I had to put my beloved 17-year-old beagle, Lucy, to sleep 10 days ago. I hate that term "put to sleep." The vet came, gave her an injection, and it killed her. She was very old, and she had become very sick in the past few weeks. There was no denying that it was her time.
That Saturday, the day before she died, she was having a very difficult time breathing. We all thought she was going to die in her sleep, which would have saved me from having to make the decision. But by Sunday, it was clear: She was suffering and we had to relieve her. Sometimes I wish that humans had that option. We're lucky that dogs do (although in New York State they are trying to pass legislation that will eliminate vets from euthanizing dogs in their homes). Lucy had such a fear of the vet that she would have probably died just going into the office. It was so much more humane to have a vet come to us, where she could die surrounded by love.
In the same month, I had a play (Scrambled Eggs) that I had been working on for many years open at an off-Broadway theater for a limited run. It was one of the most intense, creative, challenging experiences of my life, and I was consumed with stress and excitement. I think that Lucy must have sensed that after so many years of being with me through really difficult life circumstances -- a terrible divorce, my mother's death, my daughter moving 3,000 miles away, career ups and downs, moving -- finally one of my dreams was coming true. Perhaps it was an okay time to go. I honestly believe that my two dogs (Lola, another beagle, died in 2011) absorbed the grief I felt through so much loss. They were loving and devoted to me, and just having to take care of them gave me a good reason to go on when sometimes I wasn't sure I wanted to. They had to be walked, fed, and cared for, and they gave me unconditional love. When Lola got cancer and I had to put her down, it was traumatic, but I was grateful to still have Lucy.
Everyone who has ever had an animal they love understands that this loss is truly and unspeakably difficult. I can't begin to count the number of times I hugged Lucy and cried, and she licked my face (and then walked away), then eventually came back for another hug. I can't tell you how often I would lie on the couch with her and just feel comfort in her presence.
I can't tell you how deeply she loved me, because that's what dogs do. They love their humans, no matter whether they come home a little later than they were supposed to, or feed them dog food that they don't love as much as they love the leftovers. Or if they can't stay with them all day, because after all, days are meant for napping.
I can't tell you how many times Lola made me laugh when, despite so many physical handicaps, she never stopped wagging her tail and walking down the street in her crooked way, her hind legs moving like one of those buses with the accordion in the center, kind of a wiggle, so humorous that people often took out their phones and videotaped her.
Lola taught me how to handle adversity and Lucy taught me how to love unconditionally. Lola taught me to laugh and Lucy taught me to cry. She taught me that it's okay to love someone so much that when they finally die, you feel that your heart is broken.
The gift of having a play in the world, though it is scary and terrifying to put your work out there, is also not about you -- it's about touching people with your ideas and your truth.
Lucy, I couldn't have done it without you. And I miss you every single day. I hope you and Lola are together somewhere, having a grand time chasing every scent.
For more by Robin Amos Kahn, click here.
For more on death and dying, click here.