For Angels Lost
In what would be the last task my father and I performed together, we lifted his German Shepherd mix Angel into the back of my car. I had made her a bed with a soft down comforter my daughter used in college. He kissed her goodbye, then hugged me, and thanked me several times for doing what he could not.
Angel was old, frail, and increasingly incontinent, but my mother had not been able to bring herself to put her down just because she peed on the floor. Mom could empathize only too well. So, they waited until her pain and humiliation outweighed her simple daily pleasures. They waited until she could no longer keep up with my father on his daily golf cart ride around the neighborhood, and Dad came home without her. He was surprised and embarrassed when the neighbor walked up with the dog in tow. Angel had forgotten the way back home. Dad had not remembered taking her with him.
The next morning, she could not stand up and we knew it was time. My mother and I made the ten mile drive to town. Mom said, I cannot cry for her. I’m just feeling bad for letting her suffer so long. I tried to console her. You gave her the best life, Mom. This is the kindest thing we can do for her.
We waited ten minutes in the office, petting, loving, and praising our glorious shepherd who lived longer than a big dog should. She was tired and told us so with her dark sad eyes. I took one last picture – her beautiful head resting on her paws on the tile floor where she would take her last breath.
Dr. Jackson explained what he would do and asked if we were sure we wanted to stay. We were. If she had to endure it, so would we. She was too brave, too loved to abandon now. When we were certain she was gone, I was the one weeping.
On the ride home, Mom sat stroking Angel’s ragged collar in her soft, worn hands. Dad greeted us from the front porch when we got there, offering to bring groceries in from the car. I told him we hadn’t gone to the store, and my answer made him visibly angry.
Well, where have you been? What took you so long? he shouted at us. I was confused then. I knew Dad had been diagnosed with dementia, but I had no idea he could have forgotten so quickly that we had taken his beloved pet to be euthanized. Mom climbed the stairs to remind him gently, so he would not be embarrassed when he realized his mistake. He didn’t remember that we took her with us, didn’t remember she was not coming home.
I had a very contentious relationship with my father for most of my life. He was often demanding, and sometimes abusive. He was diagnosed at some point late in his life with a narcissistic form of mental illness, which did not surprise my mother or me. We had lived with it for years. But at that moment, I saw something beyond his personality…beyond our history…and it made me cry. He became tender then and asked Mom why I was crying. She told him I was just sad because Angel died.
And even though this was true, how could I explain – to him or to her – that there was more to my tears than this one sorrow?