Last Wednesday we said goodbye to Madeline. We spent the morning quietly. I sat on the sofa with Madeline, talking to her, telling her stories about our life together. I ordered lunch for the three of us: three cheeseburgers, three orders of fries; one for each of us. We sat on the floor of the living room and had a picnic.
Maddie knew what french fries were, but she’d never had a cheeseburger before. I took off the top bun and she gingerly bit off a small piece of cheese and beef from the edge, backing away to try it and render a verdict. And then she was back for more. Even so close to the end, with so much going on, she was able to enjoy something new and get really excited. Fries have long been one of Maddie’s favorite treats: if Richard and I had burgers and fries, she’d sit still, making her barely audible leaking sound, waiting for one.
After she realized how good the burger was, though, she was barely interested. I offered her a fry and she dutifully took it in her mouth, dropped it on the blanket, and waited for the real deal: more cheeseburger.
After our picnic we went for one last walk as a family. Maddie was content but moving slowly. We ambled around the neighborhood and through Duboce Park, the first park she and I walked in when we moved here, and the park where Richard would take her for long conversations on the grassy knoll. When we got home we sat on the floor and prayed together, the three of us. I thanked Maddie and the divine for all the time we had together, for her unwavering love and loyalty, for teaching us about being there for one another. And as we cried, we prayed that her final moments would be peaceful and pain free, that she’d be surrounded by love.
Dr. Morris and his assistant, Angie, arrived a little after 2. We showed them where we’d set up Madeline’s bed in our bedroom, under the window, and things moved quickly. I picked her up and held her while Dr. Morris gave her a quick shot in her hindquarters. She didn’t even seem to notice. I put her down in her bed and Richard and I sat on either side, stroking her back and scratching her head, telling her what a good girl she was, what a very, very good girl. The sedative took a few minutes to take effect. Maddie tried to jump out of her bed once, stumbling a little like she was intoxicated, and we gently picked her up and set her back down. After that she laid down and licked my hand. Maddie has always been willful and high strung, so Dr. Morris gave her a second shot of sedative in the muscle of her hindquarters. Madeline licked Richard’s hand, then mine, wagging her head back and forth, looking back and forth between us as we told her how much we loved her and what a good girl she was. When she finally went to sleep, her breathing was slow and ragged, and you could tell just how hard she’d been fighting to breathe for so long.
Madeline’s right foreleg was still shaved from the CT scan we’d done a month before, a last effort to find some foreign obstruction of treatable symptom we’d overlooked. Dr. Morris, held that leg and found her vein, the site of so many injections and blood draws over the years. Angie handed him the final syringe, and he injected it. Seconds later, Maddie’s labored breathing stopped, and she was gone.
We had the window open in the bedroom so that whatever made her Maddie could get out and back into the world.
Richard and I started crying, and Dr. Morris left us to ourselves for a few minutes. It was over.
Richard and I took a long walk afterward, walking through the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, toward the place where we’d walked with Madeline the day before. Along our walk we talked about how grateful we were for her life, for Dr. Morris, for the support we’ve received over the past week as we prepared to say goodbye. We talked about all the ways Madeline enriched our lives and what she taught us. And we talked about what we expected to be difficult in the coming days.
Our family is missing a piece these days. Madeline was the one constant in my life for more than a decade, someone I could rely on when everything else was in flux. I’ve never lived in San Francisco without her.
We’re slowly adapting, and sometimes it still hits me: she’s not going to greet us at the door, I don’t have to walk her before I get in the shower or right before bed, she’s not going to climb into bed at 3 in the morning and wedge herself between us. She’s still with us, and I miss her dearly.