Adrienne Parks of Huntington Beach, Calif., has written for stage, film and television, and teaches screenwriting at UCLA. In addition, she has been published most recently in Running Times, Los Angeles Times and Paraplegia News. With a long history of having rescued and brought into her home Golden Retrievers, she is committed to working with formal rescue groups to do whatever she can to improve the quality of life for all dogs (and other animals).
What I’ve come to realize is that Cleo is in such a better place … doggie heaven. She, at least in my mind, received the greatest gift I could give her—me at her side for her last morning on earth. Is that too presumptuous? I hope she took it in the spirit meant—that as her human companion, I would have my hand on her back, lean down and whisper that I loved her in her ear as the vet shaved the front of her paw for the big injection. She was my big, oversized, double-coated blond Golden Retriever best friend for six years. I would have liked to have shared the first five years of her life too. Selfishly, I think she would have preferred it that way as well.
I hope this doesn’t sound morose but I found a sense of personal, albeit stoic, comfort and satisfaction from (once I made up my mind that it had to be done) taking her next door to Paul and Pandora’s backyard for a last romp in the grass she loved. There she quickly found a prickly dwarf lemon tree to “hide” under. And from which it would have been a thorny time getting her out, had she not come when I asked. That’s how much she trusted me. Of course, she probably would have been perfectly happy to die there as it was cool against the cinderblock wall with the smell of Meyer lemons and Pandora’s ripe beefsteak tomato plants. Note: Paul and Pandora are thankfully out of town, but would have approved of this use of their big backyard.
When I led Cleo home from next door, I did not put the leash on her. I wanted her to move under her own steam without the old “rudder” that typically connected us on our outside walks.
Her coat looked a little mussed. I brushed her beautiful fur one last time—as I didn’t want the vet to think we had not been taking good care of her. But, of course, also because I wanted to remember the moment, the feel of her fur, how thin it had become, how so “not” like her body she had become. When I pulled her fur out of the brush and placed it in the trashcan, I knew that it would be for the last time—and remembered all the “good times” we done “brushin’.” She loved to be brushed. And brushed. And brushed. She would lean into me as if to say, “You can just brush me forever and ever.” This last time she could have cared less. She tolerated my whim—making me whole right to the end.
I checked inside her ears and saw they needed cleaning. I wiped them out—so, I guess when she “met her maker,” she would have clean ears. By then, a piece of “schmutz,” as we called it, had formed in her left eye. As if (yes, I know this is anthropomorphizing. Who cares?) she had cried. As if she knew this would be the last of everything and that she had to start memorizing everything about her life with us to carry it with her to doggie heaven.
Often I have thought that dogs don’t like to go to the vets because they can “sniff” the death of one of their kin. So I made up my mind that I wanted her to be able to smell “me” in her last moments. I put on a bit of the lavender scent that I’ve worn the whole time we shared her life, and dabbed a bit on her, too. I made sure that I put it on my legs and arms so that when I sat on the vet’s cold linoleum office floor next to her, she would be sure to smell the lavender, and not the antiseptic, other sick dogs, the other stuff.
I think she knew that I would have done anything for her—to make her passing more comfortable for her as I had made her life as whole and well and healthy as it could be.
This memory reminds me of my father’s last hours. I washed his face, tried to clean his hands and fingernails (the hospital certainly didn’t do it), and bought a small bottle of his favorite long-time after shave (Mennen) and dabbed some on his cheeks. He loved that manly scent. I don’t know if he was able to smell it, but maybe he did. It was as if this act of Mennen After Shave would create some bond between us, which, of course, it had long, long ago. As if I knew this would be the last of everything that I saw of him, that I had to start memorizing everything about my father as he lay dying in his sweaty hospital gown. That I would have to carry all the memories like logs, including these, to remember him by. I wanted to remember it all. The good. The bad. Everything in between.
Having just realized the similarity between Cleo’s passing and that of my father, I guess these acts of goodbye are what we create for ourselves to carry on. Memories we will hold on to like perfect nuggets of gold or ice. They are what make our final interactions meaningful to us… the living.