her down right then and there; I had anticipated this situation all night long as Sammie lay next to us in bed. The vet, however, offered the option of taking her home for the day so we could say good-bye. Ray’s response was an instantaneous yes.

I hesitated, considering how it would be to bring her back the next morning. Wouldn’t that be harder? Hadn’t we already really said our good-byes?

Ray, eyes red-rimmed with tears, gave me an earnest look. “Won’t that be all right?”

I could see that while I might be ready, he was not. “Of course, we’ll do whatever you want,” I said. “Let’s take her back to the orange grove.”

Since that time this morning, Sammie has spent most of the day outside, resting in the shade. Cordelia, our Corgie, has been nearby; periodically walking over and sniffing Sammie, then lying back down. Ray and I, individually and together, have gone over and sat with her, stroking her face. She is calm and peaceful; she seems contented to be resting. Still, I feel helpless. Isn’t there something else I could be doing here on her last day on earth? I can’t help but think of something my brother George said after he received a terminal diagnosis for esophageal cancer and was given 17 months to live. “Dying is a lonely business.”

This is a situation where there is no easy fix. No, “It’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.” This little dog is dying and that’s all there is to it. I have watched this same thing happen with more than a few members of my family and I am profoundly aware of how life shifts in one instant. One minute, all is well; the next, life will never be the same. My father’s diagnosis with terminal lung cancer: “Go home and smoke as much as you want,” the doctor said. “You have about four months.” My dad died in 2 ½. My mother, years later, had a lump arise while she was in gambling in Shreveport. She died four months later. My brothers with their AIDS diagnoses, made it 2 years and 4 years each. My sister – on the other hand – had a head injury that slowly resulted in a condition that resembled Alzheimer’s. She lingered longer than she would have ever wanted if she had had a say in it. My point being, life shifted suddenly and took a radical turn. That may be the nature of life itself. Homeostasis – then change – back to homeostasis, over and over again.

I had a lump in my neck a few months back and went to the doctor. She said, “I think more tests are in order.” I said, “I think this is from allergies, let’s go with a more relaxed approach.” She agreed and sent me home to take Ibuprofen for swelling. The lump went away and I have since been given a clear bill of health after another examination. However, at the time, my thoughts were, This may be my turn. I am not exempt. We all will have a turn, after all. This is sooner than I wanted, but these things are not up to me.

So, here we are. Sammie’s turn has come. She is peaceful.

We will keep our her in our hearts just as we continue to keep those we’ve already lost. There will be more to lose as the years proceed and as morbid as that may sound, it is the plain truth. We will be added to the count when our time comes. And in the bigger picture – the cycle of life – that reality is as it should be.

The sun will continue to rise and set; the tides ebb and flow; the moon wax and wan. We are part of something much bigger; that’s a relief in a way. Time and space compress to bring us to a common place. Love will link us over the years and keep us bolstered in times of grief.

A little dog is a symbol of the ever-changing rhythms of life.

May light perpetual shine upon our sweet Sammie. She has brought us much joy.


9 thoughts on “Reflections on Living, Dying and Our Little Dog, Sammie”

  1. My daughter’s dog had surgery and was given 6 months to live due to cancer two years ago. She is still alive and runs around and eats a lot. I cannot say she looks healthy–way too thin, but she seems to have a good time. It really is quite amazing.

    1. Our girl can hardly walk and all bowel functions have stopped. Plus she has a second tumor on her lung. I think Ray and I have accepted this is the only merciful solution. The vet said the massive tumor in her abdomen will start causing pain probably by tomorrow. I’m glad your daughter’s dog bet the odds.

  2. Crying at night leaves my eyes puffy. When I read this “Twenty Minutes a Day” last night, I was a mess. Today I look frightful. Big hugs for your family.


  3. My brother-in-law has only a few days to live. My husband is a mess. Your comments on life and death are comforting. I ask your permission to use your words to give our family and friends some peace at this time of great sadness.

  4. Len, these are beautiful words on a painful subject for us all. But again we see the healing power of words themselves, coupled with thoughts of others, and of course prayer. Thank you for sharing – I still remember that morning I took my little Yorkie to the vet. We too shared one last day – the memories are bittersweet, but as you remind us, are a part of our very existence.

    1. Thanks, Randy. Sorry for the delay on this comment, but just saw your message. Sammie is still going strong. We know the day is coming, but we’re waiting until it is clearly time. Thanks for commenting.

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