Saying Goodbye: Documenting the Last Day With My Best Friend
How my biggest fears of pet euthanasia turned to the most beautiful experience of my life. The final 24 hours with my best friend of 12 years, a rescued pit bull.
Marcus, my best friend of more than 12 years, made his journey today to the Rainbow Bridge. I learned so much from him and this experience in the last 24 hours. As I wrote before, Marcus is always teaching me valuable lessons in life and leadership. Today he wrapped up his legacy on this earth, but his work is far from over here.
I was scared. Actually, I was petrified.
My hope is that my lessons will help someone that is struggling with the same decision of pet euthanasia — including why I decided to have in-home euthanasia. As I walk you through the events of the last 24 hours, you’ll quickly understand why this experience turned from terrifying to nothing short of beautiful.
It was 24 hours that were filled with a bunch of ‘firsts’ and ‘lasts’ and those hours went by too fast.
“Goodbyes are necessary but are never forever.”
Yesterday Morning — I Got THE Look
I was always told that he would tell me when he was ready. Nobody could describe THE look and told me I would just know it.
I started to believe they were all full of shit.
Until it happened.
Marcus would not eat his breakfast. He hadn’t eaten the day before.
After my other two rescues had finished their breakfast, they all went outside as usual. That is the last thing that was usual for the rest of the day.
When Marcus came inside, he struggled over the small door step. He tripped. I watched him for a bit as he paced. He began to vomit as he walked. There was nothing in his stomach, but there was a smell that terrified me. I still don’t know why.
I hugged him and ran to get the carpet cleaner. By this time I was a pro with the pet cleaner. Marcus was increasingly having accidents in the house. He just kept forgetting in his old age of more than 14 years.
You Feel THE Look
As I was cleaning the rags in the kitchen sink, I could feel his eyes on me. I didn’t want to look over, as I had a feeling I was about to discover what THE look was.
I was right. I looked Marcus in the eyes, and everything I thought was bullshit about the look became a reality. I felt it.
He turned around and slowly walked to his room and struggled to get into his bed.
I’ll tell you the exact same thing that everyone else had told me: you’ll know the look. You’ll feel it.
And you’ll know it’s time.
The Call I Dreaded to Make
For some time, I knew I wanted it — and by it I mean his euthanasia — in the house. I’ll explain why a little later. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I called Lap of Love — a company that provides in-home euthanasia as well as hospice care for pets. I had heard nothing but glowing reports from those who used their service.
As I worked to control my shaky voice, I explained the situation. I could not believe I was having this conversation. I was afraid to learn when it could be done, as I didn’t want Marcus suffering any longer. I needed to respect THE look and fast.
To my surprise, they could do it the next day. I was both relieved and terrified at the same time. You get it. For this decision, I needed to think outside of myself and do everything that I thought would be best for Marcus.
Nidia, a dear friend that happens to also be the head of an incredible housekeeping team in our home, had told me she wanted to be there with Marcus when it was time. I asked Lap of Love if I could call them back within an hour once I spoke to Nidia. They graciously agreed.
I Deliberately Delayed.
What was supposed to be an hour turned into almost four hours until I called to schedule the appointment. Deep down, I had hoped nothing was available for tomorrow. I was already failing at doing what was best for Marcus. I didn’t want to say goodbye yet.
Much to my disappointment while at the same time relief (again, you get it), they still had one appointment between 11am and noon. I took it.
Josh from Lap of Love was so patient with me as I paused throughout the call to compose myself. Outwardly, I appeared pretty controlled. Inwardly, I was falling apart.
He took background information, explained the process, and offered me some after-care options. I ultimately chose to have Marcus transported after he passed and then an individual cremation.
Everything was scheduled. This was happening. When I hung up with Josh, I felt ill and relieved at the same time — I didn’t want to lose Marcus, but there was now a plan.
I did some work and then canceled the rest of my work day. I needed to prepare a few things, including getting Marcus’ favorite food — peanut butter.
I knew he wouldn’t refuse peanut butter.
The Last Supper
The finality of it all was starting to sink in as I prepared their dinner. This would be Marcus’ last with us. I fought back the tears as I did not want them sensing my distress.
What I didn’t understand at that moment, is that they already knew what was happening. Somehow the three dogs knew, and you’ll see why in just a bit.
I opened up a fresh jar of crunchy peanut butter and slathered it in Marcus’ bowl and around the side.
He refused his favorite food. Flat out walked away. I tried everything. I put it on my finger, my nose, tried to entice him with the ‘threat’ that the other two might get his peanut butter. Nothing worked.
The First Time I Cried Since ‘Knowing’
As I led them outside to the backyard, I closed the door and watched Maverick (the youngest rescue dog), guiding Marcus down a single small step. Maverick had become Marcus’ eyes and ears.
I stepped back from the glass door so they could not see me and I just watched them together. The realization hit that this time tomorrow, Marcus would not be included in the same scene. It overwhelmed me. I lost it.
I ran to the bathroom to wipe my slobbery face up before letting them back inside.
It didn’t matter — they already knew.
The rest of the evening, I laid on the couch while Marcus put his head next to me. The other two pretty much left us alone.
Until Maverick brought out ‘the baby.’
The Last Time with His Baby
The baby is what I call Marcus’ favorite toy. It’s a torn up, squeaky football toy that no longer squeaks. Why is it his baby?
When he got it almost eight years ago, he carried it EVERYWHERE. No seriously, he pooped while the thing was in his mouth. He slept with it. He did EVERYTHING with this damn baby.
If you look back through the pictures and videos of the last 24 hours, you’ll see it everywhere.
Maverick came running to the couch with the baby in his mouth. He placed it beside Marcus. I picked it up, and for the first time in a long time, Marcus put it in his mouth and dropped it shortly after that. Seeing him with his baby one last time meant the world to me — and to Maverick.
Marcus had his baby with him when he died.
The Last Bedtime Tuck-In
I run a tight ship and keep these rescue kiddos on a routine. Tonight wouldn’t be any different except it was the last time I was tucking in Marcus.
I kissed them all goodnight and left to get ready for bed.
I headed to the shower and cried the entire time. Part of me prayed that Marcus wouldn’t wake up and tomorrow was no longer necessary. I felt awful for that.
The First Time I Slept In Their Room
I didn’t want the night to end. I didn’t want tomorrow to come. But I wanted it to be as normal for them as possible.
So I did what any reasonable parent would do, and I laid down next to Marcus while he was in HIS bed.
He looked up for a bit and gave me a look like,
“What the hell are you doing here, freak?”
And then I did what I call the nosnuggles — rubbing the tip of my nose up and down between his eyes and down his nose.
I did what Marcus and I always do — I put my forehead against his and just quietly spoke to him.
I’ll keep that conversation private, but we got a lot out in it. I think we might have solved all world problems.
I fell asleep with my head next to his.
I woke up about an hour later, quietly kissed him and went to my bed. It would be the last time I fell asleep with Marcus in the other room.
The First Changing of the Guard
I woke early as usual, but this time, something was off — none of the three kiddos were coming out of their room.
I quickly feared that my wish had come true — Marcus had passed in the middle of the night.
I quietly peeked in and found something I hadn’t expected. They were all positioned differently.
Maverick was sleeping in Marcus’ bed. Marcus was in Maverick’s usual position and Mercedes was on the floor in front of the doorway.
There had been a changing of the guard in the middle of the night. They were preparing for change.
I quietly snapped some pictures and then let them be. They stayed in there for a good hour. I don’t think they wanted the morning to go either.
The Last Breakfast
They FINALLY came out from their rooms. Below is the video of Marcus and Maverick coming out to greet the day.
I prepared their breakfast and tried the peanut butter again for Marcus. I left them to eat and prayed Marcus ate something.
When I spied in, I noticed he had eaten the peanut butter! He left the rest of his breakfast.
So I grabbed the jar and put a huge glob of peanut butter on the spoon and fed it to him. As you can see, he LOVED it. Oh, the joy at that moment. There was nothing else that mattered.
I didn’t want it to end.
I let them outside and began to clean up the kitchen.
It was a little after 9 AM. The morning was going too fast.
The Last Couch Chat
As we waited for the veterinary to arrive at 11 AM, I laid on the couch for one last chat.
When I lay on the couch, the dogs come over to be pet (they aren’t allowed up) and we ‘chat.’ Only Marcus and Maverick decided to join.
Maverick was unusually calm for our usual couch chat. He knew it was Marcus’ last.
The video below shows the last part of our chat. It ends with the gate calling to let Lap of Love in the neighborhood. Marcus turned to get ready to greet the his guest.
Marcus knew the arriving guest was for him. He was ready.
The First Guest Arrival
When Dr. Nil Wilkins arrived, I immediately felt a sense of calm. Marcus and Mercedes are shy (they were both abused before they were adopted) but immediately were drawn to her.
We sat in the living room, and she went through everything with me and allowed me to ask my usual 3,000 annoying questions.
While next to her, Marcus started wagging his tail for the first time in weeks. I immediately knew she had a heart of gold and the patience of a saint.
The Last Guest Arrival
Nidia was the last guest arrival for Marcus. We finalized the plan.
Because Maverick was so excitable (bless his heart), we decided that he and Mercedes would be kept out of the bedroom during the procedure. They would come in after Marcus had died and this was critical to why I wanted Marcus to have in-home euthanasia.
In-Home Euthanasia and Sibling Closure
If Marcus left and then never came home, his brother and sister would search tirelessly for him. I’ve seen it happen when Marcus has gone to the vet without them.
If they visit him after he has died, they immediately know what happened. They are smart.
They have not once searched for Marcus since he died. They are starting the grieving process much faster than would have been otherwise.
It’s a blessing for all of us.
The First Shot
We brought Marcus into his room, and he laid on his bed for the last time. Dr. Nil prepared for the first shot which is a sedative.
The sedative does nothing more than make Marcus very relaxed. If you have ever had surgery, then it’s the same as the ‘Twilight’ drip they give you.
Understand that the sedative shot is NOT the norm. It made all the difference. While researching your options, make sure that this is a part of the euthanasia process.
She explained that Marcus would appear to be sleeping, but he would still have full sight, hearing, and touch. In fact, Marcus got to eat peanut butter while she was giving the shot and as it took effect! He was already in heaven!
How I Knew Marcus Was at Ease
Marcus taking — devouring the peanut butter — was THE indication to me that he was comfortable and at ease. Food is my gauge of his level of anxiety. If he refuses a treat, I know his anxiety is through the roof.
That says so much for not only the process, but also Dr. Nil. His comfort and lack of anxiety brought a level of calm to me that I didn’t know was possible in this situation. One of my fears was him being afraid.
Fear was never once present in the process. Not once.
Marcus Was More Relaxed Than He Had Been in Months.
Shortly after, Marcus started becoming very relaxed. So much so that he began to snore. The video below shows this. You can tell he can hear me.
It was unbelievable to rest my head next to him, talk to him and know he was more comfortable than he’s been in months. He was tired.
Nidia was just on the other side of him, massaging him and talking to him as well.
Dr. Nil told me that whenever I was ready, the second drug could be injected. She insisted I take as much time as I needed.
The Last Shot
The last shot is an anesthetic and used in a dose that puts Marcus into his last and forever sleep. It works within a few minutes, so I needed to be sure that all of us were prepared.
Marcus had been ready for some time. I wasn’t ready, but I was prepared. I told Dr. Nil that she could administer the last shot.
Our Last Nosnuggles
I put my nose between his eyes and gave him our last nosnuggles while talking to him. I kept my forehead against his. I could feel his breath against my chin.
I love you. I love you so much.
I am so thankful for you. Thank you for teaching me so much.
Goodbyes are necessary, my son. They are never forever. I will see you at another time.
I just love you so much. Nothing but love. I love you. I love you. I….
Marcus’ Last Breath
I could tell when the shot was administered as his rate of breathing increased just slightly.
And then Marcus quietly took his last breath. I will never forget the feeling of it on my chin. It happened quickly. He was ready.
I opened my eyes. I had kept myself from crying to this point. I looked at Dr. Nil while she checked for a heartbeat.
“Is he gone?”
She quietly gave an affirmative.
Marcus was now in peace.
My First Bellowing Cry
Marcus looked so at peace on his bed. He looked like he was sleeping.
I laid my head back on top of his and had the deepest and loudest cry. I went back and forth between screaming things because I couldn’t catch my breath to just not being able to do anything but wail. There were sounds coming out of me that I had never heard before.
“I don’t want to say goodbye yet. I am so thankful for you. I love you so very much. I will always be with you. You will always be with me. You are always my boy. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. You will always be the love of my life.”
The First Time I Felt This Pain
This went on for some time.
“I know you are running again. I know you are jumping again. I know you are feeling so much love right now. I will always be with you. Always.”
Dr. Nil assured both Nidia and me that we could take as long as needed.
I kept my head on him and just kept sobbing.
It’s a pain like no other I can describe. It’s a pain I’ve never felt before in my life.
Intellectual and Emotional Conflict
So much of it comes down to this: Marcus is my child. He is. Always will be. In that role, it’s unnatural to have your child die before you. At the same time, because he is a dog, it is very natural and expected.
Part of that pain is that conflict. Which one do you rationalize? Which one do you feel at any moment? Which one is most real? It’s a constant battle.
His Last Kiss to Me
As I was calming down, I just kept my cheek on his mouth. Then it happened.
His mouth moved, and I felt a kiss. I kid you not!
I lifted my head and asked Dr. Nil what happened.
“Are you sure he is gone?”
“Yes, that is just a reaction to oxygen leaving the system. He gave you one last kiss.”
I just smiled and kissed him back.
I rested my cheek on his head for a little longer.
The First Time His Siblings Saw Him After He Died
Once I got my shit together, it was time to let Mercedes and Maverick visit with their brother. This was an important part of their closure and to start their process of grieving.
Two Different Reactions to Marcus’ Death
They both came in slowly. Maverick approached Marcus first. Maverick sniffed him a few times, looked back, sniffed him a few more times and then ran to the toy box to grab something.
This is a typical reaction of a dog realizing another dog has died.
Mercedes’ response was drastically different.
She really took her time. Sniffed him. Looked at me. Went back to slowly sniffing him. Looked at me. She slowly walked towards me while looking at Marcus.
She looked at me and then started licking me. She would occasionally look back at Marcus.
She walked to the side of his bed that faced the door, laid down with her back to him, while sometimes looking back. She was standing with him. Guarding him. She was starting to mourn her brother.
She has stayed in his bed almost continuously since he left this afternoon.
His Last Tuck-In
I sat in the room with Marcus and Mercedes for some time. I was mostly silent and just watched him. He just looked so at peace.
When I was ready, Dr. Nil brought in a small gurney and handsome, gray velvet blanket. I asked if I could help put him on the stretcher and she agreed.
She covered him with the blanket and said,
“I usually like to keep their head uncovered. What would you prefer?”
“He looks just like he is sleeping. I’d like to keep his head uncovered.”
She then gently tucked the blanket around his body and then folded it down just under his neck. Marcus looked so comfortable. So peaceful. So beautiful.
His Last Car Ride
We then both carried him out to the waiting vehicle. The compartment in the back was made to secure him for his final ride.
Some of the neighbors looked on out of curiosity. I focused on my boy and taking every last moment of his ‘lasts.’
Once rested in the vehicle, I just stood there and looked at him.
I gave Marcus one last kiss and whispered a private message to him.
As the vehicle drove away, Nidia and I just stood there quietly watching it. I blew a kiss to Marcus and just hugged Nidia.
I avoided what inevitably had to happen next.
My First Time Home Without Marcus
It sounds weird, but while I was walking up the sidewalk, I dreaded walking in the front door. It would be the first time I have come home in almost 13 years without Marcus. This would be the first time for the rest of my life that I would come back without Marcus.
He has waited at the door for me many times. It will take me some time to not expect that.
The First Supper without Marcus
This period will begin the countless ‘firsts.’ One of the ‘firsts’ was supper without Marcus.
Nidia and her team had cleaned the bowls, and they were laid out on the counter. In the spirit of complete disclosure, I kissed Marcus’ bowl. And sobbed.
I quickly barked myself into the routine for the kiddos and prepared their dinner.
Maverick ran into his crate as usual. I put Mercedes’ on the floor and then they just looked at each other.
I quickly realized that Marcus would give a signal for the others to eat. They just kept looking at their bowls and then each other.
Mercedes started with the first bite and then Maverick quickly followed. They will figure out a new routine going forward.
It just looked so different without Marcus’ bowl there. It felt different without him there. All three of us felt it.
The First New Normal
I walked into the room and saw this:
It took me aback a bit, but then I realized that Marcus was part of this planning last night. That made me smile.
The First Time I’ve Called an Experience Beautiful
For those of you who know me well, I am very sensitive but not emotional — and I rarely use the word ‘beautiful.’
I have never described an experience as beautiful until now.
Devastatingly Perfect. Brilliantly Beautiful.
It is hard to put into words, so I’ll just spew them. I wouldn’t have changed anything. Nothing. At all. Ever. Except having Marcus with me forever. It was perfect.
It was spiritual. Peaceful. Celebratory while incredibly crushing all at the same time. I never felt the fear that I thought I would. I felt love. Tons of it. Not only from Marcus but from Nidia, Dr. Nil and the countless people who were checking on both Marcus and me.
I passed more love and my heart in this experience than ever in my life. It went to Marcus, it went to Dr. Nil, it went to Lap of Love, it went to Nidia, it went to Maverick, it went to Mercedes, it went to dear friends, and it went to all the people I thought were nuts for knowing THE look.
There was love all around and everywhere I went.
It was simply beautiful.
No Regrets. No Guilt. That is Beautiful.
I will cherish those last 24 hours forever, at the same time I’m struggling to keep it together for the first 24 hours without Marcus.
Most importantly, I have absolutely no regrets or guilt. My heart aches for him to be here, but it was the right thing for Marcus. I have Lap of Love and their expertise to thank for that.
It’s another new normal. What will never change is the love I have for that handsome, shy rescue dog named Marcus. He will forever live in my heart as I know I am deep within his. He is forever in many hearts.
He will forever be my son.
His legacy is timeless. His life was joyous. His last 24 hours were beautiful.
This last day has been nothing like I expected or feared. I hope by sharing some of my experience, you are able to find comfort in some of the decisions you are making or will make with your forever furry kiddos.
I am happy to answer any questions you might have. In the future, I plan to write a follow-up article specifically around Lap of Love and give more detail on the options and process. I will forever be grateful for the love, dedication, expertise and guidance they quickly provided to our family.
Now — if you have your own furry kiddos — go give some extra kisses, hugs, loving!
Below is an article I wrote months ago about lessons I’ve learned from Marcus. It gives some history on his ‘shyness.’
Contacts and Resources
Here are a collection of resources and contacts should you have questions, need support or just a community while you are making decisions.
Lap of Love on Facebook
Lap of Love Website
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Pictures and Videos of Marcus and His Siblings