Friday, August 6, 2010

Signs and Portents

In my last post, I described the medical crises that led E. and me to decide that Cosmo should be put to sleep. But there were also several strange coincidences and happenings that reinforced our conviction that Cosmo's time had come. If I were a religious person, I might interpret these events as divine intervention. Instead, I prefer to call them signs and portents.

The first of these occurred the day before Cosmo's death, as E. and I returned home from a walk. I was telling E. that I had decided to stop agonizing about how we would decide if and when the time had come to euthanize Cosmo. I said I believed we would just know. Suddenly, E. exclaimed "What's this?"

It was our stone bunny statue, which stands in the flower bed adjacent to our front walk. The bunny had fallen face-down in the soil. That bunny has stood on the same spot since we moved into our house ten years ago. In fact, it's at least as old as Cosmo, having adorned the garden in our prior house as well. The statute has survived nor'easters and blizzards without ever toppling over.

E. quickly righted the bunny and re-set it on its appointed spot. We shrugged off the occurrence, but it rattled us nonetheless. A sign that we should think about ending Cosmo's life? Hardly, yet in retrospect it seemed a portent of Cosmo's own shocking collapse the following morning from a massive seizure.

That evening, E. and I watched the last episode of the first season of Deadwood, an HBO series set in the late-nineteenth-century American west. One of the characters is a minister who begins having seizures in an earlier episode. Eventually, the local doctor realizes that the poor man has a brain tumor. By the last episode, his condition has become dire. His seizures are terrible, with his limbs and head contorting uncontrollably. The doctor prays that God will take him. Finally, in a strangely moving scene, one of the main characters enters the room where the minister lies and, while embracing him, smothers him with a handkerchief, euthanizing him.

The next morning, when Cosmo began having his own terrible seizure, as I tried to hold him and comfort him, E. and I looked at one another. "The minister," E. said. The way Cosmo's limbs and head contorted reminded us of the seizure we'd watched on the television drama the night before. The minister's seizures had finally been stopped by a mercy killing. Was this a sign?

Now rewind to just a few short moments before Cosmo's seizure began. Until then, it had seemed like an unremarkable morning. E. had taken Cosmo out for a brief walk and Cosmo was sitting on his mat in the kitchen, as usual. I was preparing a bowl of cereal for myself. Cosmo normally liked to wait until I began eating my breakfast before eating his food. Prior to sitting down at the table, I glanced at the latest New Yorker to see if there were any articles I wanted to read. My eye was immediately caught by an article by Atul Gawande. Its title — "Letting Go - Rethinking end-of-life treatment."

Although I knew the title referred to human end-of-life dilemmas, I immediately thought of Cosmo and set the magazine on the table so I could read the article. I turned toward Cosmo and noticed that he was trembling. I knelt down beside him and petted him. He seemed to calm down. I stood up to get a spoon for my cereal and when I glanced at Cosmo again his limbs were contorted and I realized he was having a very strong seizure. So, rather than reading an article about end of life, the next hour found me considering whether to actually end my dog's life. Another sign? I'd like to think so, because somehow that allows me to pretend that Cosmo's fate was predetermined and not merely the result of a coldly rational decision.

Eight days have passed since Cosmo's death. I'm still struggling with the trauma of putting him to sleep, but a little less so during the past couple of days. I've realized that I've been using my guilt about being the agent of Cosmo's death as a way to avoid facing my grief. There's never a right time to lose an animal you love, even if all the signs tell you it's time.


  1. Barbara, this is a very touching story. I'm certain that if it were possible, Cosmo would be thanking you for setting him free. ~bonnie

  2. 'Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break'.
    William Shakespeare

    It seems to me you are doing the right thing.

  3. So sorry - loss of a pet is very hard indeed. We recently had a similar situation but I prefer to dwell on the love we gave him and he us, the very 'cush' life he led, the 12 years of happiness he experienced because we made a place for him in our hearts.