Learning To Let Go; Magee Lessons
Magee was my first dog. He came with my wife. In fact, it is very possible that had he not jumped into my lap and knocked the glass of white wine out of my hand and spilled it on my beige sports jacket, my wife and I would never have gotten together.
I was not a unique child. I wanted a dog as a pet. My mother was desperately afraid of animals. I never knew why. To my knowledge she had never been attacked, and neither my brother nor I had ever an unpleasant moment with a pet. But who is to account for anxieties? They are often untraceable to real events. So, we never had a dog. We visited people who had dogs, but they had to be locked out in a yard or inside in a room or my mother wouldn’t come into the house. Every time we visited my Uncle and Aunt, Bill and Sally, I would go down to the den, close the door behind me, and play with their dog that was confined during our visit.
When I moved into my own apartment and then later when I got married to my first wife, I was afraid to take on the responsibility of a dog. But on my daughter’s fifth birthday I presented her with a cat that loved and who fiercely protected her until my daughter left for college. While my daughter was away, on her twenty-first birthday our cat died. I never had another pet. I never wanted to bury another pet.
So when the wine went onto my jacket I told my future and second wife (I was a widow then) not to concern herself, it was white wine, it would dry, and the jacket could be cleaned. I petted Magee who promptly responded with the requisite face lick. I was irresistible to the dog, and I suppose by association, to my future wife.
Magee was a rescue dog which made him loyal to us but skittish with others. He had a left over anxious stomach which I sympathized with completely because I suffered the same illness. For a while, in fact, we were on the same medication. We were buddies. I spoke conversationally and he seemed to understand. He jumped up on the couch and watched Jeopardy with me. He never answered a question but when I was having a good night and had a run of correct answers he would settle in with his head on my lap and look at me in admiration.
But he was often sick and as he got older our sympathetic vet tried to ease us into the reality that we were buying medications, spending money for hospital stays, and lifting him onto beds and couches for our sake, not for his. We didn’t want to let him go.
One day after he had a seizure, he virtually crawled over to me, rubbed his face on my leg, and looked up with a sadness that was as loud as if he had shouted it. We made an appointment with the vet. He sat next to me in the back yard quietly as the sun moved across the sky and from time to time leaned against me. He never left and he never moved, and the vet came and he was put to sleep.
I had been told by my wife, who had owned several dogs that when they are ready to go, they let you know. Magee clearly let me know and though he was my wife’s dog, she let me have the time to understand his wishes.
When my sister-in-law was in the hospital, not responsive after a complication robbed her of her consciousness I was her health care proxy. She had a DNR. Her end of life wishes were clear. She had been my sister for close to 50 years. I didn’t want to let her go, but thanks to Magee, I understood her wishes and my obligation. Her daughter and I had made the decision to let her go. She never made us actually tell anyone to turn off the machine and had another stroke and died unassisted.
All of this sounds terribly sad, but it isn’t. All of us eventually suffer loss. It is an act of love to let someone go when they let you know they are ready. It is our often painful obligation to someone we love to be ready and to listen.