I never wanted to make the decision. Who would? But being who I am in the order of things, it fell to me to decide when to let her go.
“Well, what do you wish us to do?” the doctor asked, with a benevolent demeanor, but a double-parked, motor-running, it’s 4:58 on Friday vibe coming off him. I could feel his inner toes tapping.
You don’t really think about making this decision, deciding life or death for someone you love. But you know what you have to do in the second, maybe half-second they ask you. You just tend to think about the other things as a diversion.
What’ll the family say? How can I face myself day after day after the deed is done? Can I live with being the instrument of another being losing her life?
You look up at the professionals and their eyebrows have that inverted V droop of a practiced medical professional.
“There’s no coming back from this,” the doctor said, meaning her condition, just lying there. But there’d be no coming back on my end, either. “It’s painless, she won’t feel a thing. It’s what she would want.”
You feel like your boiling as you stand still for that second or less, three heartbeats replacing the one that normally fills that space. Allegro.
“Okay, let’s do it,” I say as my eyes get all mushy and moist and my throat locks in the words and out the air.
The doctor does what he does, practiced, assured, always ready. And then, we wait. It really doesn’t take long, but a lot of life flashes before your eyes when you’re the one deciding. The guest of honor just closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and…. She’s gone.
In that second, though, everything changed for me. Emotions began living closer to the surface, and I noticed and reveled in more of life humming and growing and ebbing all around me. All from one second of indecision to decision.
It gave me a harder shell, too, though. I was graced with the same decision for my Dad not even a year later. Outwardly cool, I’m sure the weepers around me thought me an unfeeling bastard.
The doctor gave his spiel about no coming back, it’s for the best, he has a no-resuscitate order, all that stuff. The same inverted V they teach in Veterinary school they must in Med school, too.
Then came the money shot question, the big one, the life or death one.
“Well, what do you wish us to do?”
In a second of fire and freeze, the man in whom a dog’s death changed everything, nodded and said “Okay, let’s do it.”
And then I stood taller, set my jaw, began to breathe again, as the others began to sob. They could never have made this decision, wouldn’t want to. Who would? But, like I said, in less than a second, maybe even half a second, it changed everything. Dammit, everything changed.
I’d cry later.
Here’s a warmup story for Story-A-Day May (God help me!) based on a prompt from my friend Kellie Elmore and her re-energized Free Write Friday. The prompt was to write this story: “It was less than a second, maybe half a second, but it changed everything.”
Twenty minutes of free write later, I came up with this. Not sure it’s a story. Sure as hell ain’t a poem. But it has a character or two, a dilemma with stakes and a change in the character’s world/life in the end. It’s a practice, folks.