June 13, 2011

Heading to Sleep

Filed under: Parenting — Nathan @ 6:42 am

Me and Jackson

I just put the dog to sleep.

I’ve slept on the couch for the last two nights to be closer to Jackson and react when he wakes, and sure enough, I was able to lay with him on his bed and pet him to sleep minutes ago.

In another nine hours or so, we’ll take him to the vet to be put to sleep.  I can’t bear to look at the clock.

That knowledge made for a hard night in our household.  Our eleven year old understood that it was her last night with him; our six-year old gathered that, but didn’t have quite all the details.  They knew that he wasn’t truly going “to sleep,” however, and their response of anguish and love was both unsettling and soothing for my wife and I.

Unsettling because of our own struggles in dealing with Jackson’s end of life issues.  He’s 15, barely.  As a springer spaniel, that’s no small feat.  As an incorrigible springer spaniel – “he’ll grow out of it,” they said. They were very wrong – living to 15 after all that he had done is unbelievable.  Two emergency surgeries to clear intestinal blockages and remove portions of his intestines, numerous emergency vet visits for eating “welcome Baby!” cigars, homemade play dough, chicken bones, an ACL reconstruction and a variety of items that I’ve found in the yard as I’ve mowed over the years – “How did that pass through?”

Soothing, because he’s been with us for every location on our marriage journey.  We’d been married eighteen months when we got him, and he’s been with us in each of our apartments, and has bounced with us as we’ve relocated from city-to-city, apartment to apartment, and house to house.  For fifteen of our sixteen years of marriage, Jackson has been beside us, eating whatever we forgot to put out of reach.  A fixture in our family’s life.

He’s also welcomed our two babies home with us.  He’s let them pull his fur as we’ve come running over to pry off those little fingers, and yet he’s slept beside cribs of those same children when they’ve been sick, repeatedly.

Jackson's 15th Birthday

As I’ve maintained, he’s not a particularly good dog, but Jack’s one of the nicest I’ve ever known.  (And the issue of the “good” comes down to poor, inconsistent parenting, without question.)

The vet didn’t think last summer that he would make it to Christmas, and sure enough, the last few months have been a struggle for him.  Another Christmas with him came and went, however, and we’re grateful.  In the process, though, it’s gotten harder with every step and new failure of a bodily function, but we’ve rolled with the punches.  Cleaning the house, sometimes daily baths for him, aren’t that big of a deal, especially when we know that our daughters are watching how we deal with the aging of a loved one.

The harder issue has been the failure of his mind.  He’s been wandering, pacing, head-butting blank walls while open doors stand inches away, growing increasingly agitated with each passing week.  I left Denver hurriedly a few months ago while we were editing “Through My Eyes,” afraid that he wouldn’t last long enough for me to return.  As always, he’s rallied somehow.  They’ve never had a patient who has stayed so physically healthy that they could watch his mind deteriorate and try different medications to address his issues.  We don’t know if that makes him lucky or not.

Ultimately, you can put us in the CS Lewis camp when it comes to animals in Heaven.  Watching her dog dying against the backdrop of a teacher who said that “animals don’t go to Heaven” was taxing on our youngest.  Our oldest got my message – “sometimes the situation calls for simply nodding even when someone is wrong” – but our youngest is struggling to resolve the conflict in authorities.  While I appreciate her solution – “my teacher is older than you and therefore she knows more” – I see me walking through it again with her: “I’m wrong a lot, but not today.”

I wish we didn’t have to decide anything, but he’s so tough, so resilient, that we do.  And at long last, we’re comfortable in knowing that his time is here.  He’s been a beloved companion and friend, and Dad’s only other boy in a house of girls.

He’s awake again as I type, trying to get to his feet, looking to pace aimlessly.  Today will be a day of eggs and pizza but no further rallies.  He’s been a great dog and had a good run, and as you hope with loved ones, will leave a void in our lives while we cherish the laughs and marvel at the stories.

And, as our eldest reminded us last night, by tonight, he’ll be healed and know where to walk, or even run.

Sometimes, as we struggle for what we tell our children to help them navigate the world, they help sort things out for us, too.  I appreciate my wife and daughters for many reasons, and their perspective is one of those.

But as the sun peeks over the horizon and through the trees, I still can’t look at the clock.


  1. Nathan, Our hearts are with you and your family today. This is for you:

    Dear Lord,

    Please open your gates and call St. Francis
    to come escort this beloved companion
    across the Rainbow Bridge.

    Assign him to a place of honor,
    for he has been a faithful servant
    and has always done his best to please us.

    Bless the hands that send him to you,
    for they are doing so in love and compassion,
    freeing him from pain and suffering.

    Grant us the strength not to dwell on our loss.
    Help us remember the details of his life
    with the love he has shown us.
    And grant us the courage to honor him
    by sharing those memories with others.

    Let him remember us as well
    Let him know that we will always love him.
    And when it’s our time to pass over into your paradise,
    Please allow him to accompany those
    Who will bring us home.

    Thank you, Lord,
    for the gift of his companionship
    and for the time we’ve had together.

    And thank you, Lord,
    for granting us the strength
    to give him to you now.

    Comment by Murphy family — June 13, 2011 @ 7:08 am

  2. Thank you very much, Murphys. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and I will read your post to the family shortly.

    Comment by Nathan — June 13, 2011 @ 7:42 am

  3. Nathan,
    my prayers will be with you today. I have had the honor of being with both of our Shar Pei’s Spicey and Snug as they fell quietly to sleep.
    I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Our Vet is also a good friend a strong man of faith. he offered so much comfort.
    He would be the first to tell Elle Kate that Jackson is heading to God’s open arms. just spell God backwards!
    blessings my friend

    Comment by Brian Clark — June 13, 2011 @ 9:04 am

  4. Already missing my Jackson. Beautifully written. Love you all.

    Comment by Mimi — June 13, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  5. Oh Nathan. Why did you make me cry right here in the Patheos office?


    I’m sorry.

    Comment by Nancy — June 13, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  6. Nathan, as the parent of an aging dog, this simply broke my heart, and yet it was such a beautiful tribute to your boy. I’m thinking of you now and hoping you never did watch that clock; that when time came, you just knew. I pray that your boy went peacefully, surrounded by love, and that you will feel him with you always. That’s one of the gifts from God to comfort us, I really believe that. I’ll be thinking of you all, especially the girls, who I know will miss Jackson terribly. And when it’s your and Amy’s turn to grieve, I hope it will also be with relief that he’s finally running and playing in a beautiful place. Please hug Amy for me. Love, Jamie

    Comment by Jamie Disterhaupt — June 13, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  7. It is oh so difficult to sob just having had surgery…
    We all make parenting mistakes. The remarkable truth is our animals never judged us only continued to give us their unconditional love. I too have had to make this decision more times than I would like but do come to have peace when I know there is no more suffering. The girls will do fine as they will have fun and wonderful memories of Jackson. And he has many dog and horse cousins ready to greet him in heaven.
    Love to all of you on this very sad day.

    Comment by Bev — June 13, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

  8. Nathan,

    So sorry to hear of the loss of Jackson. I am one of the fortunate one’s to have actually had the occasion of interfacing with Jackson and know that he will be sorely missed. Thanks for doing what you and your family do best…taking every moment as a “teachable” one and sharing it with your family and friends.
    Just finished another great Nathan Whitaker book and it’s fresh in my mind what Tim quoted from his Mom…giving all our “disappointments” and “victories” to the Lord.
    What a comfort to know that we can.

    Comment by Buddy — June 16, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

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