Three or four hours after Butterfly’s death, Cricket did something she never does: she brought a mouthful of kibble into the living room, dropped the pieces onto the carpet, and ate them kibble by kibble. Did she mean to mimic Butterfly’s favorite way of eating? Was she consciously honoring her sister’s memory? Or did Miss Butterfly find a way to join with Cricket for just a moment to visit us and say goodbye?
I don’t know.
I didn’t expect Butterfly to die, not yet. I counted her age from the day she came home, almost five years ago, and tried to ignore the eight years in the puppy mill that came before. Yes, she’d been in the hospital, but she was getting better. She’d coughed a bit the night before, but no more than was usual for her over the past year. Her bark was strained, yes, but I thought it was from a sore throat and it would pass.
Mom came into my room at 6:30 in the morning, carrying Butterfly in her arms and saying, she’s making strange noises. Just the way Butterfly was limp and awkward in Mom’s arms told me that something was very wrong. She made some sort of wet hiccupping noise as Mom put her down on my bed. And then blood poured out of her mouth, and her eyes rolled back, and more blood poured out of her nose.
She was gone, but I couldn’t believe it. I checked for her pulse and couldn’t feel anything. Mom said she could feel a faint movement in her chest, and then nothing.
I kept my hands on Butterfly, petting her, only because Mom told me to do it; I couldn’t think at all for myself. I could see Butterfly’s hair move as I rubbed her back and I thought, she’s not dead. If I just keep contact with her I can keep her from leaving me. Her pulse is just hiding. It was a lot of blood, yes, but she has more. Doesn’t she?
My mind was split in pieces as I sat there watching her die. No, she was already dead, but part of me didn’t believe it. And part of me was trying to come up with a to-do list (laundry for the bloody sheets, go to the clinic to have her cremated – but she’s not really dead! How dare you even think of killing her! There were all of those meds we hadn’t given her yet, and the diabetes testing supplies, and the diabetic dog food, and the doggy steps next to my bed. She would need them.
I couldn’t move forward in time. I just stayed in that loop, sobbing, and hoping, for forty five minutes. Time was barely creeping by, but then each time I checked the clock, time was galloping past me.
Cricket hid under my bed. Even when Mom went to talk to her, to console her, she hid further under the bed and growled.
I asked Mom for a wet wash cloth and washed Butterfly’s face, but I didn’t want to push too hard, and hurt her.
We put her in her doggy bed on the living room floor and covered her with a piece of soft gray fabric from Mom’s stash. I wanted Cricket to have a chance to say goodbye. It took Cricket a while to come over and sniff the hidden Butterfly, though. I lifted the blanket so she could see that her sister really was under there, and she looked at her face for a moment and then ran under the couch to hide again. I could understand that; I felt the same way. But I re-covered my baby and lifted her bed onto the dining room table, with a towel underneath because the bed had become damp. Mom said that the body lets go of its fluids after death, but I couldn’t think about that. I couldn’t think that she was dead. If I only looked at her back, her tail, her paws, she could be sleeping. But if I looked at her face, I knew she was gone. And I kept reliving that last moment of terrible release, her twisted tongue, her blood flowing onto my bed.
We had to wait until nine o’clock in the morning to call the clinic and ask them what to do, so in the meantime I stripped my bed and took everything to the laundry. I needed something to do, something practical and concrete.
When we went to the clinic, I stayed in the car while Mom went inside to make arrangements. I sat in the back seat, next to Butterfly, and uncovered her tail and her back. Her hair looked normal. As long as I didn’t look at her face it was alright. But then a vet tech came out to the car and reached in for Butterfly. She picked up the doggy bed like a folded piece of pizza and I wanted to yell at her, that’s my baby in there! But I couldn’t speak.
I spent all day Wednesday reading the beautiful comments left on the blog, honoring Butterfly’s special soul and her ability to reach out and spread love wherever she went. All day I forced myself to remember that she was gone. She didn’t need her doggy steps anymore. No more blood tests and insulin shots. No more pills wrapped in peanut butter. No more barks of outrage in the morning when she wanted to go out. No more sous chef resting her chin on the tile leading into the kitchen.
But I didn’t really believe it. She would come back. The clinic would call and say that we made a mistake, Butterfly was awake and needed to be picked up. I didn’t care what was real or possible, I just wanted her back.
I feel like I failed her, like there was something else I should have known to do for her. But most of all I miss her. She brought out the best in me, the kindest, warmest, most compassionate parts of me. I liked myself more when I was with her. I liked everyone more, because I had her with me. And I want her back.