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  • Writer's pictureDee Aspin

Losing My Shadow- Walking Together to Rainbow Bridge

I wrote up Benji’s last moments because I had to. It’s what writer’s do to process. I am so grateful for the little life and many doggie devotions Benji inspired in his fourteen years, right up to now. His final tribute. They are the legacy he left.

I learn a lot about God through each of the creatures, His creation, I have had the privilege of caring for much of my life.

Steve has often said these past few weeks, he’s glad I’ve gone through this before. It is as hard as I forgot. It is a constant vigil of the mind, heart and emotions as we walk with our fur babies, deciding if, when, and how, make that choice.

To walk them to Rainbow Bridge…and let them go to the other side.

The Talks

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me…Psalm 23:4

“Benji, soon you are going to be in heaven. No more scary nights.” I looked into the dazed eyes of my little schnauzer with doggie dementia, sitting in front of the refrigerator. He groaned. I stroked his soft hair and held out a treat… our second round tonight.

“He’s fighting the medicine,” Steve remarked every evening as Benji fought to lay in his bed despite various medications. It seemed he was afraid—his fears magnified in the dark.

Even in the daytime, he clung to my leg touching it like he was a vacuum attachment, not a shadow. It seemed he feared losing me. He often ran by obvious places unable to hear me or see me—his beautiful shining eyes dulled by cataracts.

I’d been praying, hoping Benji would die in his sleep. Steve and I had passed the one year mark taking turns with him, lately multiple times a night. First, the sound of wandering, pittering, pattering-paws—then whining at our open door until one of us offered to “get up this time.”

“He still has life in him. He loves to take his walks every morning.”

Steve and I frequented his end-of-life discussion, lately surmising, “I can’t do it yet, I’ll know when it’s time.”

Years before, my first schnauzer, Mickey, had lived until fourteen—and I made a snap decision and took him in the day his walk staggered.

The week sleep deprivation hit me with the same intensity Steve had been experiencing—my brother visited. Always Benji’s favorite, Mike frowned with alarm, “Sis, Benji’s hardly responding to me anymore.”

The next Thursday on impulse, I called the vet “to bring my dog in to be put to sleep.” But when I told Steve…he cried. “I’m not ready—that’s so quick. I need time to process.”

With Mickey I was single. Now I have a husband. I need to do it in a time that’s right for him too. It has to be the right time for the three of us—for Benji, for me and for Steve.

“It’s all about Mommy—I may be the Alpha dog, but he’s a Mama’s boy…” Steve often teased. “When Mommy’s around, I don’t even matter…but I do know he loves me.”

“Of course he does,” I’ll retort. “We’re more bonded because I got him at six weeks. He slept on my chest—the little black mole. The first half of his life was me and Sam Lab. But this second seven years has been me and you.”

The Courage - Second Cancellation

Monday morning, I canceled my rescheduled appointment to bring him in.

“Steve, I couldn’t do it today. I’m the kind of person who needs to be able to make the decision and take him in right away, the day I make the decision.”

“You mean like you tried to do last week…Friday?” Steve frowned.

“Yes, I was ready then. Over the weekend…it gave me time to waver…I just couldn’t go through with it… It’s so hard.” We teared up and hugged each other.

Steve assured me. “I’ve grieved now—I love the little guy but I know it is his time, whenever you’re ready. I’m sorry I can’t do it. I can go with you to the waiting room… I just can’t be there in the room. I’m so glad you’ve done this before with Mickey.”

“It’s a very peaceful way to go. It’s just hard getting there…” This is so hard.

We continued Benji’s daily schedule and nightly interruptions one more week. Benji no longer the shadow, continued to brush against my legs even as I walked around the house. I could feel his desperation looking for me when his pace increased running from room to room, often walking by the most obvious of places if he couldn’t locate me. He was getting worse.

Monday, Monday, can't stop that day

The next Monday morning we gazed down at our little guy with us in the kitchen, leaning against the cabinets standing. “His back end is humped again honey,” Steve observed. “His hips hurt when he tucks them like that.”

I walked into my office and exited a few minutes later. “Steve, I called the vet. It’s time to take Benji’s last walk.” I had recounted Mickey’s final stages to Steve and included the “last walk,” hours before I brought him in. Steve knew what that meant for Benji.

And so we circled the familiar sidewalks as slow as Benji wanted to go. Lots of pauses and sniffs at the same shrubs and places to mark as he’d been doing his whole life. One lady slowed down as he walked and smiled…at him. He looked cute in his old sweater.

“God, help me,” I prayed. Bring his bed. A thought popped up. Thank you, Lord.

I felt a little better.

I held Benji in my lap stroking his soft clean hair. It was a treat for him as much as for me, when we could sit together in the passenger seat—me holding him. Steve drove along the road that led to the vet–the same street that led to many a river walk, and water fetching frenzy…once upon a time with Sam.

“Benji’s had a good life, Steve,” Benji's rabbit ears felt so soft to the touch. I reassured myself and my husband. "He's had a lot of great walks and hikes in his prime, mountain and river adventures. He loved our family and they've loved him. He's been part of this chapter of our lives."

We arrived. He pulled against the leash as soon as we neared the clinic door. I picked him up. Inside he began to shake violently. Oh no. Steve and I sat him between us on the chair and held and stroked him until they called his name.

Steve hugged him and teared up. “I’m going to miss you, little guy.”

Dutifully, I carried Benji in one arm and his bed with the other and followed the tech.

“Benji hates it here,” I explained. “Ever since we kenneled him once.” The first and only time.

“Here’s your room,” she waved us in.

I plopped the bed on the examining table and placed Benji inside. He stopped shaking almost immediately and noticeably relaxed.

“This is his favorite old sweater,” I explained, aware of the holes I never got around to mending.

“I’ll need to take him to the other room to get his IV in,” she said.

“No. He’ll get anxious without me. I will need to come with him.”

She left the room and returned accompanied by another tech for the IV start.

“We may not get it the first time…” she stated soft and blunt.

“That’s okay, it happens. I was a nurse and sometimes it took me two sticks…”

Benji sat straight, torso squared to her, head turned to me. The IV tech stood in front of his bed and gently lifted his right paw. The other assistant placed both hands on his back providing support. I stood to the side of the table as Benji directed his gaze over his left shoulder straight at me. I smiled and winked. "Be a brave little rabbit."

The first stick, she missed. But even as she withdrew and replaced the catheter, Benji didn’t whimper or even shake. He didn’t try to withdraw his arm. He sat regal and peaceful head still rotated at 45 degrees…our eyes locked, his right paw relaxed.

He was in his bed, his safe place. And I was at his side.

“Do you need more time?” the tech asked after she capped the lock.

“No,” I smiled. I felt strangely peaceful, as peaceful as Benji.

“The vet will be here in a minute.” Both tech assistants left the room.

“Sammy’s waiting to greet you, Benji.” I stroked his soft, standing ears…never clipped, natural enchanting ears…cherishing the moment. I searched his eyes. Never once had he looked away. He was still and relaxed. “Jesus will be with you in heaven and Mommy will see you again when I get there…”

He softened his front legs and laid down. I rubbed his neck… the door opened.

A somber-faced veterinarian walked in quiet and soft-spoken. “Do you need more time?”

“No, we’re ready.”

“This will take a few seconds.” He gently lifted his right paw.

“Okay. I did this before with my other schnauzer and it was peaceful. It’s a great way to go. He’s had a good life…it’s time.” Benji’s body felt warm and calm our final hug.

I wrapped my forearms around his back and watched the vet hook the syringe into the catheter. In less than 10 seconds Benji’s head slumped. He sank into his bed without a whimper. Thank you, Lord.

Stepping back, I headed toward the door and broke the silence when I turned around. “Thank you, doctor. It was a peaceful passing…please keep the bed and dispose of it.” He nodded.

Peace in the Valley

I met Steve in the waiting room. Amidst sadness, I explained, “My last look at Benji was as if he was conked out in his bed after a walk…but this time he fell asleep on earth and he’ll wake up in doggie heaven.”

The peace continued. The pain of his absence did not eclipse the sense we had made the right decision. Waiting would not have benefitted any of us. No regret.

Later, I read Psalms twenty-three. Although a favorite, this time verse four chimed… “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

I had asked God to help me walk through this darkness, this day in the valley of darkness and dreaded it. I had avoided it for months. I even felt sick hoping for an easier way—that Benji die naturally. I came to the realization this was his easiest way. He didn’t need to be completely lacking his independence—and dignity.

And in his moment I know Benji felt secure because I was near him. He did not fear evil or death in his bed, his safe place, with me standing next to him. He was at peace. He was at peace with me as much as I felt peace walking through deaths door with my little guy, my little shadow—because God was with me. I felt secure moving under God’s shadow.

Peace and love are connected. The presence of love brings peace in life and in death. When we love well, there is peace in life... and in death.

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