Without a word, my mom and I knew it was time to put our beloved family pet to sleep. After almost fourteen years, Sally was no longer living a fulfilling life as a dog or as a companion. Her eyes, once black as coal, were no longer useful. Gray clouds of cataract bloomed inside her eyes, blocking out the world around her and making it difficult for her to move around the house. Sally would flinch every time one of us got close, a sign that she was having a hard time recognizing the people she had lived with for her entire life. It was time to call the vet. My mother and I had discussed this situation only once. But it was time.
After making the appointment for 10 AM the next morning, my mom and I made sure that Sally spent her final evening doing what she loved most: watching movies with us and eating popcorn. I sat on the couch and my mom sat in her favorite chair. Sally curled up at my mom’s feet, a giant ball of steel-grey fluff gently expanding and contracting with each breath. No words were exchanged that night, only the childlike cooing of my mother as she fed kernels of popcorn to Sally. I watched without comment, afraid that saying something would break the spell. After every slurp both would release a heavy sigh. By the end of the movie, my mom had fallen asleep in her favorite chair and Sally had curled up at her feet. I tiptoed down the dark hallway into my room.
The next morning, my mom and I went through the usual motions of daily life. We ate breakfast, put in a load of laundry, and read the newspaper. No one made a sound, as if we could keep death away by refusing to name it. The house watched our movements, respecting our silence.
At a quarter to ten we led Sally out the front door and down the makeshift ramp we had made for her once her hips deteriorated. Without warning she collapsed, her legs buckling beneath her as she crumpled forward into the dewy grass. My mom and I rushed to her to help, but Sally was confused and disoriented. She twisted and pawed at the air, letting out fearful whimpers every time we tried to pick her up. I was afraid to look into my mother’s eyes. I knew that the second we made eye contact, I would also break down. Somehow I managed to get my arms underneath Sally and carry her up the slope of our front yard and into the back seat of my mother’s sky blue Ford Taurus.
The vet was merciful and quiet. He let my mom and I stay in the room as he lifted Sally up onto a stainless steel table and injected a clear liquid into her thigh. My mom and I, faces bright and soggy from ceaseless tears, embraced Sally as her breathing slowed. We held on tightly until her body no longer rose and fell. Within seconds it was over. She was gone.
We drove home. The sound of our keys jingling at the front door had always alerted Sally to our presence, and she would greet us with her trademark whiplash tail and slurpy tongue. Now we opened the door to silence. My mother and I toured our home in silence. I kept looking for her, expecting to see her napping on the floor, bathed in the afternoon light of a nearby window.
“I guess we can put these away,” my mom said as she picked up one of Sally’s favorite socks. Her voice sounded like tissue paper. We held each other and cried. Our communal grief broke the silence that had engulfed us during the morning.
The loss of Sally brought me and my mom together in an unexpected way. The experience felt like a secret, a hard nugget of painful truth that would bind us together in the way that only shared loss can. We haven’t spoken about that morning ever since it happened, and that’s okay. There isn’t much more to say.
I like to imagine Sally followed us around the house for a little while after the vet put her to sleep. She wanted to make sure she we were ok. And to get any last pieces of popcorn before she disappeared.