June 28, 2021

How to Say Goodbye to your 4 Favorite Paws.

The emptiness is like watching a movie without a soundtrack.

It looks like a cupcake without icing and it would taste like a chocolate chip cookie if I forgot to add the chips.

There is a hollow place in my belly that aches.

Yesterday after we sent her off, I craved comfort. I had a bagel for lunch and four breadsticks for dinner—as if filling up on what tasted good would somehow fill the hole in my heart.

For months, my days have been punctuated with the details of being her caregiver. As soon as we woke up, I’d give her four medications and prepare her chicken and rice since she didn’t eat kibble anymore.

We’d go outside and I’d sit on the porch swing while she sat in the sun. Every hour on the hour, I took her out to make a pishy, and then put a fresh diaper on her. I remember when that felt odd and somewhere along the way, it became completely normal, cute even. She was my baby after all.

I yearn for the clickety clacking of her nails on the floor. That is how I always knew exactly where she was, like the bell on Kitty’s collar.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t get up five times during the night to let Cupcake out to pee pee. What I wouldn’t have given last night to hear her little paw scratching on the door to notify me she needed to go out. I would pop out of bed, remove her diaper, turn on the outside light, and open the door so she could hop onto the grass.

It was just a few months ago that she would bark when she wanted to come back inside. Then she went through a stage where she would go on “walkabout,” wandering around the yard because she was lost, and I’d have to go outside to find her at 3 a.m.

I couldn’t call out for her because of the ungodly hour and she was 99 percent deaf. She only heard loud claps and high pitches—neither of which were an ideal option in the middle of the night. Most recently, she’d just scratch to come back in, which used up all the energy she had.

I would be waiting to tell her what a sweet girl she was and how much I loved her every…single…time. I was genuinely grateful to have to get up because it meant she was still part of our family.

Yesterday, Alan and I had a state of the union consult with the vet at 8:30 a.m. I wrapped my arms around Cuppie on the ride home. I wanted to chew on what we had just heard, but I felt like I was choking on it.

We walked straight into my daughter Eliza’s room, knowing she would be devastated by the news we were about to deliver.

Every morning after she opened her eyes, Liza would come looking for Cuppie. She was probably checking to see if she made it through another night, but it was playful and a ritual I cherished. She would start talking to her from across the house in this adorable voice she created that she only used with Cup.

I would get such a kick out of it. A few weeks ago, I asked Eliza if she would send me voice memos of it so I could hear it when she was gone. I meant when Eliza had gone back to San Francisco after her COVID-19 hiatus, not when Cuppie was gone.

Eliza listened as we explained. She processed with an entirely blank expression on her face. There was not the great flood of emotion I anticipated. She came into the living room and lay down on the floor curled up next to Cupcake, who was lying in her spot. I gave them space, and I could hear Eliza sobbing from across the room.

She said she couldn’t be in the room when we put her to sleep. I listened and I resisted the temptation to react immediately. The silence was deafening. I paused as I reminded myself that I was her mother, her emotional compass. It was my duty to guide her through rough waters she had never navigated. I encouraged her to push through her pain. I asked her to imagine Cupcake in the room, sensing our deep sadness and not seeing Eliza’s face. I reminded her that sometimes we do things for those we love, even when we’re scared to death ourselves—and in this case, those words would be a painful reality.

She opted out of Katie and Foxy’s euthanasias. She was a little girl and that felt different. At 23, I knew she had more emotional maturity, and I feared that if she took the easy way out, she would one day regret not having been with Cupcake at the end. I knew it was the end of her suffering and visualized her prancing around like a puppy, sleeping on a cloud, and eating table scraps all day long. It would be heaven. I firmly believe in life after death and I knew if there was a heaven, she had earned a front-row seat.

I encouraged Eliza to let the hurt hurt.

Feeling this deeply is something that posed a challenge for her. Alan, of course, told her she didn’t have to be there. He’s a path of least resistance kind of guy. His department in this family is the nuts and bolts of life; mine is the heart and soul. That is the beauty of our yin and yang.

I agreed that ultimately it would be her choice to make, but I encouraged her to make it from a place of loving Cupcake, which might look different than that of Eliza feeling comfortable.

She had an appointment and had to leave. I watched her pull out of the driveway and willed her to have a conversation with her heart. I texted her just to check in and she said she wanted to be there and was heading home.

On the drive over to the vet’s office, I held Cupcake close to me. She was warm and soft and I wanted it to last forever. It hit me all of a sudden that this was my opportunity to let Eliza have this moment. It was the reward for her willingness to be uncomfortable and show up anyway—my definition of love.

This wasn’t just about me losing Cupcake. It was a chance for me to mother and encourage my daughter by being generous. I watched her heart grow three sizes.

As soon as we got out of the car, I handed Cupcake over to Eliza. Big tears poured down her face as she walked in, and I choked down sobs that felt like they were burning a hole in my throat. Eliza was facing her fear. She would have to feel deeply and embrace the ache of letting Cuppie go. We all would. Our job was to make Cupcake feel surrounded by our love and drift off. Her suffering would end as ours would begin.

The staff was respectful. We were the only people in the office. They stayed late to accommodate us and to allow for the privacy this life event deserved. They escorted us into a room and Dr. Barton asked if we were ready. I told him absolutely not, but we had to be. He explained every step of the process in a way that made sense and somehow when he said the words, I felt like I could do it. He would inject her with something to disassociate her mind from her body and it would just allow her to fall effortlessly into a deep sleep. “When was the last time she did anything effortlessly?” I asked myself.

Eliza cradled her as hot tears rolled down her pink cheeks. After a few minutes, she passed her off to me. It was a completely organic transition. I sat down and held Cuppie for the rest of her life—which would be only moments. Eliza and Alan were huddled up across from me, watching our girl.

Our Cupcake had drifted off into a sound sleep, just as he said she would. My hands were wrapped around her Buddha belly, which was so warm; her little head was resting on my shoulder. I could feel her heartbeat, as mine pounded in unison.

Dr. Barton came into the room and gave her the second and final injection. It felt like just a second, and I could no longer feel her heartbeat. It told him. He said she was gone. Desperation and relief washed over me simultaneously. It was an odd sensation.

They gave us some time with her alone. I laid her down on the table on a blanket and kissed her all over. I laid my head on her belly and told her how much we loved her as I had done a thousand times before. Her back legs were crossed. She was always such a little lady. The vet’s office treated this with the amount of honor that it deserved. It wasn’t matter of fact for them in any way, even though they had probably done this hundreds of times. They were exceptionally respectful of what we were going through. They allowed it to be the hardest thing we could endure and they were right there with us, feeling all of it. You could see it in their eyes.

I have been collecting silver linings in my head since yesterday. I miss her running to the door when she could still hear. I would walk in and “rub her tum.” I miss the sound of her snoring, and I even miss her shrill bark when she would beg during dinner. I will miss her constant and abiding companionship that saw me through the last five years, the hardest of my life.

I’m not sure anyone could have been more loyal or less judging than she was—just a constant and steady companion. She gave me what most humans could not, and I will forever be grateful for her faithfulness.

She died because her heart was so large, and we loved her because her heart was so large.

Rest in peace, my sweet Cupcake. We are sweeter because of you.


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