a good day to die

The day my father died I spoke to him on the phone. He’d been battling multiple myeloma for five years, since he was sixty-five, and it was the first day in months that he’d spent time alone in the house. He’d recently recovered from consecutive bouts of pneumonia which had landed him in the hospital, and for months he’d been drugged up on morphine to blunt the pain in his bones. Our conversation went something like this:

    “Hi Dad. It’s me.
    “Hey, Shorty.”
    “I’m calling from New York. What’re you up to today?”
    “Well, I swept the garage and brought in some wood for your mother, then I checked the oil on the car.”
    “Wow, that’s great! Is Mom there?”
    “Nope. She went into town to do a couple of errands.”
    “How’re you feeling today?”
    “Pretty good ... I think I might’ve turned the corner.”
I told him that I loved him and he said it back. I hung up the phone wondering which corner he had turned. Later that night I got a call from my mom and my brother telling me that Dad had died. It occurred to me that it was a good day for Dad to die, one in which he felt worthy, accomplished things, and felt good enough physically and lucid enough to do so.

This past weekend Michael and I watched out thirteen-year-old chocolate lab Rudy hobble around on his weak, arthritic legs, one of which he suddenly can’t put much weight on anymore. Last week he stopped eating his breakfasts. He’s lost some weight and has long been incontinent. A visit to the vet on Thursday resulted in a substantial increase in painkillers and anti-inflammatories in a last-ditch effort to get our Rudy back into decent shape. Our strategy didn’t work, and after a lot of thought we decided that today is the day we’ll be putting Rudy down.

It pains me to do so. Every cell in my body wants him to get better, wants his elbow to miraculously improve. I know deep down inside, however, that it won’t, that he is in pain, even though he wags his tail, still enjoys munching on dog biscuits, still wants to follow us around the yard even though he is terribly lame.

Today will be a good day for Rudy to die because yesterday our friends Brian and Joanne, Luke, Sarah and Jacob, Matt, Macauley and Carol and their black lab Millie came by separately to say their goodbyes to Rudy. There were tears and wags, and glasses of beer and bourbon. As Rudy and Millie sniffed each other, Macauley recounted the legend of the Oglala Sioux warrior Low Dog, who was thought to have said before going into battle, “It is a good day to die.”

Today will be a good day for Rudy to die. The ground has finally thawed. The fragrance of spring is on the wind. Birds are chirping. The vet is making a house call. Rudy is still in good spirits. But as I write this I can’t help but weep. He’s been such a good boy, friendly to everyone, loving, loyal, affectionate, well behaved, albeit stubborn in his final months. We’ve been lucky to know him and terribly sad to see him go. But as he goes, he’ll have the sun shining on his chocolatey coat, the grass as his bed and Michael and I there hugging him goodbye.


  1. Oh, Christy. I am sorry. Sending love.

  2. What a beautiful dog; what a beautiful tribute. You've honored him. I'm sorry you will lose him, for loss is hard. But at my advanced age, and my husband's, we can feel the cycle of life in our bones, and it's all right. You may already feel that, but if not, I think one day you will.

  3. I am in the midst of just such right now. My not quite 12 yr old lab has been failing for the last year. He was the first seeing eye puppy our family raised and he was not able to become a guide dog so he became ours. Not as noble a career but one in which he's never left my side, protected me and comforted me when each of the other seeing eye pups have left for training. He's mentored in ten other pups, teaching them good manners and tolerating puppy teething stages with grace. Our 11th pup arrived last month. I'm not ready to say goodbye but he is and I find myself hanging on for me. I need to come to a place of peace for both of us.

  4. I've got a lump in my throat and watery eyes. I too am a dog lover. Many, many hugs to you today.

  5. Christy, go ahead and feed this beautiful member of the family a treat....
    Take a small bit of the oil you have (be it made from the instructions I gave or other oil you have handy), put it in with a treat, feed that to Rudy. It'll surely reduce his pain, allow him comfort.

  6. I'm so very sorry. This is such a difficult decision. Even when you know it is the right thing to do for your dog, part of you is screaming "NO, it is not the right thing for me!"

    Sending you all thoughts of peace.

    RR Julia

  7. Hi Christy,
    I know how you feel. A year ago Colin and I had to have a vet come to our house to put our 17-year-old cat down to make his passing easier. I loved that cat -- Sparky -- and so did Colin, who bonded with Sparky when Colin was a kitten.

  8. I'm so sorry. Rudy has always seemed like a beautiful boy and a patient companion for Calvin. But pets are fortunate when they have kindly family members who can end their suffering when it is time, rather than being forced to drag out their days until their bodies just can't take it.

  9. With hankie in hand, my heart aches for you all - it's so hard and sad to say 'goodbye' to such a loyal and faithful dog and family member. It will now be in the small moments that you realize how much he was a part of your everyday lives.

  10. Christy, I'm so sorry about Rudy. What a beautiful dog and tribute to him. May the memories of him bring a smile to your heart for years to come. Love, Trish