You Will Know When it's Time
The rain is pouring down in buckets. I peer out my spattered windows to see trees almost entirely bare, save for the brown rust colored oak leaves standing their ground. Branches cut across the landscape of pond and sky, all shades of gray. Inside the fireplace is warming the room and the scent of boiling chicken fills the air. I am cooking for Isabelle.
I end my call with the surgical oncologist. For the past few weeks I have walked a tightrope of indecision, stepping off into hope and denial. But today there was really no more waiting. The biopsy with its sheets of spindle cells overtaking the normal boney trabecular pattern, confirming what i already knew, Isabelle has Osteosarcoma in her humerus, causing her to limp, and filling her days with discomfort. The treatment options for a 12 and1/2 year old dog with less than great hips are not realistic. Not that someone wouldn’t be willing to do them, but I can't subject Isabelle to that. Just because I want her to be here longer doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. This lesson plays over and over in my brain. It’s what my dad told me at the end of his life. “Liz” he said, “I see the trajectory of my life and it is not the way I want to live.” “If I could stay here with you I would, but not like that.”
The decision to end a life feels like severing a limb, or removing all the oxygen from the room. It is indescribably intolerable. It is a high wire and a move in the wrong direction is a certain fall from a cliff with no happy ending. So I feed Isabelle all the treats, chicken, steak and eggs, she wants. Every evening she gets up on the couch and lies between me and Ned with her big head on my lap. I stroke her ears, her neck, her face, the area around her eyes, her snout, even her droopy old lips and chin. I feel her spine, running my fingers along the scaffolding protruding from her wasting body. I touch the 2 sutures and soft shaved skin where they removed the cancerous bone to prove to me that it was cancerous. I put my hand over the bone and wish with all my heart that my touch could take away the pain. This still makes her happy. The joy and devotion clear in her muddying brown eyes as she looks up at me. “You will know” she says to me with her gaze. “You will know when it’s time.”