Is it time?
Updated: Feb 1
Mercury went over the Bridge yesterday morning at home, peacefully. Lap of Love Veterinary Hospices, Inc assisted in his crossing on his favorite heater pad.
One hard question pet owners (parents) have to eventually face is asking, “Is it time?” to let them go. I’d like to talk about that.
The hardest part about the question is putting your pet before yourself. We all have a selfish aspect to our personality and we don’t want to let them go. Stepping aside to make it about your pet and not you isn’t easy but it’s probably the second best gift you could give them (the best was giving them a loving home). You may not realize it yet if it’s your first time but it’ll also be the best gift you can give yourself.
Here is something that is very important to understand: Your pet does not fear natural death due to age or illness. They’re not afraid to let go. So it is better to help them over a day early, so to speak, than a day late. Another way to explain it is that if you know they aren’t going to get better, you don’t want to wait until their very last moments when they’ve already run out of good days just to extend your time with them. Do whatever you're comfortable with to extend their time with you as long as there good days to be had.
People will tell you that you’ll know when it’s time. The best way I can describe it is that it’s when your heart breaks — you know, that feeling when you get horrible news about something coming. For me, it feels like the bottom falls out of my stomach and my heart dives through.
One thing that’ll help you know when it’s time is to keep track of their good days and bad days using whatever metric works best for you. At first, I used a calendar with a 1-10 scale and then I started tracking whether his current day was better or worse than the previous day and how many days that continued.
When you know it’s time, make the appointment — and stick to it. Mercury took a turn for the better just hours before his appointment, getting up several times to eat some more food, and he wasn’t falling over while walking. Jess and I both were second-guessing ourselves (and you will likely do the same) about whether we were too early but honestly, even a couple of days early is still better than even one day too late. Mercury wasn’t going to get better and his good days were almost always followed by several really bad days.
I’m sure that after, you will thank yourself for sending them out on a high note. I miss the hell out of Mercury, but I am at peace with how he went.
(Based on comments I’ve received, the pet perking up right at the end is fairly common — like they’re letting you have a good memory to remember them by. Likewise, those who backed off because of that perking up mostly regretted it.)
If you waited too long in the past (and we pretty much all did the first time) and are tormented by that, what you can do is remember the one you waited too long and give their passing some extra meaning by not waiting too long for your future pets.
Everyone grieves differently but if you like to talk about your pets, talk about them. Talk about your favorite memories and if you’re there to help your friend through this, just listen, even if you heard the story a thousand times before.
Before I end this with my favorite memory of Mercury, I’d like to talk a bit about the medical aspects of euthanasia because knowing this was helpful for me. The typical method used involves two injections. The first one relaxes them and basically puts them in a state of rest — many animals fall into a sleep state here. The second injection is an overdose of anesthesia and it basically turns their brain off. It’s not painful, just a sensation of things getting fuzzier and fuzzier (from my own experience with anesthesia), and then nothing. It doesn’t force their heart to stop beating. The part of the brain that controls the heart is basically on autopilot — it turns off and stops telling the heart to beat. The part of their brain that thinks and is self-aware has shut down first so they don’t feel anything.
My favorite memory of Mercury was way back when he was a kitten, probably 3 or 4 months old. I was lying in bed under the covers and he was sitting next to me in the middle of the bed. I had my knees raised to make “Mount Knee” and was trying to get him to jump up to the top. Several minutes of beckoning and he just sat there, looking. I gave up and the exact moment I dropped my knees, Mercury jumped! But my knees weren’t there any more and he sailed gracefully in an arch up and over and right off the edge of the bed out of sight.
Mercury: March 20th, 2003 - February 3rd, 2020
Written by John Bartlett on February 4th, 2020
Photo taken January 29, 2015